After almost four decades of gorging on punk fashion, music, art, and attitude, we still grant it permanent “outsider” status. Its tired tropes and worn-out clichés are still celebrated as edgy and anti-authoritarian, above reproach and beyond criticism. Punk-rock culture is the ultimate slow-acting venom, dulling our expectations by narrowing the aperture of “cool” and neutering our taste by sneering at new flavors until every expression of actual individualism is corralled and expunged in favor of group-think conformity.
Punk-founded doubt and fear has directly spawned the cowardly culture of modern irony. Fear of being called out or targeted for enjoying art that doesn’t meet the stringent criteria of punkness—a criteria too ineffable to codify, but pernicious and deadly to underestimate—has given us no outlet for the vagaries of our taste but to claim that we enjoy the things we love only out of mocking disdain for the awfulness we pre-emptively ascribe to them.
In the New York Times, Christy Wampole has some practical advice for living without irony, even though that might mean making yourself emotionally vulnerable:
What would it take to overcome the cultural pull of irony? Moving away from the ironic involves saying what you mean, meaning what you say and considering seriousness and forthrightness as expressive possibilities, despite the inherent risks. It means undertaking the cultivation of sincerity, humility and self-effacement, and demoting the frivolous and the kitschy on our collective scale of values. It might also consist of an honest self-inventory.
There are plenty of reasons why people my age might prefer the ironic to the heartfelt—the first one that comes to mind is a lack of faith in institutions like the government and the media. But irony is not a solution to the problem.