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The Case Against Irony

It’s hip. It’s big. Does it keep us from living a full life?

Hipster (GabeB/Flickr)

Hipster (GabeB/Flickr)

Who knew that irony could be such a hot topic?  Christy Wampole wrote an essay saying we live in the age of deep irony, and it’s cutting us off from life.  Everything’s an ironic pose, she said.  In our humor, our fashion, our politics, our advertising, our hipsters.  Direct candor has become unbearable.

Rampant sarcasm, she charged, rules the day.  And it’s killing us.  Well, that drew a blast in return.  Lay off the hipsters.  Know thyself.  This world deserves some irony.  It’s a new sincerity that’s really the news.

This hour, On Point:  Our culture, and the power of irony.

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Christy Wampole, professor of French and Italian at Princeton University. She’s the author of a recent op-ed How to Live Without Irony.

Jonathan Fitzgerald, author of the forthcoming Not Your Mother’s Morals: How the New Sincerity Is Changing Pop Culture for the Better and the editor of Patrolmag.com.

From Tom’s Reading List

You can hear an archived On Point show about irony here.

New York Times “The hipster haunts every city street and university town. Manifesting a nostalgia for times he never lived himself, this contemporary urban harlequin appropriates outmoded fashions (the mustache, the tiny shorts), mechanisms (fixed-gear bicycles, portable record players) and hobbies (home brewing, playing trombone). He harvests awkwardness and self-consciousness. Before he makes any choice, he has proceeded through several stages of self-scrutiny.”

The Atlantic “Cultural critics love hypothesizing about hipsters. And certainly hipsters make for useful lab rats if you’re interested in the culture of young, gentrifying, trendy, affluent, and white college graduates. But it’s easy to let this hypothesizing go too far, and you get into trouble when you try to charge hipsters with representing the “ethos of our age.” They’re just kids making their way from young adulthood to the rest of their lives.”

Playlist

Losing my edge by LCD Soundstorm

I’m on a Boat by The Lonely Island

Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell by Shut Up, Dude Mixtape

Never Gonna Give You Up by Rick Astley

Call Me Maybe by Fun

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  • 1Brett1

    I thought sincerity was the new irony and irony was the new sincerity!?! 

  • 1Brett1

    Isn’t the case against irony really a case for irony?!? 

  • Acnestes

    OK.  So what?

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.ryan.397 Jim Ryan

    I’ve always figured that a failure to appreciate irony was an indication that the person was a little bit dense.

    • 1Brett1

      What do you mean?

      • http://www.facebook.com/jim.ryan.397 Jim Ryan

         Exactly!

        • 1Brett1

          Speaking of mean, isn’t that a little mean spirited? …regarding both your comments?

          You’ve touched on an aspect of the new irony, though. Instead of adding to another riff, just step on it.

      • Jasoturner

        Excellent!

  • 1Brett1

    Christy Wampole’s NYT’s op-ed was a great satirical piece; I laughed through the whole thing…Look out Dave Barry!

    Seriously, though, I agree that the modern use of irony is a way to sidestep intimacy and sincerity; it’s a kind of preemptive strike against being made fun of on some level, a way to protect oneself. It is a way to wear armor in a cultural battle of hipness, of being in the vanguard of what is “now.” 

    The new irony also seems to be a kind of impatience, especially toward the development of genuine culture. Borrowing/making fun of culture from another time – to be intentionally anachronistic – reveals a lack of sincere originality and creativity. The way irony is used these days is a substitute for creative ideas, and the very human quality that desires the occasional nostalgic feeling seems replaced by faux nostalgia.

    The Internet memes are a great example of how readily people access irony. They are fun; they are easy to produce/reproduce. They replace something, though…I’m not sure that what it is they’ve replaced had any more value or any real value itself, however.

    I don’t know if I share Ms. Wampole’s angst about the new irony. I would have to see it as being in lieu of something of value, which it is but not because it suppresses something else. If the new irony was not present/did not exist in its current popularity, something equally transient or faddish would take its place. Which, I admit, sounds kind of cynical, kind of reactionary, kind of ironic.

    Twitter and FaceBook have done a lot to promote the new irony because they are tailored for brevity, where the development of an idea only gets traction if it’s clever in a sentence or two. An idea or sentiment only seems to also have a very short shelf life. The best way to express oneself under those conditions is to access already familiar or recognizable material and put a twist on it.

  • Coastghost

    Jedediah Purdy made a notable case against irony once. Now he’s a law professor.

  • Vandermeer

     Not sure what this is even about…

  • J__o__h__n

    Sincerity brought us the the Crusades, burning of witches, Prohibition and countless other plagues.  We need more irony.  It survived Jedediah Purdy and Alanis and will survive the current crop of scolds.

    • 1Brett1

      I’m a little confused in that usually your comments (which I like) are ironic/employ satire or sarcasm…SO, are you actually saying we need LESS irony?

  • Jasoturner

    I remember reading a great article many years ago that asked the question, “exactly what is irony?”  It is a non-trivial question, and different people seem to define the word very differently.  Hopefully that will be part of today’s discussion.

    • Mike_Card

      This is like most of modern language:  any word of more than two syllables is totally self-referential and means anything the speaker intends, despite such bothersome devices as dictionaries.

  • Coastghost

    I would not have guessed that Professor Wampole is affiliated with Princeton University, nor would I have guessed that she’s a professor not simply of literature but of French and Italian literature (I’d start by commending Alfred Jarry and Niccolo Machiavelli to her professorial attention, just as I’d commend a [re-?]reading of Edwin Good’s IRONY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT and Wayne Booth’s RHETORIC OF IRONY). If her essay is a contribution to “the New Sincerity”, I would hasten to warn her that David Foster Wallace is sincerely dead. Her complaint seems not with poor vilified irony itself: she might have directed her arguments against glibness and “uninformed irony” instead. She complains that the contemporary ironic mode/ethos is somehow deeper and more ingrained–but that practicing ironists are consequently more shallow (watch those unleashed ironies!). She claims the internet fosters our new ironic ethos, but is she claiming some kind of inherent structural correspondence? (A robust case could be made that the internet fosters the very unthinking credulity she seems never to get around to tackling: maybe next semester . . . .)

