It was something that had made me wonder: was I the only one who had noticed that my friends and acquaintances appeared more sardonic caustic and wry recently, especially on social networking sites? Every post, every tweet, every update was dipped in a delicious sauce of irony, sautéed to perfection with sarcasm and that in the new age of virtual bonhomie, everyone worshipped at the altar of irony?
At first it was a thought, then I began seeing patterns emerge, and finally with some very unreliable and dodgy methodology I came to the conclusion that I was not imagining things: the combination of distance and time gave people the luxury of a witty response, a memorable repartee, a well-constructed reply that encounters in real life just couldn't match up to.
In this new world, everyone was an Oscar Wilde and a Zsa Zsa Gabor and every one had something clever to say — about everything!
For a while I coasted along in this wonderful new way of being. I sparred with the best of them, I tried to dazzle too (as a long in the tooth communicator, you could say I had an unfair advantage.)
The rewards were many and the fruit low hanging. It was akin to getting membership to a cool club filled with the likes of Woody Allen and Groucho Marx. Earnestness was infra dig, sincerity was out. The worst thing you could say about a person was “they take themselves so seriously” or, as one life member of the club said, “they have an irony deficiency”.
But you know what? All this cleverness became a bit tiring. It didn’t suit the weather. It’s one thing to be ironic and cool in Hamsptead where a lofty informed view of the world comes easy. Another to try and keep the in-joke going on a bus from Chembur to VT when everything around you is chaotic and crumbling.
Self-deprecation sits easier on those sitting at High Table. Otherwise, it can degenerate to the maudlin and (horror of horrors) come across as whining.
But afraid to reclaim my natural born and God-given rights to sincerity and simplicity, (I used to cry at Manmohan Desai films), I went along with the irony thing. Until last week when I read Suzanne Moore’s wonderful article in The Guardian, “I have had enough of irony”.
“I have had enough of the dominant discourse of irony. About everything. The way we are all coerced into enjoying things with an air of detachment and superiority. It’s so tiring: it has been like this for 30-odd years,” she wrote.
It is particularly interesting that this attack on irony emerges from its epicenter — Europe and more particularly, England (The French though appearing ironic are more grumpy.) Irony comes easily to those ingrained with years of entitlement. In fact, a primary aspect of entitlement is the licence to take nothing very seriously.
Does this mean that we should get boring and bleeding heart all over again? Or as Moore says “the near social equivalent of being a paedophile — someone with ‘no sense of humour’”?
I would say yes. In times when life affords us with such readymade instances of irony such as Louis Vuitton buying into FabiIndia, the premium on irony’s long gone.
We need to rethink the joke — perhaps acknowledge that it's now on us!
Malavika Sangghvi is a Mumbai-based writer email@example.com