Irony is over. I’m very sorry.Posted: March 23, 2011
Once upon a time, many years ago, it was acceptable to be blatantly, nakedly racist, sexist, or homophobic. You didn’t have to hide it.
Times changed and naked bigotry ceased to be publicly acceptable. Authors, journalists, directors, and video game creators stopped creating works that were nakedly bigoted, because otherwise they would get fired.
But many members of the public still loved them some bigotry, and some of the writers and directors did as well. So they searched for ways to write bigoted stuff without having to admit that it was bigoted. One way was to tone down the bigotry. They didn’t say outright ‘women are objects’, they just wrote books or screenplays in which the female characters happened to behave like objects. They didn’t say ‘whites are superior’, they just wrote stories in which all the most heroic characters happened to be white. Etc. etc.
But for some the subtle approach didn’t really hit the spot. They wanted their bigotry thick and un-subtle. They wanted to wallow in it, to wriggle around in it, to squeeze big gobs of warm greasy hatred against their skin.
But they didn’t want to think of themselves as ‘bigots’ even though that’s what they were. They wanted to think of themselves as “artists”.
That’s where irony comes in. You can write something that is blatantly, gobsmackingly sexist or racist, as long as you add a layer of irony on top. Then it magically ceases to be hate speech and instead becomes “satire”. Whenever anyone complains you can just say, “Didn’t you realize that I was being ironic?”
This is one of those things where we see it so often that we stop being able to see it at all. A couple of examples come to mind, from things I happen to have seen recently (I focus on misogyny rather than other kinds of prejudice, because that’s the one that jumps out most for me):
Snakes in a plane
I only got through the first 5 minutes of this, I turned it off at the point where a sexy woman asks a rap star for an autograph, he (uninvited) gives her breast a squeeze, and she responds by giggling. Message: women just love being sexually assaulted!
The thing that really fills me with rage is that when I’ve tried to tell my friends how angry this makes me the response is always, ‘well OF COURSE it’s going to be that way, it’s just that kind of film, it’s not meant to be taken seriously’. No, actually, a pro-sexual-assault message is not OK ever, EVEN IF IT IS NOT MEANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY. Between 5% and 20% of British women will survive rape or attempted rape in their lifetimes, depending which statistics you believe, and even more than that survive other types of sexual assault. There is no situation in which it is OK to portray sexual assault in a positive way, ever. Fuck off. Really. FUCK OFF.
Duke Nukem (and, come to think of it, about 50 other video games)
There is a macho male hero and some sexy babe-objects who even when they wear armor, wear bikinis. Armor bikinis. But it isn’t sexist. OK, yeah, it is sexist, but, it’s not really sexist. It’s not intended to be taken that way. It’s ironic.
I got through about 30 minutes of this one. All the women in this film are walking-stereotype-beautiful-slut-babe-objects who give blow-jobs to not-particularly-attractive men they don’t know for no apparent reason.
The particularly angry-making thing here is that it’s by Werner Herzog, who is smart and has made lots of good films, and he clearly thinks his over-the-top misogyny is part of some both hilarious and intelligent critique of the action film genre. It isn’t. It’s just plain old misogynistic hatred, it isn’t even particularly clever.
Every Adam Sandler film ever made
I don’t think this needs any explanation.
In all of them the extreme misogyny is clearly intended to be understood as funny or ironic, but at the same time you can “appreciate” the misogyny in a totally straight up way, ignoring the thin and unconvincing veneer of irony. The irony is not really there to thoughtfully examine and criticize misogyny in society, it is just a pretense, a thin veneer whose only purpose is to excuse what lies beneath: a straight-up, old-fashioned, celebration of bigotry and stereotypes.
Well, I’m declaring the concept of irony to be over as of now. It used to be good, but somehow along the way it ceased to be a tool for genuinely sharp and clever criticism of society, and instead became twisted, debased, and evil. I’m very sorry. Many of us will miss irony, but we have to face the truth: it was already gone.
Also being taken out of service: “sarcasm”, “satire”, and “edgy humour”.