    • DrJoani

      That is  a great piece of writing (yours) and  I especially appreciate your parenthetical observation at the end) .

      More whining from someone striving to be as “hip” as those she castigates?

      • Coastghost

        Thank you, and I regret I am in no good position to appreciate your comments in French posted up above, but thank you for those, too (whether Wampole reads them or no). To my pedestrian mind her essay succeeds in being provocative because it comes across as ill-informed: but I don’t expect an outbreak of classicism to succeed post-postmodernism. –One of my favorite Jarry anecdotes (reproduced in Brotchie’s newish biography): commended for the polish of one of his Latin translations, Jarry was asked which author most informed his style. “Aristophanes”, Jarry replied blankly: I sincerely doubt many of Professor Wampole’s students would get the joke, mummified as they all seem by the constant press of contemporaneity.

        • DrJoani

          French comments:
          That was a bit of pretention on my part, assuming that the French prof. might read the comments—not offensive but not admiring either.I have a Ph.D. in French and much teaching experience so
          know well that the trendy “hipsters” didn’t set us on a course of irony . My son lives now in Williamsburg and is surrounded by “hipsters,” with their “style” and ways and great spending capacities (he is Gen.?WXYZ I don’t know, in his 40′s). But since I never did read the NYT piece I guess I’m not sure what she’s aiming for, apart from recognition and sales.

          Joani Davidson

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    It is said that if you loose one sense, your other senses grow sharper to compensate. As I grow older, my sense of responsibility has faltered; thankfully, my sense of irony has grown to make up for it! – MMTCW 2012

  • geraldfnord

    Irony, as the term tends to be used, often seems to be part of a failure
    to commit to actually liking something for fear that it weren’t cool. 
    Wearing an hat popular in 1940, or riding a primitive bicycle, or using
    ‘an’ as the indefinite pronoun before a word beginning with an ‘h’ for
    that matter, is not ‘ironic’ if one actually and unreservedly should say, ‘I do
    so because I like it this way.’

    Such might well be called 
    ‘nostalgie de la boue’, or ‘uninformed appropriation’, or ‘a
    damned-stupid affectation on the level of using too many hyphens’, but
    it would not be ‘ironic’ (as would, for example, a gun-hating Park Sloper’s
    wearing an NRA t-shirt, or at least some advocates’ use of the term “Libertarian”.)

  • http://twitter.com/TweeterSmart b smart

    what would Jonathan Swift say?

    • Mike_Card

      What would Tom Swift say swiftly?

      • geraldfnord

        He could say nothing that could beat ‘”I’m into gay necrophilia,” Tom said in dead earnest.’

        Nothing.

        • sickofthechit

           best comment of the day!cab

        • Mike_Card

          Bravo!

  • ToyYoda

    The NYT excerpt above doesn’t seem like a a criticism of irony.  Instead it reads like whining from someone who is way too concerned about consumer products and vanity.

    Being concerned about moustaches, what bike someone rides, etc… is that full living?

  • LeonardNicodemo

    After college my humor preference shifted to nothing but non-stop incessant self deprecating irony. Is this normal? 

  • ttajtt

    “Political correctiveness = pose, cameras’ tapes’ language.   15 minutes of fame here now me.  

    if not your too cool.

  • ttajtt

    “Political correctiveness = pose, cameras’ tapes’ language.   15 minutes of fame here now me.  

    if not your too cool.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    I don’t understand…I think there’s is s subtle distinction being lost here. Sarcasm is just down right mean. I have no place for vicious people in my life. On the other hand, for me, Irony is often self deprecating! – Just call me too clueless to live.

    • adks12020

      sarcasm is not inherently mean.  It’s only mean if (1) the people are actually mean that are using it or (2) you don’t realize the person is using sarcasm (3) you don’t understand what sarcasm is.

  • geraldfnord

     Note that irony were natural to anyone sufficiently distanced from society that many of its inherent contradictions are inescapable and so make irony the only apt descriptive mode.

  • J__o__h__n

    If she wants to go after hipsters, please attack facial hair instead of irony.

    • sickofthechit

       Hey, I’m not sure if I appreciate your comment since I am sporting a jaw-line beard for the first time in my 56 years because I finally got sick of hacking my face up every other day or so. Now I just have to worry about the area around my kisser and my face is warmer!  No I am not hipster.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

    I don’t see any concern over irony down here at the bottom, where we’re trying to figure out things like how to pay the gas bill and buy the groceries. Maybe people have been on an “irony binge,” but it seems like an elite problem from down here in the unemployment line.

  • Coastghost

    Already, the foe Professor Wampole failed to attack seems to be the myopia engendered by overexposure to contemporary pop culture.

  • ToyYoda

    Fantastic issue being raised here.  Let’s all upgrade from irony to sarcasm!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amaury-Fontenele/696442149 Amaury Fontenele

    Christy is so right it’s actually sad. Absolutely RIGHT!

  • DrJoani

    I know what IRONY is not: giving someone a jokey gift, wearing a declarative TShirt…feel free to add your examples.
    She should attempt to define what she means ou revenir a sa classe de francais au Texas pour leur expliquer…quou que ce soit. Quant a moi, j’adore l’ironie et concoit qu’il y en a tres peu aux Etats-Unis, helas.

    • J__o__h__n

      I think someone put a black fly in her Chardonnay.

