Irony is out; sincerity is in.
November 17, 2000 1:20 AM   Subscribe

Irony is out; sincerity is in. Is it true? Is irony dead? Is sarcasm passé? Have we finally snarked out once and for all? If so, what place will our beloved ironists (and sarcastinators) have in this new Age of Earnestness?
posted by Byun-o-matic (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

posted by andrew cooke at 1:22 AM on November 17, 2000

'Always be sincere, whether you mean it or not' - surely any move towards a 'new sincerity' would be a conscious development, tending towards being a pose, and potentially ironic...
I'm not sure that it is possible to suddenly decide to be more sincere. This sounds rather like 'sincerity is the new black' to me.
posted by Caffa at 1:48 AM on November 17, 2000

I don't think it's a media 'decision' -- I've noticed this happening for a while.

Irony is a get-out clause. Because you never exert yourself to do something you can really be proud of, you never set yourself up for failure. Irony is the fallback of people who don't want to try. It's popular because it's good for the masses, the average people in whatever sphere.

But nothing great, nothing awesome, nothing true comes out of an ironic society. To create something wonderful you have to put yourself on the line, without any excuses; stand behind what you're responsible for, come what may. Perhaps we're more secure now, and ready for that step.

And that's what's happening. Irony is dead.
posted by mattw at 2:25 AM on November 17, 2000 [1 favorite]

I agree that for a person to (self)consciously take on a posture of sincerity may merely be a subtler form of irony. But if the pop psychology truism -- that irony and sarcasm are defenses we put up to shield our deeper, vulnerable selves -- is accurate, then perhaps it's not so much a taking on of an attitude as a letting go of one.

I wonder if this trend -- if it is a trend -- is a response to the cynicism that has grown ever more prevalent since Vietnam and Watergate, and which seemed to reach something like a fever pitch in the 90's. Perhaps this backlash against irony is really our way of reaching for our lost innocence. The article doesn't mention this, but the surprising (to me, anyway) support of Ralph Nader and the Green Party could be seen as further evidence of a nascent "New Idealist" spirit.
posted by Byun-o-matic at 2:48 AM on November 17, 2000

The letters "PLUR" - representing peace, love, unity and respect - adorn many T-shirts and signs.

...and tablets of Ecstasy.
posted by frenetic at 3:03 AM on November 17, 2000

Old news, guys.

Good to see that the US has managed to find some irony - I understand it used to be hard to get hold of over there.

On the other hand, this guy reckons that being able to use and understand irony makes you a decadent European aristocrat - so maybe you'd be better off without it after all.
posted by Mocata at 3:14 AM on November 17, 2000

Mocata, yeah, I read that Suck article too, and you could probably go back to David Foster Wallace's "E Unibus Pluram" essay from '93, or even earlier perhaps, for declarations of "the end of irony." But what interests me is that these ideas are moving beyond academia and taking root in the mainstream culture.

Or not, because I suppose it's a debatable point as to how far America has really gone in that direction; is there a "lash" for there to be a backlash against? If we use pop culture as a gauge, yes, although of course, for every "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" there's a "Touched by an Angel." The Washington Post editor cited above seems to be speaking for a different crowd than the one I'm familiar with. He points to our supposed lack of "morbid pleasure" in the Monica Lewinski scandal as proof of our national sincerity, but the way I remember it, there was quite a bit of morbid pleasure being taken, from late-night comedians on down the line. I mean, the media certainly didn't seem to have a problem with gleefully digging into the semen-stained dirty laundry along with Letterman/Leno.

Perhaps America's done the same thing with irony as it does with everything else -- it's made it more efficient, standardized, and mass-produced in a form that's safe and fun for the whole family.
posted by Byun-o-matic at 4:06 AM on November 17, 2000

I think a more appropriate opposite of sincerity would be cynicism (which Byun-o-matic mentions) - which is not quite the same thing as irony - and I would suggest that the media reaction to the Lewinsky business was more cynical than ironic. Cynicism is also more damaging than irony; it's cynicism that says, 'well hey, what's the point, everything screws up anyway so I'm not going to bother'.

I'd agree that this is a problem, but I think that blaming 'irony' may be a mistake. It's perfectly possible to present an ironic appearance while harbouring sincere ideals and opinions - because that's what irony is, an appearance, a mode of expression. You can be sincere, you can be cynical, but you can't be ironic (not sure if that's clear - I mean that irony is not a state of being... if you see what I mean, oh dear!)
posted by Caffa at 4:35 AM on November 17, 2000

Or you could read this interesting exchange on the subject, between Craig Brown and Robert McCrum...
posted by Caffa at 4:42 AM on November 17, 2000

Craig Brown is to satire as Prince Charles is to the environmental movement.
posted by Mocata at 5:22 AM on November 17, 2000

Oh, what flip-floppage. Excess leads to backlash, which is really just excess in the other direction. It's like tacking left or right to get ahead when we could really just walk straight ahead.

