Li'l Danzig (littledanzig) wrote in liberal,
Li'l Danzig

Irony as Political Debasement

For the record, everybody, I'm new here so I'm not sure if I'm in direct violation of any rules or anything.  This is from my personal blog but I think that some of you may find it somewhat interesting, especially considering the current trend amongst the youth of the "enlightened left" towards detached irony, even as it applies to exclusionary or racist concepts.  If I'm crossing any lines by posting this, let me know and I'll pull it down post-haste.

There's always been something that rubs me the wrong way about that kind of "ironic hipster" mentality that manifests in its least offensive form as sarcastic t-shirts or winkwinknudgenudge glam rock bands and in its more despicable forms as racial epithets or purposefully hateful remarks casually dropped under the umbrella of "just kidding."

This is old news, but I was doing a lot of blog hopping a little while ago and I ended up here.  It's an article about a hip hop night in Williamsburg from a couple of years ago called "Kill Whitey" night that was run by white kids and, from what I can make here, seems to be an overwhelmingly "ironic" (and intensely disgusting) attempt to conglomerate 1980's hip hop culture into some ridiculous minstrel show, performed and consumed entirely by young suburban transplants who have their tounges planted firmly in their cheeks, with no regard to the fact that their sardonic pleasure comes explicitly at the price of mocking a culture and, in this case, veering perilously close to blatant racism.

This, to me, illustrates everything that can go wrong with this kind of mentality, and while this is an old piece of news, this type of mindset hasn't gone anywhere.  Hipster irony is an interesting trend because it's insidious -- it allows people to grow more and more comfortable with, and be unwitting accomplices to, perpetuating comfortable stereotypes.  It's an entitlement thing, really, this concept that everything in the world exists for your consumption and that even other people and cultures can be perverted and used as a sort of "image symbology."

For example, over the past few years, casual homophobia has become increasingly prevalent amongst supposedly 'open-minded' individuals.  It's not rare for me to meet people who claim liberal values and support pro-gay legislation that have no problem referring to their straight friends as "fags".  Not as much as ten years ago, you would've gotten a severe reprimand at a hardcore show for calling a band you didn't like "gay", but now that same scene openly embraces that sort of subtle hatred-disguised-as-humor with a wink and a nod.  But somehow even more sinister is the unintended consequence of the casual association between hate and humor -- this flippant disregard for other culture and individuals becomes an 'identifying mark' of sorts and a distinguishing feature of the social environment.  It's a function of this characterization that causes 'outsiders' seeking acceptance to quickly adopt this way of thinking and speaking, and that leads to the identification of any umbrage to this mindset, even in supposedly "politically enlightened" circles, as hopelessly "uptight" or "conservative" -- And, in my opinion, this gradual degredation of the true meaning behind these words and actions leads to the people involved achieving a more and more deluded view of how their actions affect others.

So, I guess there's a good chance by now that you think I'm on some kind of moral crusade against the sarcastically hip on a personal level, and I want to assure you that I'm not.  In the previous case, for example, I don't think somebody calling something "gay" necesarrially means that they're a homophobe -- I'm a strong believer in "actions before words" and there's a good chance that many of the people involved in this particular style of expression haven't stopped to think about the deeper cultural significance of their words, or maybe don't even fully understand them.  But the simple fact of the matter is that the increasing acceptance of this sort of talk (as long as it's performed with an acceptable 'fake accent' or a funny facial expression) leads to the erosion of the actual boundaries that teach people why this stuff is wrong in the first place.

When a group of people have grown to believe that dressing like charicatures of pimps and booty-dancing to "Me So Horny" and advertising "free admission with buckets of fried chicken" is a socially acceptable form of comedy, this speaks volumes about what ironic culture has become.  It's mean-spirited, regardless of whether you take it as intended, as a sneering appropriation of prejudice for comic value, or if you subscribe more to the mindstate of this young lady, whose words, I unfortunately believe, speak volumes about the issue:

A regular Kill Whitie partygoer, she tried the conventional (that is, non-hipster) hip-hop clubs but found the men "really hard-core." In this vastly whiter scene, Casady said that "it's a safe environment to be freaky..."

I don't think the undertones in that paragraph need to be made any more explicit than they already are.  It's quite clear from this one quote that, regardless of the 'jokes' at the surface, there are people who will view the refuge of irony as a philosophy within which it's perfectly ACCEPTABLE to be racist, or homophobic, or just plain hateful, as long as it's performed with a healthy dose of self-aware sarcasm.  What I find most detestable of all is the fact that usually, much like in this case, this sort of behavior is accepted or even defended, so long as the perpetrator publicly subscribes to fashionable leftist causes (Critical Mass, Food not Bombs, etc.)

As the author of the blog, jsmooth999 (god, I sure do hate referencing people by their "blog names"), puts it so eloquently:

I've been saying for years that irony is now the last refuge of a coward. A singularly dishonest and deluded sort of coward who imagines his behavior a mark of courage, as he fearlessly refuses to take anything seriously.

But the true mark of courage is a willingness to engage the world, and your place in it, with honesty and sincerity. Those who lack that sort of courage will spend their lives looking for something to hide behind.

And I couldn't agree more.  David Foster Wallace quotes somebody in his essay E Unimus Plurum (and I can't remember who) that "Irony is the song of the bird who has come to love his cage" and that's spot-on to me.  The concept of this mean-spirited irony as a pervasive, cultural force is the voice of a generation uncomfortable with sincerity and far too obsessed with viewing the world through its own refracted lens, unwilling to step outside of a niche carved from "I'm only joking."
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