  • Jian Sun

    People have been living since Adam and Eve that he or she tries to come up with a theory and preach to others – that’s the mother of all irony.

  • adks12020

    Tom, please don’t insult us by asking the question,”are we all hipsters?”.  I know if was rhetorical but it still offends me.  Hipster irony drives most of us crazy. It’s pretentious and completely fake.  Those of us that are the age to be surrounded by them are constantly frustrated by them. 

    I know I’m not the only one that can’t wait for the hipster fad to end. I know all my friends that used to live parts of Brooklyn they can’t afford anymore are hoping that will happen.

  • SamEw

    I’m always a little confused about what the term hipster means. If it’s just someone who has a beard and listens to fleet foxes than half the guys I went to grad school with fit the bill. It seems like many though create a definition of the word virtually no real life people fall into. 

    • Mike_Card

      It’s someone who is not you, trying to be someone who is not him or her.

  • J__o__h__n

    “This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel.” – Horace Walpole

    • Coastghost

      Or: “Satirist: a tragedian with a sense of humor”. (not Horace Walpole)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1631791436 Suz Carter

    Do you see this as having changed over time?

  • Jillian Nowlin

    I understand what Professor Wampole is talking about. Coming from generation Y and recently having lived in NYC for 2 and half years, I think there are so many people my age (26) that look at life through this ironic lens where everything is a mockery and that mockery is used as a defense mechanism. I think irony has become this tool people in their late teens, twenties, and early thirties use so as not to be made fun of for genuine interests. Its okay if one likes something ironically, but not if someone likes something genuinely. Ie. “Ugly sweaters” – Its okay for someone to wear a weird “Bill Cosby” sweater from the 80s ironically, but not because one genuinely likes the style of them. That’s not okay. I find it frustrating and so I try to live my life with genuine interests, popular or not, rather than ironic ones so that I can fit in. I don’t really care if people this its cool or not.

  • http://wh.gov/IVp4 Yar

    Wasn’t the book of revelations written as irony?  Irony is a check sum, it proves your cognitive circuits are working.  It also proves the person you are communicating with is tuned in.
    It is power when you have none, isn’t that ironic?

  • Dan Rencewicz

    “Irony is a state of affairs that is the reverse of what was to be
    expected; a result opposite to and in mockery of the appropriate result.
    For instance, a diabetic, on his way to buy insulin, is killed by a
    runaway truck. He is the victim of an accident. If the truck was
    delivering sugar, he is the victim of an oddly poetic coincidence. But
    if the truck was delivering insulin, ah! Then he is the victim of an
    irony.” 
    – George Carlin

  • Benjamin Rivard-Rapoza

    If there’s one thing worse than hipster irony, it’s hipster earnestness.

  • rick evans

    The popularity of “Big Brother” and “Survivor” make her point.

  • 1OnPointFan

    Are you saying that irony = sarcasm?  Otherwise I am confused about what exactly you mean by living ironically.  In other words, not really speaking sincerely from the heart?

  • pilates1

    Dual US/UK citizen with much experience talking about irony and living among ironically inclined folk.  It’s old news Christy! I love sincerity as well as the next oldster from the midwest, but boarding school kids have been soaked with it both sides of the pond for yonks. IT’S FUNNY!! It has leeched into the broader public through tv, especially starting in the 90s with Simpsons and Friends when the phrase NOT had to follow a comment to inform listeners that the opposite was intended.  It is a trending now as a spoken form of culture, but this is what happens when culture gets ‘rich’.  Ours was impoverished for ages and hardly could be self-referenetial — TO WHAT? 

    Ironic sword play is a fine art of interaction not to be disparaged, just to be avoided sometimes, especially when, as with the T-shirt wearing example you gave, it just shows the user to be a dult.

  • Jian Sun

    I don’t get why people think Colbert is sarcastic? I think he is being dead serious!

    • adks12020

      This isn’t supposed to sound mean but….(unless you are  joking which is hard to tell in typed text) then you don’t understand his delivery. His comedy is social and political satire drenched in sarcasm. He has serious themes under the jokes but his delivery is intended to cause laughs and he uses satire to do it.

      • Jian Sun

        I meant what I said. You laugh because you think he’s not serious. Joking is just camouflage for his ideology – but you can never tell, right? It’s comedy central!

        • adks12020

          Sorry, but you totally miss the point. He is trying to address serious issues by approaching them as a character. If you listen to what he actually says and aren’t completely distracted by his character you can see that. He throws in serious points that are out of character occasionally but in general he is sarcastic when he makes is points. 

          • Jian Sun

            Perhaps I missed the point but the way he’s being serious does make me laugh – because he’s so helpless hopeless (with this election)!

    • DrewInGeorgia

      In Character.
      I’ve always suspected there were those who thought he was “dead serious”out there, thanks for the confirmation!

      • Jian Sun

        He is being serious – but who cares? He’s just a comedian, right? Americans don’t even care about the president.

  • http://twitter.com/en_b ian berry

    Simple: the amount of hypocrisy displayed by current world events has lead to an ironic attitude.

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Mark Twain was a master if irony. He often drove the point painfully home without being sarcastic!

  • ChevSm

    I am having a real hard time following this conversation.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      What conversation?

  • Flytrap

    I am wondering if she thinks self righteousness correlates strongly with this ironic generation?
     

  • pilates1

    Further to the comment below, I imagine the British, who are living perfectly well with their completely ironic way of interacting with one another, are laughing at your sincerity Christy, and thinking you just don’t get it, irony doesn’t matter in and of itself with regard to civility or ‘living’ as you call it, it’s just a way of making it more fun.  the joke is on you for trying to go against the trend.

  • KateEH720

    My husband and I always used irony and dry humor with each other. When we had children we made a conscious effort to tone that down. Our eight year old has been developing his own sense of humor in the past year and he’s experimented with irony and sarcasm. Recently his third grade teacher pulled me aside to talk about him talking disrespectfully. Irony and sarcasm on an eight year old does not play well.

