Thursday, December 20, 2012

An unironic Christmas

First, if you have not read Christy Wampole's New York Times op-ed piece "How to Live Without Irony", it is here, and worth your time.

The piece elicited the counterargument that young adults are in fact sincere, altruistic, empathic contributors to a gentler, more inclusive culture. ("What age group were mostly in those Occupy Wall St. camps?", they ask, reasonably.)

Wikipedia Dictionary defines verbal irony as "The expression of one's meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect."

A more thorough dissection of the term, including irony in clothing, is here.

I don't see the ubiquity of verbal irony as the purview of the Millenials, as Walpole does, but they do rock some amusing inside-joke tees, like the one at left, from Busted Tees.

The ironic elder exists as well; she forged her sarcasm, sharp observations and sardonic wit on the anvil of superior verbal skills and often has achieved a notable career. 

She can be witty, provocative and stimulating. If you knew her since your school days, however, you might sense a growing brittleness, and think, "Has her humour changed, or do I just not find it funny anymore?"


Yeah, right
 

I ask myself what's happening when I opt for verbal irony. 

Recently, a former colleague exited an abusive marriage (her term), then abruptly returned, completely reversing her decision. "Congratulations", I said, "I hope you're very happy." 

My sarcasm was a screen for my fear. I eventually expressed my worry and dismay, but, as Walpole notes, that took more effort, attention and risk than firing off a zinger. I reach for sarcasm in frustration and pique, and expression rooted there cannot build bridges.


Facta Non Verba: Deeds, not words

I believe it's what we do that counts.

Sometimes the sarcastic friend is the very woman who shows up your house with a box of cookies and bottle of wine when you didn't get that job, mops up your kid's bloody nose while wearing her new white wool jacket (and refuses money for drycleaning) or takes your keys if that's your fourth Amaretto Sour.  There can be a big heart beneath that wisecracking shield.

Another woman might send sentimental cards on your birthday, writing of how much you mean to her, but when the chips are down, she's busy elsewhere. You just don't know until you see some behaviour.
 

So, though I consider irony and it's snarky little sister, sarcasm, to be an easy way out of truly speaking one's mind and heart, I will indulge it and even indulge in it from time to time, knowing it's often a veneer.

Irony is the Red Bull of communication, a satisfying initial blast but no staying power. I can do better, and strive to be straightforward and sincere– most of the time. A complete absence of irony courts earnest, humourless certitude, which is another real drag to be around, or to live with in one's self.  

As far as the desire to wear clothing ironically, I'm out of it. Why would I haul a stuffed animal as a purse, wear a 1975 baseball jersey with a ball skirt, or appliqué my nails with lightening bolts even if you and I are in on the joke? 

That's why this Balenciaga "Egyptofunk" Glitter Girl tee baffles me even before checking the price, $285.

I neither understand its stance nor does it summon desire. It's outside my ken; I feel like Dr. Who contemplating a hula hoop.

Would the buyer be a fully-feathered ironist or a victim? Is it possible to be both?


Happy holidays!

This is the last post for a few weeks, as the season to be merry is here

I wish you– with absolutely no irony–a restorative and warm holiday, and hope you'll return to the Passage on January 3, 2013. Thank you for stopping by.

PS. In case the world really does end on Dec 21: OK, Marilyn, you were right. 

22 comments:

Déjà Pseu said...

Don't worry, 12/21 is also the Winter Solstice, which means my Morris Dancing friends will be doing the traditional Sword Dances. This has guaranteed the rising of the sun on 12/22 for over a thousand years.

I'll admit, I'd be tempted by the Free Bates tee. As I was by a "Winter Is Coming -- House of Stark" tee I spotted on a 20-something guy in the Pittsburgh airport over the summer. I'm still a nerd at heart. But I try to keep my sartorial wit a bit more subtle these days.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog. Happy Holidays to you and yours.

Kristien62 said...

Beautifully written, thought provoking post. I truly appreciate your style, both your writing style and your comments on fashion. Please have a peaceful and joyous holiday.

LPC said...

Have very very happy holidays. Irony runs in my family. You don't think it's the same as sarcasm, do you?

Duchesse said...

Pseu: So, I'll regard a STFU necklace as ironic, rather than a sincere expression of the wearer's directive toward me ;)

Kritien62: While I enjoy fashion topics, the Passage is shifting a gradually more to matters of culture and relationships. But always pearls!

LPC: A dependence on irony as a prime stance in *conversation* fends off transparency and authenticity. It's hard to have a deep, searching conversation with an verbal ironist because I'm always thinking, "Does she mean that, or is it the opposite?" I get tangled up trying to sort what's real and what's the posture.

A little enlivens.

Sarcasm makes me want to flee- unless of course I do it, and then I'm ashamed of myself, eventually.



Déjà Pseu said...

Duchesse, yes the necklace is meant to be ironic/irreverent.

MJ said...

I would have bought the "Free Bates" t-shirt for my niece but for the ridiculous shipping charge. I don't think the shirt is ironic or off-putting, just cute. But I wouldn't wear it myself.

And Pseu, I'm very glad to hear about the Morris Dancers.

Duchesse said...

MJ: Irony is in the mind of the wearer, and not necessarily off-putting. But Bates' innocence is not open to interpretation.

Pseu: Not sure that irony and irreverance are related- so I looked up irreverence: "lacking proper respect or seriousness". I am evidently quite proper!

lagatta à montréal said...

