Is earnestness the new irony?

"The age of earnestness recreates the very culture of entitlement that it claims to oppose."

"The age of earnestness recreates the very culture of entitlement that it claims to oppose." Photo: Stocksy

The ability to see irony for the sham that it is may be one of the most telltale signs that you've grown up. To wake up embarrassed that you once thought a Monday night bender was triumphant rather than destructive, that a feather headdress could be a legitimate fashion accessory or that a snarky witticism is anything other than a hurtful putdown, is an undeniable marker of adult maturity. Who wants to be Tyler Durden's "copy of a copy of a copy?" Youthful delusions are best kept safely in the past.

Mark Hunter is the latest to benefit from this kind of transformation. Last month, the 29-year-old nightlife photographer better known as the CobraSnake, a nocturnal figure famous for taking the debauched pictures that gave early-aughts hipster culture its flash-heavy visual lexicon, revealed his disenchantment with a writhing netherworld prone to mustachioed hedonists and staged girl-on-girl kisses and declared his hopes of becoming a posterboy for clean and conscious living. "Switching over to this health side is awesome," he enthuses in a February 2015 interview with New York magazine. "You can listen to music, dance up the mountain. You get endorphins going that are similar to partying."

This fist-pumping statement isn't the only proof that irony has lost its status as our primary cultural mode. The CobraSnake's fast-growing Cobra Fitness Club, whose members hike LA's Runyon Canyon Park to the sounds of Usher and Juicy J, is just the latest symptom of a world in which millennial It Girls such as Cory Kennedy, the disheveled 16-year-old ingenue that Hunter dated before his website turned her into the world's first internet celebrity, are less interesting than self-made #bossbabes who dream of running their own empires, where blogs documenting underground art parties have been replaced by those offering recipes for green juice and in which Taylor Swift has become less a harbinger of mainstream values than she is a symbol of musical artistry.

Somewhere between the demise of American Apparel and the unmasking of Gavin McInnes, the Vice co-founder who penned an openly transphobic essay for Thought Catalog last August, an appetite for sincerity and self-improvement has seen irony lose its edge. Last year, Emily Gould, the former gossip columnist credited with inventing Internet snark published a heartfelt memoir about the trials of female friendship. And in what may be an apex of the age of earnestness, The New York Times recently introduced readers to snowga - a dubious hybrid of yoga and snowsport.

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But in the same way that seventies disco balls made way for eighties power suits, the age of earnestness - while marketing itself as an inclusive, accessible alternative to the hipster backlash - recreates the very culture of entitlement that it claims to oppose. As Rachel Hills points out in an August 2014 The Daily Beast article, the #bossbabe movement, which is ruled by young entrepreneurs such as Nastygal founder Sophie Amoruso and Alex Hernandez, a social media maestro whose Instagram account features slogans like "You achieve what you believe" and "You can complain while I sip this champagne" is just as much about female empowerment as it is about the intersection of feminism and capitalism.

The rosy-cheeked stars of wholesome lifestyle blogs like Hemsley and Hemsley and Waiting for Saturday resemble freshly-scrubbed  versions of the indie clubgirls The Cobrasnake chronicled back in 2002. And in her most recent The Cut column, Heather Havrilesky put Taylor Swift's ability to "flit carelessly from one girl party to another in matching brightly hued separates, swinging her glossy hair to and fro, smacking her coral lips, dishing up her deep thoughts like the Dalai Lama of tween befuddlement," down to the privilege that comes with embodying a certain white-bread Americana. Lana del Rey may be the dark queen of irony and Swift, earnestness's golden pin-up, but it's no accident that they often sing about the same themes.

For now, the CobraSnake, whose upcoming fitness video puts him one step closer to his dream of becoming a "hipster Richard Simmons" and whose clients include models and artists still enamoured with the fantasy he created, symbolises the ways in which earnestness wins over irony and that growing up means throwing in your jaded worldview for purpose, sincerity and the desire to be your best self. He still rubs his charges' shoulders, tells them that they're sexy and takes a selfie stick when he jogs up mountains. Neon clubwear and spandex shorts aren't as different as they may seem.