    Kate

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/YMV2HJ2TBKMCN2QRAVI3I2OOGM Jim Jim

    One thing that should be considered is that Generation Y has lived with war since infancy. They have not lived in a country that is at peace during their whole lives. Irony is a message that relates directly to being powerless.  

  • Dick Johnson

    Oedipus might agree that there is too much irony.  So might Milton’s Satan; so might Ahab. 
    A couple of decades ago, theory declared irony DEAD.
    Now, too much? Problem is, “objectivity” is difficult nowadays and irony becomes a middle ground, more nuanced and textured than “sober, adult, sincere” pundits and politicians.
    Northrop Frye years ago, thought satire was “militant irony,” irony with a moral position.

  • KateEH720

    My husband and I always used irony and dry humor with each other. When we had children we made a conscious effort to tone that down. Our eight year old has been developing his own sense of humor in the past year and he’s experimented with irony and sarcasm. Recently his third grade teacher pulled me aside to talk about him talking disrespectfully. Irony and sarcasm on an eight year old does not play well.

    Kate

  • volpephoto

    I am a wedding photographer and my biggest pet peeve is that at most young white weddings these days no-one really dances anymore.  Most people just get up and do a series of poses or funny choreography usually in a circle with one person in the middle.  What ever happened to shaking your booty and just letting it all hang out!  I guess I am an old fogy!

    • LeonardNicodemo

       Dancing is coming back, it just had to get ironic first.

  • IsaacWalton

    This quote from the Atlantic says it all (about hipsters) “They’re just kids making their way from young adulthood to the rest of their lives.” I recall passing through that age. The difference is my generation wasn’t borrowing from an era we never lived in as a statement. The sad thing is these hipsters may eventually mature and wonder, “I really wasted a lot of time living this way.” At least that’s what I’m saying now. :-)

  • Kevin

    My interpretation of the thrust behind the irony essay is:

    Chronic use of irony is a tactic which can be used to avoid being sincere. Being sincere with others requires us being comfortable with being sincere with our own selves. And to be sincere with our own selves requires an inquiry into our own self: “Man Know Thyself!”

    So the essay is asking us to raise our courage and inquire individually into “Who am I?”, a question which can be painful and requires fortitude and perseverance to press.

    The answer to this question, as per Indian mythology which believes in the source of all creation being inside us, leaves no other question unanswered.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjamin.wao Benjamin Wao

    Irony is a mark of intelligence, an acknowledgment that the world is a complex place where true sincerity, except in certain sacred realms, is often misguided.

  • SRosin

    Having been deemed a “hipster” early on in my life, I see this irony every day of my life. While it’s okay for aesthetic choices and encourages preservation of vintage, it also encourages a disheartening level of condescension. Within my friend group it is common to casually mock anyone who has genuine care about any cause at all. It’s also common to turn irony onto things that they might have once been embarrasses about such as a hometown or hobbies they might have had in their childhood. It leads to a complete lack of ability to talk seriously about feelings or issues. There are so many levels of mockery, irony and sarcasm that often times I cannot get through to what anyone is saying. I can’t tell if they’re making fun of the subject or sincerely caring about it. It’s terrifying because this is the attitude this generation is treating our own political climate. 

  • Melanie Wilson

    I see this hyper-ironic tendency in our college-age kids, and to me it seems to be about a deep fear of exposure. My step-daughter tells me none of friends ‘date,’ — that dating’s gone out of style because, in our Facebooked world, it’s just too risky. Anything that goes wrong will be made public. So instead they roll their eyes at this old-fashioned forms of courtship and accept hook-up concept because it’s (ironically) LESS risky.

  • Richard Chandler

    So far, I haven’t heard Christy Wampole say anything that wasn’t argued by Christopher Lasch.

  • Coastghost

    ALL of Professor Wampole’s examples are self-referential Gen X and Millennial pop culture references. The lack of historical sensibility (meaning: an awareness of anything that happened on the planet prior to, say, 1976) might itself tell her something.

    • J__o__h__n

      She did a lot of research.  Someone was wearing a dumb t-shirt.

      • Mike_Card

        And she went to a movie in Berlin.

  • http://wh.gov/IVp4 Yar

    All in the Family was full of Irony.  Your guest may be too young to know of it.

  • DanielRobinson

    Remember Reality Bites and Ethan Hawke’s character asked Ben Stiller’s character to define irony? He did that as a test of his intelligence just to know what it really is, much less use it rhetorically. That was my first introduction to irony.

  • J__o__h__n

    You can both sincerely enjoy and laugh at something at the same time.  William Shatner’s new CD is great.

  • IsaacWalton

    Good point caller. Is this style or substance—this ironic attitude? I think it’s a style. The last 2 presidential elections shows me that these youngins do have substance. 

    • nj_v2

      If you’re invoking politics to make a point about substance, i think you’re in trouble.

  • http://wh.gov/IVp4 Yar

    I loved my ‘Mutants for Nuclear Power’ shirt I wore in the 80′s. 

    • nj_v2

      With the one-eyed, smiley face! 

       • )

      • http://wh.gov/IVp4 Yar

        That’s it, I wore it until it was more holes than shirt.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=2805589 Micah Ochs

    In a world were everything you do is watched everywhere you are, what possible response can you make except to hide in public?

  • hepstein

    Thought the comment about irony being the default mode of the powerless was apt. In pre-1989 Czechslovakia where I was born and in other Soviet-dominated cultures, irony was the national medium of expression and still is to some degree. I find it difficult to live with.

