Good News: It’s (Probably) OK to Enjoy Movies Ironically

I’d like to talk about irony for a few minutes. Last week I expressed my distaste for (most) Nicolas Cage movies to a friend who held the exact opposite opinion. “I love Cage movies, man,” he smugly alleged. “Cage is the best!”

“Really?” I inquired. “You truly believe he represents the best and brightest his fellow craftsmen have to offer?”

“Don’t be a dick, dude,” my friend countered.


“You’re kind of talking like an aristocratic dick.” My friend raised an eyebrow.

“Whoops,” I apologized. “I’ll try to dial it down. But seriously, Cage?”

“Look, yeah, he’s not literally the best actor ever, but I like watching him fail so hard, you know? Like, I enjoy it ironically.”

You hear it all the time these days, how people are enjoying ’80s movies ironically, donning flannel shirts ironically, listening to certain genres of music ironically. But lately I keep finding myself circling back to one basic question: “Is it possible to enjoy something ‘ironically’ if you’re aware of the irony?”

The thing about irony is its definition varies depending on who you talk to, but one fact is absolute: white people love it. I’m not an English professor, and I don’t feel like starting a literary flame war in the comments section, so I’m not going to focus on specific definitions or incorrect uses of the term. Rather, I’m attempting to address what certain people think they mean when they say they’re enjoying something “ironically.”

It’s probably all that hipster hatred over the past few years that took us down this windy road. Let’s try an experiment: think of the word “hipster” at the end of this sentence, then shut your eyes for five seconds.

Now, is this who you just imagined fixie-ing his way out of the brief darkness?

Come on, you’re perusing Unreality in your underwear on a weekday afternoon. If this isn’t what you saw, we can’t be far off.

So there you go, it’s Hipster Mario. But the only reason this joke works is because most of us know enough hipster stereotypes to make the connections in this picture. We know they drink shitty beer, wear ill-fitting clothes, ride unreliable bicycles, grow outlandish mustaches, own extensive vinyl collections, listen to obscure music, read even obscurer books, and all under the supposed umbrella of what? Irony. But like most stereotypes, these exaggerations rarely reflect the norm. I know plenty of people who do some of that stuff, but never  all at once. That would just be ridiculous.

This isn’t to say the annoying stereotypical hipster doesn’t exist—I live in NYC, and can assure you they’re all too real—but sometimes legitimately cool activities, styles, and trends get bundled up into the “hipster” shitball.

Rest assured, cowboy, there’s nothing ironic about that ensemble. You’re just dressed like a douche.

In reality, I’d say the Internet is mostly to blame for misrepresenting the hipster trend (which is fine because it’s been pretty damn hilarious), and I think I’ve got proof. Give this a shot: head over to (a photo blog we often link to) and type “hipster” into the search box. As of this writing, I counted 17 albums dedicated to mocking hipsters. Most of these people deserve the ridicule for sure, but every now and then I found myself scrolling down and thinking, “Hey, that’s just a slightly overweight person whose shirt and pants are too tight.”  But tight pants are almost exclusively a hipster thing now, so welcome to the shitball, dude.

My point is that the hipster meme needs to die (not the movement—believe me, these guys are a threat to no one), because it’s f**king up irony for the rest of us. I’ve got some examples for you before I circle back, and they have to do with movies. Boom! Unreality tie-in after all.

When it comes to enjoying pop culture, the act of “liking something ironically” is sometimes utilized as a defense mechanism. “Haha, like seriously, Sheila!” some chick might confide in her friend. “I still totally listen to the first Backstreet Boys album every now and then, even though they were just the worst in high school. Pretty ironic, right?” No, that doesn’t sound ironic at all, miss. That sounds like you listened to Backstreet Boys back in high school when they were popular; the music eventually fell out of style yet resonated enough to stick with you all these years; and upon revisiting the genre in your early 30s a part of you genuinely still likes the music, but is too afraid to admit it (maybe even to yourself). “It’s just so bad that it’s good!” people like this say, terrified lest they be judged. Oh, and for the record, this particular example has nothing to do with me.

“So I heard her 31-year-old brother still listens to Backstreet Boys. Skank! Let’s give her a swirly and share secrets about colors.”

— Someone who has no idea how teenage girls talk to each other

This applies to that Nicolas Cage conversation up there too. I’ve heard plenty of people say they enjoy his movies because “Oh my god, they’re just sooooo-ooooooo bad,” but how many Cage movies do you have to deliberately watch before you can admit you’re just…a fan of Cage movies?

I can be an asshole sometimes, but I don’t judge people based on their entertainment preferences alone–at least not intentionally, I hope. A movie or TV show doesn’t necessarily have to be “good” (and according to who, anyway?) for someone to enjoy it on some level. Hell, I discovered a couple years ago that that The Mighty Boosh is goddamn hysterical, and I have exactly one friend who might share these sentiments. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to tell everyone else I like an “obscure” show “ironically” just to save face (I simply won’t broach the subject in conversation at all, like a normal person). This is my version of trying not to be a pussy.

