Irony Meme

  • NY Times: Christy Wampole “How To Live Without Irony”
  • NY Times: Age of Irony
  • NY Times: Les Miserables and Irony
  • Notes on Tim Keller’s Sermon “Hero of Heroes”
  • Nilay Patel’s take on the Samsung S4 Launch Event
  • Nilay Patel on Twit 397 1:13:30 timestamp Samsung’s tag line “Life companion” Nilay mentions the Conquest of Cool. The counter culture in the 60s was subsumed into advertising and irony became the dominant mode of communication in the west. We’re too cool for everything and hitting something right on the nose doesn’t work for American consumers and American tastes because the counter culture is so dominant so you have to be ironic, sarcastic, funny or whatever. Samsung’s presentation was immune to this. They are big, cheesy, bold and earnest. “Life companion” is an example of that. In Dubai I would see billboards for real estate that were straight up saying “Buy this condo and your life will improve.” thinking to myself “that would never fly in America. It’s the lack of irony. There’s this camp self-awareness but there is no sense of detachment or cynicism about the product. They really think it’s your life companion and that waving at your phone will improve your life. It’s so earnest and on the nose direct about what they are trying to accomplish that they’re floating over the sense of irony that we all have about how we’re marketed to.
  • Molly Wood then picks up and notes that Apple is incredibly earnest in their presentations.
  • Book reviews on “The Conquest of Cool”. Those one from a class.  Also the NY Times Review
  • Patrol Mag: New Sincerity and the Redemption of Hipsterdom
  • We are more Petronian than Promethean.  Nonetheless, in my own pedagogy, I am constantly trying to penetrate the defenses of irony; I am always attempting to bridge the seemingly depthless chasms of critique.

Quotes from Wampole’s piece

Take, for example, an ad that calls itself an ad, makes fun of its own format, and attempts to lure its target market to laugh at and with it. It pre-emptively acknowledges its own failure to accomplish anything meaningful. No attack can be set against it, as it has already conquered itself. The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done, or that serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst. This kind of defensive living works as a pre-emptive surrender and takes the form of reaction rather than action.

Where can we find other examples of nonironic living? What does it look like? Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: “Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.”

The ironic life is certainly a provisional answer to the problems of too much comfort, too much history and too many choices, but it is my firm conviction that this mode of living is not viable and conceals within it many social and political risks. For such a large segment of the population to forfeit its civic voice through the pattern of negation I’ve described is to siphon energy from the cultural reserves of the community at large. People may choose to continue hiding behind the ironic mantle, but this choice equals a surrender to commercial and political entities more than happy to act as parents for a self-infantilizing citizenry. So rather than scoffing at the hipster — a favorite hobby, especially of hipsters — determine whether the ashes of irony have settled on you as well. It takes little effort to dust them away.

Quotes from Stanley Fish’s Piece:

The key to what is intended by these technical choices was provided for me by Hooper himself when he remarked in an interview (also printed in USA Today) that while “we live in a postmodern age where a certain amount of irony is expected, [t]his film is made without irony.” Irony is a stance of distance that pays a compliment to both its producer and consumer. The ironist knows what other, more naïve, observers do not: that surfaces are deceptive, that the real story is not what presents itself, that conventional pieties are sentimental fictions.

The artist who deploys irony tests the sophistication of his audience and divides it into two parts, those in the know and those who live in a fool’s paradise. Irony creates a privileged vantage point from which you can frame and stand aloof from a world you are too savvy to take at face value. Irony is the essence of the critical attitude, of the observer’s cool gaze; every reviewer who is not just a bourgeois cheerleader (and no reviewer will admit to being that) is an ironist.

“Les Misérables” defeats irony by not allowing the distance it requires. If you’re looking right down the throats of the characters, there is no space between them and you; their perspective is your perspective; their emotions are your emotions; you can’t frame what you are literally inside of.

Understandable but not admirable, if what you desire from criticism is some kind of affirmation. Irony — postmodern or any other — is a brief against affirmation, against the unsophisticated embrace of positive (unqualified) values. No one has seen this more clearly than David Foster Wallace, who complains that irony “serves an exclusively negative function,” but is “singularly unuseful when it comes to replace the hypocrisies it debunks” (“E Unibus Pluram,” Review of Contemporary Fiction, 1993). Irony, he adds, is “unmeaty”; that is, it has nothing solid inside it and is committed to having nothing inside it. Few artists, Wallace says, “dare to try to talk about ways of redeeming what’s wrong, because they’ll look sentimental and naïve to all the weary ironists.” But perhaps there is hope. “The next real … ‘rebels’ … might well emerge as some weird bunch of ‘antirebels,’ born oglers who dare to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions with reverence and conviction” (“E Pluribus Unam”). Enter “Les Misérables.”

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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2 Responses to Irony Meme

  1. This was an exceptional read. It was interesting to see all the young people in the comments deny their irony and insincerity when, after all, the most important part of being a hipster is denying your hipsterness.

    I agree with Wampole. Certainly, not everyone in their 20’s or 30’s is riding a fixie and scouring thrift stores for uselessly rugged flannel shirts. But young people (myself included) DO hide behind irony too often. And it is unhealthy. I liked Wampole’s example of the four-year-old; it reminded me of Jesus’ statement that”…the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

  2. Pingback: Why God Saying “Yes” To Your Most Audacious Prayer Would Not Be Enough |

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