  • jkehoe77

    I think it’s difficult to make a distinction between stuff you actually like vs. surrounding yourself with things that you just think are funny. I think you can point to things in culture, take for instance the music of Bon Iver, which would seem to carry the tincture of ironic 80s referentiality (particularly the song Beth/Rest), but is actually more in line with what Jonathan Fitzgerald is talking about with the new sincerity. How does one draw distinctions between an aesthetic informed by backward looking nods, and ironic retro-kitsch. I think it’s often insulting to assume that people don’t actually like the things they claim they like. 

  • Billdave

    Irony is often a reaction and a cure to sentimentality.  It is a sort of test of authenticity>  Wes Anderson movies are full of sentimentality and therefore easy to be ironic about.  Irony falls flat when directed at genuine feeling and sincere thoughtfulness. 

    • 1Brett1

      I particularly like this comment because it gets at an attempt to distinguish sentimentality from sentiment.

      • Coastghost

        Should you care for an even larger shock to the system, take a look at Richard Weaver’s IDEAS HAVE CONSEQUENCES (1948), ch. 1 of which is titled “The Unsentimental Sentiment”. (Weaver seems not to have implicated irony, that I recall.)

  • Chelsey Gonzalez

    Look, I think you always want to kill the messenger. I’m 30 living in a very cool, urban southern city, her article couldn’t be more spot on. Christie is just pointing out something our generation and those a bit younger than us, could get a bit better at. 

  • http://twitter.com/JP_Finn James Finnegan

    I was born in ’85, and I see where John is coming from–there is a
    definitely a category of folks in the Millennial generation who have the
    confidence to move beyond irony and engage in a “New Sincerity”. But I
    also recognize Christy’s point that the hipster culture is a strong and
    troubling force in my generation. Many of my college-educated,
    underemployed peers fall into that trap, and it does have something to
    do with self-esteem: if you cultivate a smokescreen of irony, no one can
    peg you down and hold you accountable for your life situation, outlook,
    or beliefs. Perhaps more importantly, you don’t have to hold yourself
    accountable.

    I’m certainly not innocent of this impulse. I often
    find myself posting snarky/sarcastic/ironic stuff on FB, Twitter, or
    wherever, only to feel a twinge of discomfort for my insincerety moments
    later, at which point I usually click “delete”.

    Like the saying goes: talk is cheap. It’s just way too easy to broadcast every little ironic thought one has these days.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/OH7YTOPBQEQXO5PU2JSKS2R27Q Andy of the North

      But James, I would argue that those moments when you’re sarcastic, cynical and snarky are  (or at least can be) genuine, honest moments, and in no way “insincere”. 

      Youth is allowed – or should be allowed – to live in their culture of the moment.  I’m about 15 year older than you and my generation were called “slackers”.

      No one comes out of high school or college fully-formed and really “who they are”.   I feel that humor is a vital part of maintaining sanity and keeping us grounded in this severly messed up world.

      Irony and cynicism – and their mutant child, “snark” -  to me are an antidote to misplaced earnestness and sincerity (real or fake) that we’re exposed to so often in the media. 

      We should all just be who we are – who we REALLY are – and stop worrying so much what other people think.

  • John Drinane

    I was think about the catch “kony 2012″ viral campaign… Did it become too big for it’s own good. I recall comments from people hating on the video and charity. Some with good reason but others just because it was popular… Does Irony hinder us from rallying behind a cause that social media makes so easy for us to be exposed to?

    • JonFrum

       It was a terrible cause. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  • Joe Transue

    There is a collective awakening happening that rejects missteps of the past- many of which are based on the more selfish components of human nature.  The fear of abandoning so much in favor of a new collective identity is stressful.  The prevalence of irony is a symptom of the hesitation that results when we ask ourselves if we are on the right path. Irony is the crucible of truth.

  • Kendra Keefer-McGee

    I’m really surprised that no one has mentioned postmodernism.

    • J__o__h__n

      They will do it later.

  • Ellen Dibble

    If the social media are not “merely” loudspeakers for entrenched positions, then it requires to be able to signal open-mindedness with a degree of what I believe the Czech author called The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera, in Communist times, where you show that you can and will shift positions.  You are not just a poster for a particular lobby.  I like it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amaury-Fontenele/696442149 Amaury Fontenele

    I am listening here and I just want to say this: If coping mechanism is the “why” for an ironic life and posturing because people are powerless and we need to cope. I will say: Cope? Really? Are we a bunch of babies? The way we “cope” is we get up and make things happen! The issue is our lives are comfortable enough. We “ironically winnie” under the disguise of a ” ironically jokes” because we don’t have the courage to REALLY and OPENLY MEAN and DO SOMETHING! We are too comfortable.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OH7YTOPBQEQXO5PU2JSKS2R27Q Andy of the North

    “Irony” is overused as a whipping boy and signifier of hipsterism.  15 or so years ago we had the great Simpsons quote:  “Are you being ironic?”,  answer:  “I don’t even know anymore.”
     
    I don’t think what the NYT writer is talking about is irony, per se, but just pure, shallow, hipsterism-for-hipsterism’s-sake.   Implying that our lives are somehow less rich and full because of irony is ridiculous and more than a little contrarian just for the sake of being so.

  • SuziVt

    I also wish there was more sincerity in the world. But with a republican congress that enjoys a cushy medical plan and retirement pension while at the same time wants to do away with social security and doesn’t want Obamacare, what are average people suppose to think…feel? A government that has been at war for over a decade, yet wants lower taxes AND a president (Geo. W Bush) who’s answer was, to tell people to go out and shop and then borrows money to pay for this war then implements tax breaks to the very rich. How about the scam, this war is not going to last years or months, but DAYS. The Iranians are going to meet us with flowers. The banner, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! It isn’t hard to see why generation Y thinks ironically. They are living in irony! …Don’t let the government get their hands on my medicare! We could go on and on. I do believe Ms. Wampole makes a good point for discussion and we should be mindful of our speech. There are times for irony and there are times when only direct sincerity will do. Let’s give her credit for thinking and analyzing the condition. It’s a great topic for discussion. Some people are much too touchy and defensive. Chill.