True, it's more fun to watch this way...
posted by salsamander at 6:19 AM on November 17, 2000 [1 favorite]

The thing is, though, that having lived through irony so long anything sincere we do is really post-ironic, because we (referring to us hip urbane types at MeFi) can't escape knowledge of the ironic and camp value of what we do -- even if we genuinely enjoy it, can we just experience the thrills of a Black Oak Arkansas show without a knowing wink at the fact that we're "enjoying" it?

Yadda yadda signifier signified death of camp yadda multivocality yadda.
posted by snarkout at 6:41 AM on November 17, 2000

Yeah, Black Oak Arkansas! I remember being (sincerely) wowed back in the day when they scraped their guitar necks together. The were a band that you could simultaneously hold confliciting opinions (they sucked, they were cool) about with no more irony than an implied "and yet." Exellent case in point.
posted by rodii at 6:47 AM on November 17, 2000

Who the cock are Black Oak Arkansas?

I just remembered that The Onion had a sociological explanation of the whole irony backlash thing quite recently.

But I think it's important to remember that there is no irony backlash, and the whole argument (notably the article that kicked off this thread) is rubbish cooked up by some bored hacks in a room somewhere after they'd run out of mileage on Liz Hurley's latest dress.
posted by Mocata at 6:54 AM on November 17, 2000

Some people are good at sincerity, others at irony. All should do what suits their particular styles.
posted by harmful at 7:25 AM on November 17, 2000

I tend to agree with the writer’s thesis, even if I disagree with all his arguments.

Changes in cultural identity and values don’t come from media, just the opposite. Any media critic, armchair or academic, can tell you that.

Like Mocata said (and he keeps getting it right! there is no backlash, if there were, people would be angry), the astute have watched ‘sincerity’ grow to become more acceptable than ‘irony.’ (Notice ironic quote marks.) You simply wouldn’t have had Dave Eggers screaming at a bunch of Harvard kids that they can’t deconstruct celebrities anymore, lest they become vapid and listless. Ten years ago those college kids would’ve laughed him off as a falling media star. Instead, they apologized.

“Millenials Rising” got everything wrong, but had the right thesis (just like the column linked to). The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World is a bit better.

Harmful, you’re missing the argument. The writers aren’t talking about self-expression, they’re talking about cultural attitude and acceptance.

As long as we’re citing music, if you like 80s synthpop check out the sincere kitsch of Fischerspooner.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 7:44 AM on November 17, 2000

The letters "PLUR" - representing peace, love, unity and respect - adorn many T-shirts and signs.

This is the biggest fucking crock and is what really pisses me off about a lot of ravers.

I've been to raves and seen people dropping E left and right. Everyone around you is stoned happy and they're all hugging and kissing each other, and you really would think it's all aobut "peace, love, unity and respect"... But the real fact of the matter is, IT'S THE DRUGS DOING THE TALKING!

What do I mean by this?

Raves bring out people of all social standing.. the "cool" people, the freaks and geeks, etc. I don't want to stereotype, but you get the idea.

In any case, at the raves, everybody "loves" everyone and it's all a big happy party... but guess what? When the drugs wear off and they all go back to high school, the freaks continue being freaks and the "cool" people continue to ignore and make fun of them. And that's the way it is. A lot of ravers who preach this PLUR bullshit are really the biggest hypocrites out there.

posted by PWA_BadBoy at 8:50 AM on November 17, 2000

I am really tired of being bashed around...I was just looking for a used car. I think that I will walk instead.Goodbye. And thanx a lot.
posted by fred at 9:52 AM on November 17, 2000 [48 favorites]

Personally, I think a lot of this new "sincerity" is actually a strain of anti-intellecualism. We don't need none of your stinkin complex ironic analyses! We're simple and sincere and don't stand in our way!

Not that being sincere is bad, but I would at least like to think that we've learned something from this whole trip through irony.
posted by grimmelm at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2000

What's "in" are meaningless proclamations about what's "in." Obviously a slow news day. And I say that with all due sincerity.

posted by Zeldman at 1:47 PM on November 17, 2000

A slow news day, but there's been over 150 posts this afternoon (eastern) alone. That's a busy day!
posted by cCranium at 2:06 PM on November 17, 2000

Sincerity is the new irony.
posted by Neale at 4:26 PM on November 17, 2000

But the real fact of the matter is, IT'S THE DRUGS DOING THE TALKING!

Drugs are people too.
posted by rodii at 4:51 PM on November 17, 2000

The new age of sincerity, like the age of irony that came before it, is an illusion manufactured by desperate writers in need of a topic. Pundits must pontificate to keep their paychecks flowing; "Things Are Basically The Same As They Were Yesterday" is not a headline which will send those glossy monthlies flying from the rack. Culture changes with excruciating deliberation; while we all wait for something to happen, minor trends, fads, and inconsequential presentational tweaks get amplified and fed back into the incestuous mass media echo chamber as major events until the reverberation deafens us so thoroughly we'll agree with anything if they'll only stop saying it. The same effect left us all sitting through months of Monica Lewinsky, Elian Gonzales, and the dumbest, most embarassing presidential election in living memory.

