The soft bigotry of ubiquitous irony

Andrew M. writes:

I’m not responding to any current article at VFR. I do appreciate the way issues are expressed at VFR sincerely and honestly.

The reason I bring up the writing style at VFR is that I’ve noticed how pervasive irony has become in every aspect of writing and communication elsewhere. Whether it be political journalism, sports reporting or personal conversation, every form of communication has become saturated with irony. Mark Steyns excels at this type of writing. However one sees this in every public discourse—liberal or conservative—television, newspapers, journals, etc.

One even sees this in churches these days when young ministers begin their sermons with some form of irony. It’s as if irony or a small smidgen of sarcasm demonstrates a speaker’s or writer’s sense of ‘truthful” detachment and hence proves their ability to “see things.” In schools, teachers and professors start their classes with some smarmy comment. Major web sites have mastered the art of ironic juxtaposition of pictures and objects.

It’s as if one cannot make an innocent direct, honest statement without irony or sarcasm these days. Even “conservative” web sites use language ironically when they make statements such as “size counts” (as if sexual innuendo has become an attribute of any discourse—National Review of course uses that style).

In any case, thanks for the many articles at VFR that state an issue simply, without irony.

LA replies:

Fascinating and important point. In fact, I was just thinking about this yesterday. It was not in relation to Steyn, but in relation to someone thought to be a more serious intellectual, Roger Kimball, writing at PJ Media (a name they changed from Pajamas Media because, I guess, they had started to be embarrassed by it). He was summing up the bad things Obama has done, and it struck me how, at least in part, he seemed to think that he didn’t need to make arguments against Obama’s policies, but just utter ironic phrases about Obama’s policies. And then it occurred to me how much of mainstream conservative writing about liberalism is like this.

What is the ubiquitous irony about? Perhaps it is just laziness, or rather laziness combined with disapproval. The author feels it’s not worth constructing an argument, or he may simply be devoid of an argument or of any serious position at all, and the irony serves the purpose of putting a disliked idea or person down without the bother of intellectual effort—indeed, without saying anything of substance. Or, worse, it could be expressing an attitude of cynicism toward all truth, toward all seriousness.

Also, it seems to me that you are referring to several different types of irony (casual sexual innuendo being one), and it might be useful to classify them and find examples of each, and to think about in what ways they are different, and in what ways the same.

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Kristor writes:

The irony is a way of indicating that the subject under discussion need not be taken with true seriousness. It is a way of saying, “this thing I am talking about is not important; nothing is important. It is, rather, all merely absurd and ridiculous. No intelligent person cares deeply about any of it.”

The pervasively ironic response is demonic. It is nihilism carried into practice in commentary on the happenings of daily life. What could be more important than the happenings of daily life? What else is there, aside from the happenings of daily life?

Paul T. writes:

Another possibility is that making arguments and giving reasons is not only laborious but fraught with risk, since it may provoke someone else to respond with possibly better arguments and reasons. An ironic remark does an end-run around the whole risky process of argument, instead opting to suggest that the object of the irony is uncool, and by extension, if you’re inclined to favor the object of the irony, you must be pretty uncool, too. Confronted with this approach, most people will fall into line—they don’t want to seem uncool and they especially don’t want to risk being the next target of ironic attack. Much easier to laugh approvingly along with the others in the huddle. Stephen Colbert’s whole career is based on this. The original element he adds is to adopt (ironically, of course) a persona symbolic of the targets he’s attacking—in the crowded irony market, that’s his ingenious little niche.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 02, 2012 08:13 PM | Send

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