    • Eliza_Bee

      Good point about living in irony.  I think Colbert and Stewart, who were mentioned on the program as being emblematic of our OD on irony, came about as a natural reaction to the events you enumerated above.  

      For example, when the majority of our citizenry AND the NYT bought into the Iraq war, what the heck else was there to do??  Although I’m from the earnest peace & love generation, I applaud Colbert and Stewart and think they’ve had a big positive impact.I do see things in the younger generation that show interest in the genuine, such as gardening, community supported agriculture, DIY, even the homebrewing and playing trombone mentioned in the NYT as being acts of irony.The latter two items reminded me of some guys I knew in the 70′s who were self-mocking proponents of machismo.  Self-mockery notwithstanding, the machismo had a big impact on their lives and those of their girlfriends/wives.  

  • Tim Rohe

    Both sides of this debate had a pretty poorly framed argument.  Ms. Walpole talks of a lack of sincerity, but sincerity has been adopted as a defense mechanism as well.  It’s been co-opted by groups like the Tea Party to the point where sincerity has become equated to extremism.  People don’t want to have “real” conversation (whatever that means) because it means questioning their “sincere” beliefs.  If I see John Boehner cry one more time because he believes in something so sincerely that it brings tears to his eyes, I’m going to snap.  As for irony being the “new sincerity,” that’s also false.  There’s nothing authentic about either hipsters or emo kids, or goths and hippies for that matter.  How exactly does conforming to a culturally defined form of “rebellion” by either wearing skinny jeans and “ironic” trucker hats or all black with black eyeliner qualify as authentic?  It’s cultural laziness.  I would be mute were it not for sarcasm, but at least I write my own material.  There’s nothing ironic or original about quipping, “That’s what she said,” at every opportunity.”  Switch it up a little and come up with your own catch phrases, if that’s how you want to define yourself.  The only attempt I’ve seen to this end is the effort to find a favorite band that no one else has ever heard of.  That’s fine if you genuinely like said band, but if you’re only using them to define your “originality,” you’re still conforming to a cultural norm.  Both sides of this debate are trying to assert their individuality by conforming to a conglomeration of approved tropes within their social group.  You don’t have to work so hard to assert your individuality and “sincerity;” your finger prints do that for you.  Most attempts people use to define themselves are in opposition to something else, which misses the point.  It’s too subtractive.  Define yourself using an additive methodology and you will almost inherently be original.

    • nj_v2

      I thought i was following you until i got to “additive methodology.”

      I agree about the insincerity of the notion of subscribing to “culturally defined forms of rebellion” as a way to assert hipness/coolness, but i think there’s a limit to individuality, too.

      It’s a paradox, really. We’re all unique, and we’re all the same.

      I doubt any particular person feels emotions any differently than anyone else. The same blood courses through our veins. We breathe the same air.

      There are limits to the value of asserting individuality, no?

      Part of the reason we gravitate toward certain cultural expressions—art, music, literature, etc.—is that they express or resonate with something we think/feel/believe. 

      At the same time they are expressions of the artist(s), these cultural forms can function as collective manifestations of individual experience. Individually, we may each embody a different constellation of these, but to some extent, we share them in the artforms we experience together.

      • Tim Rohe

         I agree with all of what you said.  I also agree that my phrasing was not the best.  To clarify my point a little, maybe, it’s more about how and why you choose what you gravitate toward.  It’s kind of like pastiche theory; the idea that everything has been done before and the “originality” comes out of the different combinations each person comes up with.  People should form their “identity” out of a pastiche of the various elements that they, personally gravitate toward, rather than adopting all of the tropes of culturally defined identity (such as a hipster) en masse, usually in opposition to another culturally defined identity.  When you define yourself in opposition to something else, you become co-dependent; take away the thing you’ve defined yourself against, and your identity disappears as well.  I guess that’s what I meant by “additive methodology;” if you define yourself by the whole of your interests and experiences, none of which may be unique to you, your identity is not dependent on any one element of the pastiche.  I don’t know if that clears anything up.  Doubt it.  I tend to be overly verbose.

        • JonFrum

           So you managed to squeeze the Tea Party into a discussion of Brooklyn twenties with black frame glasses and PBR six-packs? You have a truly creative mind.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Amaury-Fontenele/696442149 Amaury Fontenele

    At a minimum, one’s chronic ironic posturing creates one extra layer to actual engagement in any real conversation. It’s simply one extra wall. If irony is a “prerequisite”, a ticket to engage in any meaningful conversation than it’s a de-service. I admire straight up talk. It’s a highway to growth and THAT actually shows you really care about issues and people. I love it. 

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/OH7YTOPBQEQXO5PU2JSKS2R27Q Andy of the North

    “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.”

    Ugh.  Ms. Wampole, in my opinion, is so far up her own arse with all of this that any kind of meaningful point is lost.   She has a problem with hipsters, well, so what?  They probably don’t care, unless they care ironically, and I’d also argue that kids will be kids.   Again, so what?  We all make mistakes and we all have to live with our generation as it develops an identity – which is really a spurious concept at best anyway. 

  • 1Brett1

    I thought the show on the Texas Nationalist Movement the other day only really worked as irony…-no, wait, I meant satire. Or maybe I meant parody…

  • disqus_84QNXi34J5

    Want irony? Visit New Orleans, where young white hipsters have come into the city, taken the jobs, hoarded housing and even overpopulated the street corners begging for cash. At night, they live in neighborhoods in run down houses while getting police protection from the very same natives of New Orleans who they’ve stolen opportunities from.