Ever notice how quickly all that "generation X slackers" nonsense disappeared once all the "generation X hardworking internet startup gurus" nonsense came in? Maybe this is the first round for the equally imaginary "generation Y".

Then again, maybe my cynical curmudgeonliness just proves his point...

posted by Mars Saxman at 5:35 PM on November 17, 2000

When inanimate drugs talk and abstractions die.

"Political satire became obsolete when Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel Prize."
We can all agree that sarcasm must be stopped!
posted by john at 5:41 PM on November 17, 2000

Mars I totally disagree with you. You’re saying that one generation is not any different than the one before it, that the one coming after mine (toddlers to five year-olds right now) won’t be any differnet than my generation. That assertation totally disregards any sense of history and historical events not to mention culture and cultural events. To discount the differences in generations is to discount volumes of sociological work. Ehrenreich wrote Fear of Falling, Reisman wrote The Lonely Crowd at least paritally on this topic (they stuck to the middle class mostly), and came up with conclusions that can only lead to believing generations differ almost totally.

My grandparents were shaped in their childhood by the Depression and watching their fathers and older brothers fight WWI. My grandfathers fought in WWII. After coming home they raised families and created suburbs. My parents grew up with the JFK assassination, atomic bomb drills in school and the Vietnam War. Gen-X, or the generation right after me (I was just off the cusp), has had little in the way of collective history to tie them together coesively — save media saturation.

As the argument goes, where Gen-X was tied up in translating media saturation into useful information (impossible, hence total disdain) the next generation is less engaged with the media because they are more empowered to create it, than let it wash over them.

For my grandparents it took a world war to unify them. My older brother’s generation was saddled with a genuine lack of unity, and the listlessness that created. Regardless of where the younger generation goes, the events that shape them have played out since they were born. They’ve grown up in a world characterized by disillusioned parents, confused older peers and Grandparents whom are painfully hard-working and self-sacrificing. Where we end up is hard to say, but this generation is as different as the one before it, as they were different from their parents, and on.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 6:02 AM on November 18, 2000

How is it that you and your older brother belong to different generations? Or are we redefining "generation" to mean "cohort that grew up in precisely the same cultural context, even if it changes every time a new TV season starts"?

I want to know what comes after the age of sincerity. My candidates are
· the age of silliness
· the age of violent, wanton destructiveness
· the age of jocularity
· the age of bemusedness
· the age of jitteriness
· the age of scared-shitlessness
· the age of spaz

posted by rodii at 8:49 AM on November 18, 2000

warning: academic burbling follows...

I'm with Mars: if you read Bourdieu's Distinction, it becomes apparent that "x is the new y" is as old as "modern" society itself. (And by that, I mean capitalist society, dating from around the 1650s.) When the mercantile bourgeois assume political power from the aristocracy, they don't have "the past" (ie heredity) upon which to base their political power; they can only wield power in the present, and that power's manifested in the ability to make choices as consumers. Distinction emerges from a choice of dress, furnishings, and luxurious living in general, but primarily from the capacity to dictate fashion: that is, the stuff with which we fashion ourselves as social beings.

Naomi Klein wouldn't like it, but the foibles of consumerism have defined modern society for the past 350 years. I could dig out newspaper punditry from the 1700s just to prove it, but I'll spare you that horror.
posted by holgate at 11:50 AM on November 18, 2000

Enough of that fancy talk mr. smarty-man. I bets yew went ta college ’n ever-thin. (Notice the sarcasm. Then laugh. ha-ha.)

This doesn’t has anything to do with fashion. This isn’t
about the sixties being the decade of protest because the kids wore bell bottoms, nor the eighties the decade of superficiality because they tight-rolled their jeans for a few months. (Holgate, what was the deal with Londener’s extra long pant cuffs last winter? I didn’t understand...)

No one is saying people used irony and sarcasm to belong to a group. They used irony, not the other way around. It was the best mode of expression for most the people, most of the time (and continues to be for some). What is being documented, is a move away from the irony, it just doesn’t suit a certain group’s historical and cultural identity. There just isn’t that same feeling cultivated among members of these dispirate generations. They aren’t doing it out some conscious decision. Jebediah Purdy certainly didn’t write his book to sound cool. (If he did, christ, what a dork.) This change made David Foster Wallace say that irony is “an agent of despair and stasis in U.S. culture.”

posted by capt.crackpipe at 12:57 PM on November 18, 2000

Dunno about the long cuffs, capt. -- I remember seeing the roll-ups a couple of times, mainly worn by Japanese students for some reason. Right now, the fashion is for three-quarter length trousers, just to make you look even more idiotic when you're riding around town on your microscooter. I blame the Saturday supplements.
posted by holgate at 12:31 AM on November 19, 2000

I apologize for my last post. MY grammar and syntax are just embarrassing. Anyone want a position as my editor? Pays nothing, but there is quite a bit of work involved.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 4:27 PM on November 19, 2000

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