The comfort of irony

I was just reading this article The Biggest Art Trends of 2016 and having a chuckle at the predictions; Fake Clickbait is my personal favourite:

“The past decade saw the rise of news satire as a primary, viable source of news and information. As programs like The Daily Show, Last Week Tonight, and The Nightly Show grew in popularity, the general public became comfortable with “fake news” allowing sites like The Onion to explode in readership. So it should come as no surprise that the populous has reached the next level of meta-commentary. As everyone consumes gallons of clickbait from sites like Buzzfeed, another form of satire now has room to grow. Enter “fake clickbait”—especially ClickHole, from the minds behind The Onion—as a new form of acerbic social commentary. 2016 looks like the perfect storm for this trend, as a growing savviness from fake ‘bait creators coincide with a public quickly losing its taste for traditional, attention-grabbing clickbait.”

Imagine the performance art potential in fake clickbait!

I do really enjoy the bevy of artists working within the realm of social commentary and societal reflection. NZ has Simon Denny documenting and re-presenting our cultural climate, and I briefly talked about Amalia Ulman’s instagram project “Excellences and Perfections” (2016) in my last post. Both of these artists are reflecting back at us without bias and without too much irony. I feel there is an honesty in the way they reflect on a culture that has become so self-referential and absurd that the general public still get tricked by satire news sites and re-share their ‘news’ stories with abject outage.

The concept of irony is in many respects a safety net, a way to protect oneself from expressing personal views in a manner that could be criticised. Hipster culture is constantly lambasted, viewed as fake and ridiculous. But perhaps it’s a way for youth culture to protect itself from inevitable mockery which, with social media, now comes from every angle? If you genuinely enjoy a type of music that is viewed as uncool or embarrassing isn’t it safer to maintain that you enjoy it ironically? No one can laugh at you for liking something ironically – it provides a protection and a shield from mockery. Earnestness maybe be the opposite of irony but it doesn’t negate humour. In many respects the ability to earnestly express a view and still accept that others might mock it shows an ability to laugh at oneself.

Being a teenager in the 80s the youth subcultures I was surrounded by were earnest, un-ironic, but still filled with self-aware humour. Subcultures such as punk and goth are often viewed as po-faced teen rebellion, but once past the teenage years when, lets face it, nobody has a sense of humour about themselves, those who identify with these subcultures happily embrace their perceived ridiculousness with good humour. It is basically the antithesis of hipster culture where fear of ridicule creates a veneer of detached apathy. I look forward to a post-ironic world where irony can be utilised as a vehicle for humour rather than as protection against ridicule. It’s quite liberating to be freed from the safety of irony.

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2 thoughts on “The comfort of irony

  1. Yeah I agree with you 100%! Irony is so often used as a sort of invulnerability cloak, I really wrestle with that when I’m blogging and making work because I think there’s such murky waters between irony (or flippancy in my case), sincere critique or challenging, and even sincere-but-utterly-lame self expression… I tend toward any or all of these things at any given time.

    1. It’s really hard trying to deal with creating art that doesn’t really have a funny side, or that requires the viewer to experience emotion rather than intellectual distance. I’m still coming to terms with how to make that work.

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