In my recent life I have experienced an increasing sense of dissatisfaction regarding irony. Irony as a worldview. Irony as an attitude. Irony as a shield.
I have a great respect for the work of the absurdists, the postmodernists, and the deconstructionists. The destruction of meaning in the face of hypocrisy, in the face of false hopes, was absolutely essential (I think) to our understanding of the world – even if that understanding is that we understand nothing. However, those movements thrived because they had something to oppose; because they could shock; because not caring revealed the superficiality of what people cared about. Now we live in a world where irony is commonplace. Most people have seen, or looked through, the ironic lens, but that hasn’t stopped people from caring about bad things – quite the opposite. Irony isn’t has lost much of its bite because culture has grown accustomed to it. Sarcasm and cynicism have become a brand: its sold in advertisements, encapsulated by social media detachment, stamped onto art, and we keep falling into the trap of thinking it’s original.
One of the great appeals of modern cynicism is that it is fail-proof. An ironic statement or creation is adverse to common criticism because it is critical of itself and its audience: if you approve you are counted as a peer in the pseudo-intellectual elite, if you disapprove then it’s “doing its job” or “you don’t get it” or “its not supposed to be good.” We have trapped ourselves; we treat shock value and nonsensical-ness as genius, not noticing that fewer and fewer people are shocked, and that our world already lacks any sense.
We have razed the city, but we are not rebuilding. Instead we are digging in the rubble, while warlords and cultural leeches seek to recreate what we sought to destroy. We need to care again, otherwise the efforts of irony have been wasted.
There are a few new movements emerging from the ashes of postmodern cynicism wearing the badges of new sincerity and post-irony. While I applaud the enthusiasm of these movements, I’m not sure I entirely agree with them. Caring about something, being sincere, is not enough if our beliefs are bad. The individual who originally supports Donald Trump ironically, and then begins supporting his policies sincerely, is still making a bad decision. We are not moving beyond irony because the battle is won, but because irony is an outdated weapon; and we are not discarding irony completely. We must continue to question our beliefs so that we may be sincere in believing them. We must embrace the idea that we can be wrong, that what we do can matter enough to fail.