This post will self-destruct.
People think I’m anti-irony, but I’m not. I’ve never called for a new sincerity or whatever. I’m not even sure what it would mean to be against irony. It would be like objecting to jealousy or loneliness; it’s just a part of human experience and couldn’t be stamped out. It’s only that what people take for irony these days is a cramped and mannered facsimile of the real thing. Irony and sincerity are not and have never been antagonistic, for one.
They think I’m against irony because they think a particular affected way of operating in the online world is irony. And they likely think this because that affect has grown to so completely dominate internet life, they think it is coterminous with irony. You know what I’m referring to already; it is the default means of interacting in social online spaces. You drench yourself in sarcasm (which is not the same as irony). You adopt a pose of amused knowingness, acting as though you have seen everything and could be surprised by nothing, saddened by nothing. You regard the world and its treasures with practice disdain. You find everything funny and nothing impressive. Human life itself is not sufficient to rouse you from your display of cold, unimpressed, amused self-satisfaction.
This is not irony. This is, I think, the Something Awful/FYAD routine. Somehow that obscure forum has become the biggest influence on online self-performance writ large. It’s a sociological marvel; I genuinely believe someone could write a great dissertation exploring how in the hell it happened. One way or the other, though, most everyone online has adopted this belief that the only time well spent is time spent heaping derision on someone from the protective cocoon of blank sarcasm. How did this happen? How did we get here? I don’t know. People who act this way talk about their online friendships, but I don’t understand how that works. Vulnerability is a necessary aspect of human connection, and vulnerable is the one thing you absolutely cannot be online.
I cannot overstate the degree to which this mode of existence has colonized the media. I know many people in the media and know of many many more and I literally cannot think of more than 10 people who do not engage with the world in precisely this way. It’s as if there is an industry-wide requirement that you remove your emotion chip and replace it with an addiction to self-satisfied mockery. Go to Twitter. Find a few dozen journalists. Everything they post – everything – will be expressed in this type of artifice. The industry runs on this fuel. And it does corrupt and deform the media’s output, all the time, in a myriad ways. Read the New York Magazine website or Slate or anything ever published under the auspices of Gawker/Gizmodo media. You can’t tell me that the dictate to treat all of human life as a competition to be the most mean and clever doesn’t warp their coverage. And though I’m sure it initially feels energizing, writers become boxed in by the narrow confines of this style. There’s a whole cottage industry of Professionally Unimpressed White Women that, despite the ostensible empowerment, looks to me like just another professional ghetto.
I just wish people would stop and acknowledge that this is happening, to ask why and wonder what the consequences are. But there is a fiercely-policed rule against discussing what is happening. It’s quite a trap: to be able to have an honest discussion about why everyone online talks as if they are perpetually self-impressed judgment machines, we would have to engage with a form of sincerity that is not permitted under those rules. How can we examine an aspect of contemporary culture when the industry that is meant to analyze such things is too busy living that culture to consider it? There will always be this impediment to an adult accounting of where we are: anyone who attempts to undertake it in good faith will simply be met with more of the same. To ask what it costs us when everyone is telling the same stale jokes is to get those jokes turned back on you in return.
Perhaps I am so disdainful of all of this because I can’t access it, never could and never will. It could all be sour grapes for me. Because I am not emotionless. I am not above everything. I am not incapable of feeling shock or disappointment or sadness. I don’t feel superior to all the people I interact with. I don’t find everything funny. My heart hurts, all the time. I could never keep up the act, even if I wanted to. This is a broken world and we are broken within it, and I think that it’s better to face it than to pretend to be something that we aren’t. But maybe I’ve been wrong.