This weekend’s winner of the New York Times Article That Will Draw Equal Parts Praise and Rancor is “How to Live Without Irony,” a well-written, thought-provoking op-ed by Christy Wampole, an assistant professor of French at Princeton University. Read the full piece for the true effect of her Sincerity Mission Statement, but here’s the thesis:
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.
One could effortlessly rant with an easy 2,500 words in response to Wampole’s fair (and flawed) op-ed, but instead we look to the Ultimate Irony Warehouse, Twitter, where New York Daily News opinion writer (and must-follow) Josh Greenman did the dirty work in 140 characters:
Irony can be a healthy filter to help people process an often absurd world. Or it can be completely deadening. It's a choice.
— Josh Greenman (@joshgreenman) November 18, 2012
One might also note that not all irony lovers are hipsters, and that you can be even ironic within the context of a meaningful or sincere life. One might also point to a long and storied history of irony, or pre-hipsters, and refute Ms. Wampole’s “As a Gen X’r I fear only recently are we all dead inside” thesis with Rollie Fingers’ epic handlebar mustache:
This, from an earlier post, is more convincing: Young gentros in Urban Outfitters “Navajo” tees saying “F**k the system” and “I don’t see color”: You are the problem. Two slam poets with Brave New Voices deliver this fearless indictment of hipster cultural appropriation and all its collateral damage.