Tuesday, November 22, 2005

'The Death of Irony'

Shortly after September 11, irony was pronounced dead.

The "death of irony" discourse is said to have originated with Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, shortly after the attacks. "There is going to be a seismic change. I think it's the end of the age of irony."

Cultural observers, including the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Phil Kloer, reported the demise of a popular culture that was "drenched in irony and cynicism" and that had become "a playground for postmodern hipsters," in which the "appropriate response to anything is the jaded, all-purpose 'whatever.'"

James Pinkerton of Newsday proclaimed a victory of "sincerity, patriotism, and earnestness" and a new realization that "there's more to life than nothing, that some things really matter."

People of a less political bent might argue that the death of irony actually occured on April 5, 1994 with the suicide of Kurt Cobain. Ramblefish (clearly, the decision to employ my blog name in referring to myself, is a case of transparent and quite pathetic irony) would argue that irony today is not so much dead, as dormant and somewhat dull. It's been transported from being an 'in-vogue' concept, trumpeted to some degree in every movie and song to a tired, repetitive and predictable device used by studio executives trying to evoke an emotional connection with the masses. That irony is being used in this way can be said, in itself, to be ironic...something that proves that irony lives on. Kinda. Sorta.

What's happened to it (in my opinion) is that people have stopped being so demonstrative about it. Irony is no longer a proof of intelligence or individuality. It's no longer a closed club for the supposedly 'with it' crowd. It's no longer seen as a novelty so it's been restored to it's proper place, within the human psyche: a single, isolated, unplanned, wry occurence that very few people will notice. I think it belongs there and the less people try and drag it back into the limelight, the better we all are for it. Some people still try and manufacture irony on a small scale (the home, the neighborhood, the workplace) and I think that's ok. Just don't try and embrace it as a defining view of the world. It isn't.

An example of irony on a small scale is the Wunderman/ Y&R Inc. employee library, located on the 13th floor of our building on Madison Avenue, here in New York. Employees are encouraged to bring in favorite books and leave them for others to pick up. In a fit of ironic pique (perhaps, because people feel work tells them what to do, a little too much, a little too often), they rebelled and contrived to bring in books that couldn't possibly be on anyone's list:

-A trek through the Andes (1948)
-Passion of a prairie woman (1972)
-The introductory guide to Calculus (1937!)

To my mind, the intention here was to befuddle 'the man'. His instructions were obeyed and yet also defied, a symbolic small victory for the little man. Soon, employees were trying to outdo each other with the oddest second hand book titles they could find. The state of our 13th floor library is a joke.

Then again, maybe these books are just older books that people felt they could spare. Maybe no irony was intended at all. The fact that I don't know is kind of ironic, considering I spent the past 40 minutes writing this junk, wouldn't you say?


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