An Ironic Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

October 26, 2011

We live in a cynical age.

You’ve probably noticed it.  I don’t know how you could avoid it.  It’s everywhere.

It’s in every person who feels jaded by life, by the church or by their jobs.

It’s in every person who’s lost faith in people, in “the system” or in God.

It’s in every one of the myriad of spoof movies that are spewn upon audiences each year.

It’s in every hipster whose wardrobe is made up of the most outdated, mismatched items in the thrift store.

I’ve got plenty of cynicism in me.  But I’m working on it.  Because I think it might be killing my generation.

The _____ Generation

What word defines my generation?

My grandparents were called the “Great Generation.”

My parents were the Baby Boomer Generation.

But they don’t have a name for us.  So they called us “X,” one of the dumbest terms ever coined by sociologists.

I think they should call us the Ironic Generation.

Irony, probably the most important word today in today’s new generation.  I love irony, as the dictionary defines it:

irony: to express something other than and especially the opposite of a literal meaning.

But the truly ironic thing is that the word is losing its real meaning.  It’s just a word that’s taken the place of “cynicism.”

If Something Is Worth Doing, It’s Worth Doing Ironically

I know I pick on hipsters a lot.  But it’s not without cause.  I think many of them embody the worst cynicism that pervades my generation.  Take hipster fashion for instance.  All of the outdated, mismatched clothes, the mutton chops, non-prescription eyeglasses, and Pabst Blue Ribbon are meticulously crafted for to maximize one desired effect:


Do you laugh at how your parents were dressed in old photos?  Then just get some of those clothes from the thrift store and wear them “ironically.”  Drink crappy beer “ironically.”  Do everything “ironically” while laughing at people who did all those things sincerely.

Hipster 1: “Dude, Pabst Blue Ribbon sucks so bad.”

Hipster 2: “I know, I just like drinking it because it’s so hilariously awful.”

Hipster 1:  “Well done, sir.  Who in their right mind would actually drink this and think it’s good?  Pass me another.”

Hipster 2:  “Nice tube top, by the way.  It goes great with those tiny basketball shorts.”

That’s not irony.  That’s just snark.  That’s just trying to draw attention to your cynical assumption that your distinguished and refined tastes are too cool for this planet.  The only thing ironic about hipsters is how much sheer, sincere effort they put into being “ironic” and pretending to not give a crap.  If hipsters really didn’t give a crap, they’d just go to Kohl’s and buy some Levis and polo shirts like those of us who sincerely don’t care.

I’m tired of your irony, hipsters.  You’ve become a parody of yourselves.  Now that’s ironic.

A Sincere Generation

Here’s the thing.  I think my generation is so caught up in the supposed irony of our whole existence, that we aren’t spending a whole lot of time or effort doing anything sincerely.  Everything that a person can sincerely value, someone in my generation is treating like kitsch.  Patriotism?  Ironic.  Religion?  Ironic.  Gender?  Ironic.  Love?  Ironic…probably.

Guess what?

Making fun of things isn’t productive.

Being ironic doesn’t make the world more beautiful or creative.

Being cynical doesn’t solve problems.

The irony of my generation will be looked at by our grandkids as another stupid, meaningless fad.  We need to drop the act and stop calling our cynicism “irony” or “creativity.”  If all we leave behind is a pile of irony, parodies, riffs, spoofs and snark then our generation will not be remembered.

If we are so caught up with the absurdity of things, then maybe we should spend half of our “ironic” efforts actually creating things that are sincere…

…Unless we’re just afraid that our sincere efforts will be imitated “ironically” by the next generation.

What do you think?  Are you sick of irony, or is it the greatest invention of our time?

29 responses to An Ironic Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

  1. Hi Matt,

    It’s about 5 a.m. and suddenly I have this craving for a Pabst.

    Haven’t tasted one in 40 years but I suddenly want one. Isn’t that ironic?

    One of the things I like best about your writing is that I have the impression that you are true to yourself. You ring true. And I respect that even when we don’t always agree. Ever since I first stumbled across your blog a year or so ago, I check it out just about first thing in the morning.

    Yes, there is a generation gap. But I thought being an X-Man was a good thing; Aren’t they Heroes? I’ve settled for being a member of the What-The-Hell’s-Going-On? Generation.

    Keep on being yourself.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to go check the frig for something.

    John Cowart

    • //Keep on being yourself.//

      My friend’s dad once said, “Don’t let the ignorance of people deter you from being yourself.”

      Something I’ve got to work on because I care too much what people think about me (in a bad way that is).

  2. I agree and somewhat disagree with 2 statements you made.

    //Making fun of things isn’t productive.// I agree that if all I do is this, then yes, I’m not being productive. But on the other hand, there’s satire, not even current satire but older satirical literature that made excellent points on the human condition by making fun of it and exaggerating it.

    //Being ironic doesn’t make the world more beautiful or creative.// You’re right. It just creates more cynicism which creates more irony, which repeats the cycle.

    I get what you’re saying Matt. I’m sick of all the cynicism, especially in a lot of blogs I follow. And I tend to borrow their thoughts and see the world through their eyes.

    The Lord lately has been convicting me about it too. (Someone I know from my old church defriended me on FB and they msged me saying how they didn’t like the things I was posting regarding cheesy Jesus pictures, etc) But that’s another issue as well.

    How are Christians to be creative instead of being ironic? I remember you had a post about some really cool Christian themed paintings. But that surely can’t be the extent of our creativity. I mean, we have a direct link to the Creator and a majority of Christian creativity comes off as cheesy.

    • Great point. I am a huge fan of satire, and I think it is one of the most effective techniques for bringing absurdity to life. I guess where it ends for me is where it’s satire for it’s own sake with the only message being “everything sucks.”

