Small Steps: Irony culture will slowly kill you

In June of 2016, The 1975 came to my hometown. Virginia summers are oppressive, and the day Matt Healy and the band came to Charlotesville was especially so. After grabbing a few slices of pizza and stocking up on to-go cups of water to share amongst ourselves, my friends and I sat on the ground outside of the amphitheatre gates. In my American Apparel cut-offs, my thighs burned against the blazing bricks as we scarfed down our pre-concert nourishment and compared what songs we wanted to hear later that evening. I was filled with a mixture of unbridled excitement and agoraphobia-based anxiety that I have never experienced since, and likely never will.

Yes, this is partially because of the teenage hormones that spurred my fandom-like admiration of, well, almost anything. But there’s more to it.

I, like many other Extremely Online Zoomers, have become irony poisoned to an extent to which I don’t believe I could publically get that excited about a piece of pop culture again, no matter how much it connected with me. Rather than genuine admiration for art and media, I, like many of my peers, hide my opinions behind a curtain of cynicism and mockery to the extent to which my true beliefs are muddled by my own posturing. If I never express genuine excitement for something, no one can ever take away my fun.

This isn’t simply a necessary facet of exiting adolescence; the particular moment we’re experiencing right now has conditioned this all-encompassing cynicism.

As a generation that has only known a post-9/11 world in political and economic turmoil, how are we meant to react to the constant barrage of despair? You could put all your energy into rallying to change the world, but soon you’ll exhaust yourself anyway, and besides, how much could you ever really change?

In activist circles, there’s the concept of burnout culture, which is “a response to prolonged stress and typically involves emotional exhaustion, cynicism or detachment, and feeling ineffective,” according to The BBC. Many activists start with lofty goals and quickly devolve to hopelessness and cynicism once they get a full view of all the cracks in the system. With that, it’s so much easier to start from a point of apathy. It reduces the risk of getting your hopes up and inevitably falling short.

Some believe that irony culture, and its spawn cringe culture, are dead. But one long scroll on social media will tell you otherwise. For every “painfully” sincere teenager dancing on TikTok, there will always be five more making fun of them on Twitter or Reddit.

I often feel I need to put up the facade of irony when it comes to the media I consume. I’ve always considered myself to be someone with good taste, and thus my personality became intrinsically tied with what I like and dislike. This is a precarious place to value your self worth, however, as taste is never objective, so a shot to a liking of mine becomes a shot to me, personally. So, better to never reveal these interests unless they have been crafted and vetted by what seems right to like, right? Instead, I’ll just make fun of the masses obsessing over whatever recently dropped on Netflix or Spotify. God forbid anyone call me a joiner.

But, at the end of the day, irony is really just insecurity dressed up in another form. It’s a manifestation of the anxiety that everyone is secretly watching you — and they’re laughing. It’s clinging onto a certainty that you’ll always be superior, even as the foundation starts to crack beneath you. Unchecked, irony culture will slowly eat away at your spirit until there is nothing left but regurgitated Twitter discourse. As The 1975 said, sincerity may be scary, but try, for once, to let yourself have a bit of fun.


 Graphic by Taylor Reddam


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