I was happy to wake up and discover that irony is a
millennial affliction. I always thought a distanced pop culture appropriation
was an embarrassing Gen X marker (the author was born in ’77 and seems to think
the ’90s were irony-free, which they weren’t) and that the younger set was defined
by earnestness. (Or maybe it’s snark and sarcasm that afflicts Gen X and that
millennials hate. I don’t know if there’s a more millennial site than Buzzfeed,
which has been permeating my consciousness a lot lately. You can apply for a
position called Associate Rewind Editor that requires, “A reasonably [sic]
knowledge of things of the past (that aren’t just from the ’90s)” At least
they removed the “no haters” clause I’d seen in past job ads. Nothing
makes me more hateful than that phrase.)
I’ve thought about irony, why it’s wrong (is it
really?) and if I indulge in it. I don’t like chain restaurants with a wink,
though. I just like them. Knowingly contrary doesn’t necessarily involve irony.
Maybe it’s camp that I’m talking around. You don’t hear much about camp
anymore. Is it just too gay and last century?
Susan Sontag via Wikipedia defines it as “artifice,
frivolity, naïve middle-class pretentiousness, and ‘shocking’ excess,”
which is pretty right on. The entry is illustrated with a photo of Bette
Flying Lufthansa to Budapest was a million times
better than using an American carrier, but compared to Asian airlines the
entertainment system (yes, thankfully individual) was sorely lacking to the
point of comedy. Where on say, Cathay or Emirates or Singapore, passengers can
choose from what feels like an endless number movies, Lufthansa had maybe 12
choices total, and this is what passed for drama: People Like Us (what is
that?) and The Rose from 1979? Germans.
Or maybe my love of Americana through manufactured
food is just kitsch (or at least the modern interpretation, not the art-focused
meaning it originally encapsulated) a concept we tried to explain to our
Spanish tutor who appreciates camp, ’80s pop music, in particular, without
realizing it, though we could only articulate with examples like owl statues in
an old person’s house. He couldn’t grasp it fully. The Germans get it,
obviously. Spaniards, less so.
I’m not sure if I like the Merriam-Webster
definition of kitsch: “something that appeals to popular or lowbrow taste
and is often of poor quality.” Collins has it as “tawdry,
vulgarized, or pretentious art, literature, etc., usually with popular or
Or maybe I really do mean camp when I say kitsch
because I’m not talking about pretention when I say the food at Guy Fieri’s
isn’t so abominable to receive the New York Times treatment (funny and biting
as the review may have been). I do like the combination of vulgar and
I’m still trying to parse this often-quoted (in the
context of kitsch) bit by Kundera: “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick
succession. The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass!
The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by
children running on the grass!”
Is Krampus kitsch? I’m thinking no. Absent from the
Berlin Christmas markets I tooled around in last November, the demonic
anti-Santa of the Alpine regions, was in full effect in Vienna. Scary to
probably anyone not raised with the tradition, the figure appeared to be
treated light-heartedly, at least in 2012 Austria.
Ok, I hadn’t finished the NYT essay before I started
dribbling this out (procrastinating the organization and weeding of books on
newly installed shelves–there are still too many books for the space) and now I’m in utter disagreement with the so-called
problems of irony.
“Look around your living
space. Do you surround yourself with things you really like or things you like
only because they are absurd?”
Oh, lady. It comes down to self-seriousness vs.
humor. I give people genuine, thoughtful gifts, not the kitschy, emotionally
un-invested stuff she also cites as irony symptoms. And I can still enjoy
Family Circus and teenage dating and sex manuals.
Who would want to be the company of fundamentalists,
dictators, and small children, the irony-free examples cited?