  3. Seems people use sarcasm and cynicism as a wall to hide behind, so no one will know how uncool they are, or what they really think (if they have an opinion at all).

    Thinking back (way back) to the Vietnam era, people came across as incredibly sincere. But in many cases people then did what people now do… choose the easy route: go with the flow, complain about the status quo, and don’t risk your comfort.

    Every generation has its heroes who are willing to give up their dreams of a pleasant life in order to have a positive effect on the world. The rest of us just muddle along, being snarky.

  4. Ah…being yourself…the toughest thing to be sometimes. At 40, I’m still waiting to “have it together” like my dad did at my age. Maybe his generation (the Silent Generation) was just better at hiding the difficulties of life from their kids.

    I like the fact that you pointed out that some people’s quest for authenticity and sincerity has, in fact, become a parody of authenticity.

    Any time somebody has to tell me how sincere and authentic they are, I am immediately cautious. Your authenticity and sincerity should be plainly evident.

  5. In the end, I think sincerity is a lost art, and personal expression is regarded as genius. Ironic? Steve Jobs, Moammar Gadhafi, the Unabomber and probably Albert Einstein.

    We tend to worship the Bible, people, stars, style, trends, things, science and fads – but in it, there is still an emptiness. I find that ironic; the very thing that we hope to achieve, is, in the end, nothing meaningful.

    Sincerity (being real) is just that, real. Did you know that Jesus was normal and we’re not? When we live our lives by some perceived set of rules, it’s easy to miss God. We mistake “being good” for relationship with God.

    What seems to last from generation to generation is the sentiment that things were better, simpler, or more godly in the past. What really matters is that we connect with God and his personal destiny for us. What I find most ironic is that a lot of people don’t really know what God wants them to do (by their own admission), so they settle for Pabst. Which in my generation was the drink of the Allman Brothers Band – which obviously was an irony compared to their music.

  6. You know I had to respond!

    I think there are other uses of irony. I try for a lighter irony that keeps us humble, reminds us of our weakness and foibles.

    But I agree irony as you describe it is a scrouge.

    I’m not sure it’s this generation. This generation of Christians strike me more as lukewarm relativists (with notable exceptions).

    Peace, IC

  7. There is a fine line between satire, irony and put down humor. If misused, it becomes complaining to make people laugh. And with all of those forms, just a little bit goes a long way. Unfortunately, it also can start taking over whatever project it is inserted.

    BTW, my oldest daughter understands irony. She thought it ironic that after we spent a LOT of time cleaning up their room, near the end, we found _The Berentstein Bears: The Messy Room_ under a bed.

  8. I’m sick of irony and yet everything seems to be drenched in irony.

  9. That the generation spawned by the “Boomers” ever managed to survive this long: now that’s irony. Or is this cynical?

    No, truly, Matt. We all need to put away our cynicism, our irony, and maybe even our satire, though I’d hate to do that, and try, at least try, to be a bit constructive. Identify a problem or relate to one, and try to do something useful to solve it. Frankly, I think you are doing this.

  10. I think irony is a great way to bring actual issues that people don’t realize to the forefront. In history class we watched a satire about the Red-Scare, which showed how utterly ridiculous the generation was. Sometimes irony, sarcasm, and satire are very important to bring issues to light.

    Although, I have to agree that living within the irony is a bad habit to get into. Living ironically is living another life than one’s own. An ironic comment or having something ironic happen to one’s self is different than the examples you posed.

    Irony can be good or bad. It all depends on how it’s used. A note on the Generation X: the “X” is ironic because our generation doesn’t know who the heck we are. We don’t know our history, what our goals our in life, anything like that. My generation just wants to live for kicks and giggles in the present; not worrying about the past of future.

  11. Interesting thoughts and well written. That’s all the feedback I can offer right now. But still, I enjoyed it.

  12. I agree with what you have said. Lately, though, I have found myself being quiet. I don’t know if I am contemplating things or if I just do not have anything positive to offer.

  13. Fantastic post Matt – I think the most ironic thing about it is how painfully true it is. It seems that Millenials, Gen Xers or the Aughts (or whatever name it is) are lost and have cobbled together a montage of scraps into a non-specific identity. Great insight.

  14. I’m kind of in love with this post for a few reasons.

    For one, you mention Pabst, for two you pick on hipsters, and thirdly ’cause I agree with you.

    My guess is that generation x is so cynical because we are starting to see the effects of a godless generation. Once something bigger than you (God) is subtracted from a generation, something inevitably must take its place. Cynicism, skepticism, doubt, what have you.

    It is a battle to be sure, one I don’t think Christians are actively engaged in…yet.

  15. I actually have a better understanding of the word now. I like what you call your generation. Come to think of it, I notice it a lot. You are right about changing and ending living being ironic all the time. It would be great to see your generation become more sincere.

  16. YES. THIS.
    I don’t care much about hipsters but I am bothered by the ironic lifestyle many christians have chosen to live under. Mocking the church and bashing certain groups of christians in hopes of “changing” how the church handles itself has got to stop.

  17. I love that I just happened to find this post tonight (through Modern Reject). Just a little while ago I was watching romantic comedy and I kept making snarky comments about it (and yes, I was alone talking to the tv – haha). Then I thought about it and said (again, out loud, to myself) “Wow, you have become really cynical.”

    I agree with what Leslie said in the comments. I think people do use sarcasm and cynicism as a wall. I think I probably do. A divorced single mom making fun of romantic comedies. Imagine that…

    I admit that I do enjoy a bit of satire and friendly sarcasm. But I’ve also started to realize that it can easily become my comfort zone and allow me to keep people at arm’s length while hiding my true feelings.

  18. Great post. I love irony, satire, etc when it is used correctly. I am sick of useless crap like spoof movies, which is just people making money off other peoples ideas.

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