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Ironic



Ironic: irony is difficult to define, but one way it could be defined is to say that it is to “say the opposite to what you mean”—and, perhaps, you could add “to say the opposite to what you mean in a witty or humorous way”. The intended effect on an audience for irony is “exclusivity” or “elitism”, irony is knowing—it’s about being in a special group where only certain people are in on the joke.


Teenagers like irony because it excludes adults, as does teen slang—which lasts over very short periods of time, so that “it’s lush” or “it slaps”, with twenty-five years between them, are already almost as obscure as each other. Irony is also a way to display intelligence, it’s a code of sorts and so you can show off in a deniable way by being ironic about everything.


Hence irony is also an elite means to communicate. It’s not only a chance to display intelligence, but it’s also a way to mark yourself as apart from the mob—you have a private joke about certain things that other people just don’t get. Plato even recommends irony as an aristocratic trait—an idea that seems to have been formally taken up by English aristocrats schooled in the classics, so marking irony as a very “English thing”.


However, irony also signals decadence, because it’s about being clever for the sake of being clever and not saying what you mean—which makes it ideal for virtue-signalling. It’s ideal for Versailles, “But surely, Comte de Rochfault, you couldn’t possible mean that seriously? But you are too precious…” <champagne glasses tinkle in the background, iced oysters are disgorged from their shells>.


It’s also something you see in Oscar Wilde, who was popular when Britain became very decadent—about where America is today. “But, Lady Chatterborne, I have always said that to be punctual is the height of rudeness, I would never offend you by being on time for your luncheon…”


It goes along with exquisite politeness, because you can use irony to be indirect about everything—and so avoid giving offence or appearing rude. Of course, it can also conceal a hidden bitchiness or cattiness, the unexpressed aggression that it’s rude to put “directly on the table” comes out on the edge of the tongue in a bitter ironic jest (Nietzsche’s complaint against the great ironist, Socrates—the ironist is resentful).


Yet it can all be totally hilarious and make you feel very smug about yourself at the same time—the problem is that the flip side to irony is to become superficial, insincere, and not to know what you really think about anything. I think, in the Platonic mode, you’re meant to have this icy detachment and scepticism that the irony conceals, like Gore Vidal, “Of course, one wouldn’t want to miss the highlight of Christmas, the parson’s Christmas Eve sermon…”. Yet, in practice, the ironist often ends up not knowing what he really thinks about anything, because he’s flip about everything.


The downside to irony is that this snobby approach to life, that presents itself as a kind of modesty, does away with frankness, sincerity, and simplicity. It can be, like Oscar Wilde, very fake—and also very self-deluded. In a way, Wilde sums it up—he was so self-deluded by his narcissistic irony that he actually had the temerity to sue another man for suggesting he was a homosexual (bear in mind, Wilde was the type of man to go on stage on his American tour with a large flower in his lapel).


That’s irony-induced delusion, that’s to be poisoned by irony—it’s when you can’t see reality (Machiavelli: when your whole act is basically “I’m a massive homosexual, it’s my whole public persona to be that, but it’s too darling not to say” it’s probably a bad idea to sue a man for accusing you of homosexuality—since there’s loads of evidence that you are, in fact, homosexual).


Well, you think you’re too clever for that—your irony is self-congratulation, something to stroke your clique with (“Oh, matron!”). Notably, America proclaimed itself to be “totally ironic” in the 1990s—and, like Oscar, that heralded extreme decadence.


It’s when you get academics who watch Schwarzenegger films but in no way do they watch them like the actual plebs in the cinema—but that’s the joke, you watch them to provide a “critique” of heteronormative themes in popular culture but if you stumble into this clique and start to act as an unironic Schwarzenegger fan, actually identifying with him as your escapist surrogate, you’ll be subject to dumbfounded miscomprehension and, eventually, ridicule (ironic ridicule, so subtle you can’t tell they’ve ridiculed you).


Žižek is a case in point, he likes to write things like how modern capitalism or post-capitalism is like a James Bond film—the henchmen in the Bond villain’s lair work underground and in secret; and, in the same way, the proletariat has been “vanished” from the West but still exists in China. That’s post-Marxist nonsense, but the whole point is to get the Bond film in there, in an ironic way.


No way Žižek, or the audience he writes for, actually likes Bond films; but they think it’s too precious and ironic to use them in this way—and would look down on the “unironic Bond fan”, who is, to the Žižek stratum, a man like Alan Partridge (a sort of caricature of a UKIP voter from Norfolk, who is socially awkward and naively patriotic).


The bottom line with irony is that it goes along with decadence—it’s about being elite but in a catty and bitchy way, it’s about forming a little clique and feeling all smug with yourself that you’re “in on the joke”, not like those stupid rubes (deplorables, Partridges). “Of course I don’t like James Bond, I mean, duh, it’s totally ironic.”


So this is fuel for the virtue-signaller—because if you challenge them on their stated belief, they just look at you with pity as if to say, “Did you really think I meant that, are you that unsophisticated?”. It’s feminine, of course—they look at your party dress and say, “Charmant!” but they said it in French so they probably didn’t mean it, because they said “it’s lovely” to everyone else in English…or is it the other way round?


Of course, barbarians, as assembled outside your dinner party, don’t do irony (it’s 70s-themed btw—but it’s totally ironic, nobody actually thinks the 70s were tasteful). Barbarians do rustic virtues: straight-forward, sincere, ingenuous, without affect, authentic, honest…but, you know, totally, like, whatever…


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