I’m telling you, this is cerebral comedy at its finest.

And here’s an example (I hope) of genuinely enjoying something ironically. A couple weeks ago I wrote an article on Hobo with a Shotgun, a film I thoroughly enjoyed for a variety of reasons. I also loved Grindhouse and Machete, and knew all four movies were somewhat-satiric throwbacks to the ’70s and ’80s for some reason, but my knowledge of exploitation films was practically nonexistent until I’d done research for the article. Nevertheless, I’d genuinely appreciated each of these movies in their own right, even though they represented an era I never knew existed (I was born in the mid-80s). That was fascinating to me, but also kind of ironic, right? I mean, that genuine appreciation was something of an unexpected outcome.

And this brings me back to my main question: “Is it possible to enjoy something ‘ironically’ if you’re aware of the irony?”

The short answer, I think, is no. If you change your appearance, lifestyle, or both for the express purpose of conveying your version of irony to the presumably shit-giving world, the message sent is clear: you are the worst. And for those who use the guise of irony to cover up potentially poor taste (guilty), come on! Just own it. Self-awareness is a beautiful thing.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s totally cool to enjoy something ironically, but I think part of authentic irony is not recognizing it at first. It’s a reflective process.

By the way, I’ve owned at least one pair of Converse All-Stars for the last 12 years. Get bent, hipsters—you’re not taking that from me.

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  1. As I spend a lot of time watching movies that plenty would say have “ironic” enjoyment in them, I’ve come to the understanding that I derive genuine pleasure from films that are poorly made or outright trash. As you say, that ironic detachment is a cover. What makes “The Room” a success? The fans ultimately admire Tommy Wiseau for trying and perhaps sharing more of himself than he intended.

    This also works in the other direction as films that are self-consciously “ironic” tend to fail at their aims. Going back to a sense of camp, a genuine attempt to make a good movie is essential to appreciating a film of questionable quality (though, there are a handful of exceptions). In the end, irony is a really troublesome metric by which to appreciate movies.

  2. first of all, as a non-ironic nic cage fan, i have to point out one of my biggest pet peeves: you spelled his name wrong, there is no “h” and it is “Nicolas Cage”.

    ok, now that we’re done with that, i completely agree with a major point of this article. most people who vehemently stress the point that they like something “because it’s bad” or “because it’s ironic” or something of that nature, it is making an excuse.

    i honestly LOVE Nic Cage and almost all of his movies. i never knew i wasn’t supposed to until i kept getting the “really?” comments or people laughing thinking i was making a joke.

    it would be great if people could just say “yeah, i like that” and that was that. i never understood why people make excuses for why they like or dislike something.

  3. Yeah, I wouldn’t say to enjoy watching “so bad, they’re good” movies is IRONIC, I’d say it’s because they’re damn funny. I laugh out loud at how bad they are, and I enjoy that. Gran Torino was the best comedy of 20whatever.

  4. I watched 80’s movies and listened to 80’s music all my life. During my teen years when I tried to fit in I did watch stuff and listen to stuff that everyone else did, but I never stopped with the 80’s. Once I was 18 (the year 2002) and I watched the MTV video music awards and Jimmy Fallon dressed up as Avril Levine and I had no idea who she was, I realized it was pointless for me to continue trying to fit in. I live for all things 80′ and genuinely enjoy the stuff, good or bad.

  5. I enjoy Nicolas Cage movies. I Like the genuinely goodish movies like:
    Lord of War
    Matchstick Men
    Con Air
    The Rock
    Raising Arizona

    As well as the “bad” movies like:
    Vampire’s Kiss

    I watch them with my friends and we have a good time. For example we really laughed at the end of Vampire’s Kiss, when Cage got sudden spasms and crawled into his makeshift coffin. That enjoyment and laughter was real, we were entertained by Cage’s performance, even though it was bad in terms of acting. I’m also happy that Cage can go “bat shit insane” in more serious roles too like in Matchstick Men (when he was off of his medication).

    I don’t care if it’s irony or not, we are having a blast and that’s all that counts.

  6. THE MIGHTY BOOSH! YES! I forgot about that show. Why haven’t I bought that yet?

    Oh, and as for hipsters: I hate them for wearing Ninja Turtles shirts “ironically”. I wear them because I used to as a kid and now they make them in my size again. The size problem was the only reason I stopped, and yet now that crazy lady on Cracked keeps saying that if you wear a TMNT shirt you’re a hipster. No, crazy cat lady! I just love the turtles!

  7. i find it amazing you and one other person you know are aware of and appreciate the Boosh. very few of my friends AREN’T aware of it, even people in my office have caught a few episodes. its hardly “obscure”.

    this is not me having a go by the way, just amazed at the difference between i guess america and australia (where i am).

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