    • JonFrum

       If they need police protection from the natives, then the city could do without the natives. White hipsters didn’t create crime and poverty in New Orleans.

  • GorgeousThings

    I listened to this interview for about 10 minutes, and I just could not get past how self-important she sounded. Very “Enough about me, how do you like my book?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=710907425 James N Powell

    The foundational study of irony was written by Czeslaw Milosz. The Captive Mind, shows how irony was necessary in the Balkans under Soviet domination, because one could not speak one’s mind openly. The second half of the book presents psychological portraits of state-sponsored artists, and the devastating effects of living under a veneer of irony. It is true that difficult times engender irony; this is a story of irony in the wake of Nazi and Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe.

    Milosz was a great ironist. But he also insisted that it is better to live and write without irony. 

  • hariboa

    Maybe it’s a generational thing. We in the ’60s had the irony of the hippies and then the flower-children (remember the hippie funeral?), the Adam West-Burt Ward Batman, and then in the ’70s we had punk (remember the punks dancing to Wayne Newton after he replaced the Beach Boys on the Mall on the 4th of July?), and we had a movie people talked back to – Rocky Horror. And this wasn’t new to us – a professor of French, Dr. Wampole must know her Bakhtin and the Carnivalesque, and there is tremendous generic self-awareness even in Gilbert and Sullivan. This has been around for a long time.
    If cultural irony has changed at all (and I doubt it has), it’s because the boundary between the private and public spheres has been blurred. 
    The issue for me is that we’re in the age of the Personal Voice in scholarship, which means that Dr. Wampole doesn’t believe she has to consider things before the ’90s: her own experiences are enough for good research. Someone from my generation would have done an historical perspective and concluded, “Nil novi sub sole” – nothing new under the sun.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1152360013 Peter Szabo

    The root of the issue is that effective irony requires some wit and intelligence- a biting underlying layer- which is not altogether present in this pervasive bastadization of irony we might complain about. Irony, sarcasm, and satire cannot and should not be stricken from our vernacular- we would simply be better off without cheap overuse of this tired trend, this comedic currentsy. But how can a market reign in inflation? In our personal lives, realize that the use of sarcasm and irony is a method of defense against baring our true selves. Wampole mentioned the ironic gift but did not get at the crux of it (before I turned off the program), which is that the ironic gift protects the giver from putting any ‘heart’ into it. A smart ironic gift, however, may still be cherished, whereas an ugly shirt is simply a waste and a dodge. That said, even the smartest ironic gift has its time, and that might not be your first anniversary. I’ll admit- I only listened to the first twenty minutes of the show. The message seemed simple: stupid jokes are bad. So, I’m sorry if that’s what she said.

    • Coastghost

      Ahhh, you may’ve hit it! Wampole simply failed to distinguish “ironic” from “moronic”. Ditto for all the GenXers and Millennials who wield “irony” with moronic capability. Ditto for the NYT editor who solicited her enlightened and sincerely flawed essay. Ditto for Tom Ashbrook and On Point producers who evinced no more critical intelligence than to host the show without the contributions of a guest with enough of a classics background to even point out the distinction between “eiron” and “alazon”.  

    • hearsayu

      Very good. I’m 54, and irony has been a part of my life from day one. It’s strange to think of irony as a trend. Maybe the problem is when someone uses irony in a forced way, or doesn’t have a sense of humor. The term British humor has always mostly been assumed to be ironic humor. Maybe American’s just need to become better at it. Brilliant literature is often made up of brilliant irony. The idea of hipsters being the culprits of spreading irony is interesting. It seems like the poor use of irony is more often seen in beer commercials, sitcoms and mainstream comedies. I would much rather be around someone with an ironic sense of humor than to be around someone on the other end of the spectrum, with no sense of humor. Ms. Wampole’s essay is filled with anecdotal evidence that is well written, but very subjective, and not very funny. 

  • byersbewhere

    The professor from Princeton is full of it. Her examples, when *finally* provided after much prodding by Tom, were weak. Her qualifications for commenting on popular culture – teaching at Princeton (whose student body is hardly representative of the larger late teen/early 20s population) and spending time in Europe (Berlin, no less) – couldn’t be further removed from the real world. 

    • JonFrum

       Berlin has been hipster central since the fall of the East.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_B5G5HP5AQ4WNLJN5JWSSW3RCIM victorb

    The moment Wampole proclaimed irony as primarily the province of White middle class kids the conversation for me lost a large a part of its gravitas. What I thought was a conversation about irony in our society instead became one about snarky kids drinking Starbucks. I would also question whether or not the good professor actually looked into the youth tradiions of other cultures for any ironic posturing before making this grand pronouncement. As a Black man, I would posit that if there is not the same type of ironic posturing as seen among White middle classers, a conclusion which is far from foregone or even proven, then it may stem from the profound existential irony of the Black experience, having come to the shores of a “free nation” in chains, a religious people who idolize the outlaw because he represents resistance to oppression,  having to salute the flag of a nation founded by people who denied your ancestors humanity, identifying with conspicuous consumption while surrounded by poverty etc…..and how this cosmic irony might make posturing unnecessary.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=520402919 Lee Barry

    The study of irony could be interesting as it relates to artificial intelligence. The advent of AI in our everyday lives will bring new stresses to future generations grappling with its ramifications, and the failure to reconcile “artificial irony” with the “organic” variety will be interesting indeed.

