A Sincere Look Back at the Death of Irony

09/11/2013 1:30 PM |

252 retweets. What the fuck.
  • 252 retweets. What the fuck.

Where were you when irony died? I was in bed. I didn’t know what had happened. I was sound asleep when irony died. I didn’t know that a dozen years later, people would still be talking about the death of irony, that the death of irony would still be a thing. I didn’t know that twelve years later I’d be sitting on a subway with a tiny computer in my hand, reading Joyce Carol Oates’s thoughts (in under 140 characters) on the death of irony in public and private discourse. Oates made no mention of the eradication of private discourse, but I guess that didn’t fit in under the 140-character limit.


On the subway, reading the thoughts of Joyce Carol Oates, I happened to be sitting next to a woman who was staring into a small, round compact that contained pressed powder and a mirror. The woman was using the mirror for guidance as she plucked dark hairs from her chin. Some of the hairs came out easily, others required a sharp tug. I was tempted to tell her that she wouldn’t have been able to do this twelve years ago, because twelve years ago we still had irony and we still had private discourse and we still had privacy in general and so what she was doing would have been considered irredeemably tacky. But I didn’t say anything, because why say something to someone when you can write about them in a nasty way later on? Why say anything in the moment it’s happening when you can think of something funny to say in the not-too-distant future and make people laugh, people you don’t even know in real life, or at least, even if you can’t hear them laughing, you know that they laughed because they pressed a button letting you know that you’re they’re favorite. At least, you’re one of their favorites, for one moment anyway.

It’s funny though, this whole death of irony thing. Oh, not funny in an ironic way. Irony is dead. Or at least it died temporarily. But it came back in a nicer way? I don’t know. I barely know the definition of irony anyway. I’m not Ethan Hawke. It’s not my job to define irony. But, what’s funny to me about this whole death of irony thing, and the accompanying twelve-year-long ascent of sincerity, is that what we’re left with is expressions of emotion along the lines of the twitter condolences offered up by corporations like Walmart and Smith & Wesson and Red Lobster, who accompany their very sincere sentiments with the hashtag #NeverForget (please check out Joe Mande’s twitter to see all this bullshit aggregated).

But, I guess, in a world without irony (or maybe today is just the day of no irony? hard to say) I need to remember that corporations are people too, or at least they have been since 2010, and so I should respect their feelings today. And so I will. I will take those tweets as sincerely as I possibly can. But you know whose tweets I can’t read without vomiting, even though I have no doubt that he is as sincere as whoever runs the Chick-fil-A twitter account? Ari Fleischer’s. This former press secretary for the Bush administration/all-around toadie is spending today tweeting a minute-by-minute account of how he spent September 11, 2001 (spoiler: heroically!), and thereby demonstrating what a lot of New Yorkers already know. Namely, that the people who attach themselves the most to 9/11 and just can’t stop talking about it whenever they get a chance, are frequently the ones who were nowhere near downtown Manhattan when it felt like everything, even the sky, was falling down. And so, on this day without irony, I can totally, unironically say, Shut the fuck up, Ari Fleischer. At least for this one day. Just shut up.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen