Pop Culture

The Death of Cultural Irony

My friend Elizabeth recently brought an article called “‘Hamilton’ and the end of irony” to my attention.  Because it is about Hamilton, I was immediately interested, but it drew me in further by making some really interesting cultural observations.

I had the good fortune a few weeks ago to see “Hamilton,” the musical currently swallowing Broadway whole (AND WHOSE CAST RECORDING IS NOW AVAILABLE TO STREAM ONLINE!!!! YES, THIS ABSOLUTELY MERITS ALL CAPS! THIS IS LIKE BROADWAY CHRISTMAS! ALSO THE WHOLE THEME OF THIS PIECE IS SHARING YOUR ENTHUSIASMS!!!).

(Ahem.)

Alexandra Petri makes the astute observation that Hamilton is an earnest musical about an incredibly earnest guy, and that this sincerity is the heart of its success.

I agree!  I think we live in an age of sincerity, if I can steal a phrase from Jonathan Fitzgerald’s article “Sincerity, Not Irony, Is Our Age’s Ethos.”  Uninhibited love for things is everywhere, from the 90s nostalgia of my generation to the huge success of The Avengers movie.  

In the wake of incredibly dark comic book movies, The Avengers allowed us to love superheroes unreservedly, enjoying the camp and the humor and the silliness of the situation without having to layer our love under irony or deeper meanings.  I would also throw in the fact that the sometimes cruel humor of The Office gave way to the blisteringly joy of Parks and Recreation.  Gone is the boss who we love to hate; in his place is Leslie Knope, who is awesome, who knows she’s awesome, and who is surrounded by a team of people who also thinks she’s awesome.

All this reminds me of a quote I read years ago about the rise of nerd culture, which I now see as part of this new trend embracing sincerity.

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Are nerds saving the world?  Maybe.

But whatever you call it, I LOVE IT.  Finally, a culture in which I feel safe.  As Elizabeth said later in our conversation: “You rejected irony before it was cool.”  I love that she’s giving me credit for being an irony hipster, but in truth, I often felt so stifled as a kid.  I have always been bursting with passion, but I mostly felt like I had to hide it, or only show a little bit at a time, because otherwise I would be seen as uncool.  HOW AMAZING if we’re entering a cultural epoch in which raging with delight is the norm.

MY TIME HAS COME.

The downside, of course, is that if I release all my pent-up sincerity and passion, THERE WILL BE SO MANY CAPS LOCK SENTENCES.  Alas, there is a sacrifice with every forward stride.

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6 thoughts on “The Death of Cultural Irony”

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