  • Alvin Case

    As an art school graduate from the late 80s, it appears to me that what we encounter these days as “rampant irony” was seeded by the trends in art from the late sixties through the 90s, that being Post Modernism, and by the explosion of populist media, chiefly cable TV and the World Wide Web. 
    But even that apparent blooming had its root in the wit and cleverness of the artist, writers, and musicians of the mid to late fifties. 
    The atomization of information sharing has allowed the simplest form of commentary to rule the day because there are more people like the college age unaffected with access to broadcast, than there are of the well read quick wit oriented sons and daughters of Twain, who generally spend a good deal of time working out their thoughts before deploying them into the media stream.
    Unfortunately for immediate future generations the media deciders (with the exception of PBS and NPR in this country) give more time to the coy urban slacker form of wit and less to the well crafted and thoughtful binocular wit of Mark Twain, Meret Oppenheim, Jasper Johns, and Chuck Berry just to name a few.
    For me true wit lasts and holds its place much like a great bottle of scotch, while irony is a wad of gum that’s temporarily affixed to the bottom of a shoe.

  • JonFrum

    ” They’re just kids making their way from young adulthood to the rest of their lives.”

    So their kids – and young adults at the same time. Maybe this a part of the problem. You have people who are old enough to be starting families stuck in an eternal adolescence.

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  • J__o__h__n

    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
        Are full of passionate intensity. – William Butler Yeats

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Spencer-Doidge/1223386779 Spencer Doidge

    She turns “Get real” on its head. I like this. If irony prevents me from giving my loved one what she needs, then it is an unqualified evil with no place in my life. If some ironic ethic prevents me from saying what I mean in so many words, then it is junk.

    Young children think that others can read their minds. Irony can be the young child in us screwing up our emotional lives.

  • Chelsea Smiley

    What’s the difference between this and “kids these days?”

  • http://www.facebook.com/william.henry.allen.williams William Henry Allen Williams

    I agree, sort of. I’m 40, and although I think irony is funny in small doses I’m not the biggest fan. I find kids use of irony and sarcasm repetitive and boring. Maybe a little annoying. But I’m sure the baby boomers felt that way about Gen X’s constant whose “more real” than who contest that lasted about 20 years. Weather you were a punk rocker, a hip hopper, or what ever, the quest for authentic sufferage was constant. I’m sure all that super masculinity, femininity, and everything else was repetitve and boring to older peeps.

    Don’t get me wrong, I love serious stuff like Ian MacKaye, and the fight against corporations, etc. But after a LONG time of being the loudest, the toughest, and the fiercest maybe Gen Y wanted a break. Maybe it’s a good time to sit back and take the piss out of everything. You can’t take everything seriously all the time, and everyone needs something to grow out of.

    Besides, it’s really the job of older folks to do serious world problem solving (not that young people can’t help). Gen Y is just getting started, give them a little while. It’s really Gen X’s turn to be up to bat. After all, there has to be some use for us now that we’re all to old and grey to sell soda pop and underwear effectively.

  • http://twitter.com/Dave_Eger Dave Eger

    Before going into my own comment, I just wanted to agree with Alvin Case that a lot of what was discussed is related to Post Modernism, which is both critical of the modern era, but cannot separate itself from it.

    I believe a lot of this also has to do with the medium of the internet. I think that the generational gap that is the guests discuss has a lot to do with a slightly older crowd who grew up before the internet, and a younger crowd that has never known a world without it. On the internet, it is very common for people to say things just to get a reaction, because they know they are protected by anonymity or at least lack of proximity. I play online video games and there is a phenomenon called “trolling” where someone will join a game and start being intentionally annoying, playing music (which can get either positive or negative reactions depending on the crowd), or pretending to be a character that they aren’t and spouting off some statements to try to get a rise out of people. I think the motivation behind it is similar to that behind crank calling. 
    There is also a phenomenon of extreme vulgarity, racism, and cruelty, which would never be done face to face, but since the consequences are at worst being kicked from a game, and having to join another one, no one really cares. It is to the point where the terrible things people say barely even phase anyone, and I really wonder about the motivation behind why they are said. For example, there are people who will yell “white power” and I’m surprised when other people who are obviously not white by their accents will go along with it like it’s a joke. I don’t know how to know if it is or not. The people saying it often put a drawl on it as if they are mimicking some Southern dialect, but I wonder, are they sincere, or just so stuck in the irony of not being offended by the offensive things they are saying that what they say doesn’t even matter to themselves anymore. This actually concerns me more than racism, which I often chalk up to simple ignorance; but if people are to the point where they feel that the very ideas that they choose to propagate don’t matter at all, it’s like we are regressing back to an animal state where we surrender our advanced consciousness to pure instinct and reaction. It is the ultimate decline of Reason, which I can’t see turning out well for civilization.

  • mk3900

    Ironic detachment is a natural and healthy form of humor in the modern world.  You might as well suggest that society would be better off without a sense of humor.  Moreover, it is fundamental to a free cosmopolitan society.  What is a society without ironic commentary?  It is successful fascism or fundamentalism in which everyone is a true believer, or the village life of our pre-modern ancestors.  Do any of you really want to live in a society which has no developed sense of irony?
    This attack on irony is itself the IRONIC product of a group of intellectuals who crave some sort of “authenticity” in the face of rootless modernity.  Stalin called intellectuals “rootless cosmopolitans.”  Irony subverts fascism and fundamentalism.  Yet, like misguided romantics, idealists, fascists and fundamentalists since the 19th century, these anti-irony intellectuals would have us all become sincere villagers and true believers in their fantasy of a society born a-new, an anti-modern society.  It is very ironic indeed that such a vision is concieved by the most urbane and sophisticated of our modern tribe.

  • Regular_Listener

    I think it needs to be pointed out that there is a difference between irony and cynicism.  Irony is a tool and/or a style; it can (and should be) funny, lively, able to point out vanity and other undesirable characteristics.  How can it be ignored that life is full of ironies?  Maybe being a 24/7 ironist is not a healthy occupation, but neither is taking every single thing seriously.  Cynicism (in the extreme anyway) is something else – it is a bitterness, a negative perspective, a belief that efforts to improve things will end in failure.  

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