Re: Freddie's "The Irony Human Centipede"
Who and what are we talking about here?
Freddie deBoer has a take on the dust my latest round of Twitter trolling kicked up — and broadly, on something he’s referring to as “irony”. I think it deserves a response, but since only subscribers can comment (and since I can’t afford a subscription), I’ll just put a few points here.
First: In response to my tweet (and to people laughing at parodists who were duped by it) Freddie asks “what’s the joke, exactly?” Seems straightforward to me: this is a standard troll where people take at face value something they should have recognized as insincere bait. The humor comes from the egregiousness of their mistake. And the mistake seems even more egregious when people respond with parody, because this draws attention to the fact that they do know what irony is and simply failed to recognize it.
Second: How on earth did I become the jumping off point for an article about people who engage in “constant blank sarcasm” and who “live behind the mask of irony all day, every day”? It takes about five seconds of looking at this blog to notice that my writing here is almost exclusively earnest and direct; obviously I joke a lot more on Twitter, but even there I have a reputation for constantly getting in extremely earnest and interminable arguments. This is odd on a personal level, but I think it’s also a problem for Freddie’s argument because it makes me wonder: who is he talking about?
Third: a big reason for my confusion on this last point is that I often can’t be sure what people have in mind when they criticize “irony”. Sometimes that term fits the standard definition I’m familiar with, for example when Freddie notes that my tweet was insincere. But then he takes aim at “material that was stale in 2015”, which seems more like a complaint about lameness than anything. Or at people who post Simpsons memes: but while making fun of someone who’s out of touch with the Seymour Skinner image absolutely is played out, it’s not at all ironic. Freddie calls out people who “live their entire lives in sneer quotes”, but only some sneer quotes use irony, right?
As far as I can tell, Freddie is really objecting to all kinds of different things: phonyness, the passé, cruelty, cynicism, emotional repression, moral and political cowardice, and so on. But irony, of course, isn’t a necessary or sufficient condition for any of this, so that makes me wonder — why are we lumping these things together?
You may recall that I asked the same question about so-called “cancel culture” a while back: lots of real problems on the table, but trying to lump them together just made it more difficult to understand them. This kind of problem seems to haunt a lot of contemporary cultural criticism. When it’s narrow it can be quite incisive and illuminating; but just as often, it aspires to relate all kinds of unrelated issues for no apparent reason.