Irony is bulletproof.
Most art that seems to have massive cultural resonance today is ironic. There’s someone or something winking at you the entire time you’re interacting with it, and you are now a part of the inside joke. Things that are earnest and sincere don’t seem to have as much wide relevance anymore. I believe that this comes from our primitive aversion to fear.
Today irony is more uniting then sincerity. The main reason for this is because in irony there is no vulnerability. You simply can’t make fun of something that is doing that to itself. Using irony is the easiest way to express yourself without truly expressing yourself. Where there is no vulnerability, there is no chance for alienation or any sort of emotional pain. I could also argue that art that is too far abstract could fall into this same category.
Irony in art is the econonomic equivalent of ‘free.’ We as humans are intrinsically afraid of loss, and when you put free into the economic equation, magically there is no downside and no loss. Take two items that have separate costs, one higher, and one lower, and we will make a rational choice based on quality and intention. (I want this specific item, with these specific qualities) Now reduce the cost of both of these items so that one of them is now free. We reduced the cost of both by equal amounts, but now watch as the free item gets chosen at a much higher rate. This happens because there is no downside or loss in ‘free.’ There is no emotional downside to irony either, so no opportunity to feel any pain or loss.
People who create this sort of art/content enter into this one sided ‘free’ transaction where a great deal of time and energy can be expelled without any sort of harsh rejection from the audience it’s exhibited to. Negative criticism will not sting because this wasn’t a true expression of self, and the time and energy spent can easily be played off in the irony of it.
With a culture now inundated with these types of videos, bands and products, it’s now more difficult to reach somebody with something truly and painfully sincere. On the consumer end of the relationship, it’s easier to quote Arrested Development, and dance to Gangnam Style then it is to sit down and express why you feel connected to John Mayer or Fiona Apple. It’s just too easy to be ridiculed for wanting a true cathartic experience, and trends come and go so quickly that nobody dares give too much emotional investment to one thing.
I’m of the opinion that this new paradigm is treacherous, because within vulnerability comes true expression and true happiness. Through showing yourself, flaws and all, you are opening the door to pain and failure, but more importantly you’re allowing yourself to be truly seen. Courage and bravery are more important now then ever, and I urge you to think about this whenever you start your next project, begin your next relationship, and start your next day.