A few of us had a lovely little party last evening. We did refer to the Mayan calendar, but it wasn't ironic: we had stills on-screen of a Mayan ceremony by the sea (the prophecy is much more sophisticated than "the end of the world"; as in many civilisations, these things are to be taken on many levels.

We also had one of my duck tourtières, some smoked salmon and a panettone I bought, and other people's contributions of liquids and greens. (It was mostly my treat this time, and I was happy to be able to afford it in terms of time and $).

I was the youngest person present - wonder how long that will be even possible!?! Eldest is a very fit fellow in his 70s. But of course I have lots of younger friends, some much younger (especially since the Québec Spring) and am often the eldest.

I'd read that NYT piece. Endless irony, and its opposite, endless candour, would be equally wearing.

Joyeuses fêtes!

Duchesse said...

lagatta; Your friends received a treat! I'm wondering if candour is the opposite of irony; to me the opposing quality is a serious earnestness- of which I am more than capable!

Anonymous said...

I just bought a bunch of t-shirts (from the 50-cent bin in a thrift shop) to use as wrapping for gifts for the young adults in our family. How could I resist the one that reads "WE ARE SPARTA-Never Retreat-Never Surrender" for my nephew, or "Punxatawney, PA - Weather Capital of the World" for my niece?

The young may find the bit of distance that irony provides a useful protection for their vulnerable, newly-forged identities, but for the middle-aged--for me, anyway--it just feels like too much work. What I crave now is connection, not distance.

C.

Susan Partlan said...

Hi Duchesse! I miss reading your blog -- got here today via Lisa's.

Wampole's piece was interesting but I couldn't live without some irony. It would be like living without humor.

The STFU necklace cracks me up every time I look at it. I tell people the letters are text shorthand for Sweet Things For U.

Do you really think of yourself as proper? I could swear I've read some irreverent sentences in your past posts.

Duchesse said...

Susan: YOu cannot read my blog? Yu migh try using Google Chrome as your browser.

I find that necklace rude, rather than "irreverent"- why offer all and sundry an invitation to STFU- and sister, I do know what it stands for despite a cute (but not recognized) secondary meaning. That reminds me of a student who showed up at a school with a SOMF tee shirt and tried to pass it off as Students of Much Fame. But all the classmates knew how to read it, and so did the principal.

Susan Partlan said...

No, I can read the blog, it's just that I wasn't reading it, until today. I'm in grad school working on an MA in Composition Studies to teach English at the college level. During the semester, when school's in session, there's almost zero time for social networking, and I have to keep an eye on how much keyboarding (frequent and long writing assignments) I'm doing, because of the ongoing issue with my hands/forearms.

Anyway, back to STFU. I know I'm not going to convince you but what makes the necklace work for me is that it is so tiny and delicate that people cannot see the letters unless they are so close to your neck they would have to be very close friends or family members to make out the acronym. In truth, the only people in my life who've gotten close enough to ask are my kids and a close girlfriend, all of whom think it's funny, and also think my Sweet Things For U idea is funny, even if I'll never get to use it. It's my own private joke to myself.

Humor is one of those things that can be unpredictable. For example, the story of the SOMF tee made me laugh! That kid is clever. But if I were the principal, I'd make him go home and change.

Duchesse said...

Susan: Oh, great! Yes, humour is very personal and I do have a sense of that; I even enjoy risqué jokes.

Duchesse said...

C.: Great finds; I used to buy those for my son, my favourite was one that read "Sammy's Cocktail Samosas". Adolescents love the ironic and weird, a siren call to a need for individuality. Yet, the "one-off tees" also appeal to the need to be a member of a discernible tribe- a paradoxical urge which few of us ever truly evade.

materfamilias said...

I'm not keen on irony or sarcasm, although I know I indulge occasionally. I find it wearing, quite honestly, in those who rely on it conversationally. In literature and film, as well, I'm not a fan, although I get what's going on intellectually.
And in winter, I find irony even harder to take - too brittle for a season that needs warmth and sincerity, in this humble opinion.
So let me sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas. Much good food, your loved ones around you, and music!

Anonymous said...

I think a lot of the subtleties of relating to one another are cultural. Moving to England this year, I've noticed how incredibly polite and self effacing Brits are in conversation (it's true, they do apologise if you stand on their toes!).

Irony and understatement are par for the course here. American style enthusiasm would just be too much (and maybe Canadian earnestness... or maybe not, you might have to experiment).

I'm still learning to soften my usual directness a bit so that people don't take offense.

Anyway, I agree that actions are the key. I'm quite happy with a good dose of snark along with loving actions.

Cheers,
Eleanorjane

Anonymous said...

Forgot to wish you a lovely holiday, Duchesse, and a new year full of good things!

C.

Duchesse said...

materfamilias: Fascinating observation, tying tolerance to temperature! That has happened for me, too but did not realize it till you pointed it out.

Eleanorjane: Yes, the cultures are very different. Americans do not realize how different Canadians are and when we all speak English the temptation is to think there isn't much. (I was born in the US and lived there till 22, have spent last 42 in Canada and worked for stretches in England. Hardly an expert (she says with classic Canadian modesty), but have seen much.

I will never forget what one British banker replied when I asked him how far a woman could get in that occupation in England: "Quite far enough."

Gretchen said...

Last spring, I saw a bumper sticker (without the face picture) that said Free Bates. As Bates is the name of our local middle school, I did a double take, and then laughed out loud when I realized which Bates needed to be freed! Not a fan of irony nor sarcasm, as a very little goes a long way. It's as annoying as people who talk in circles without getting to the point. Out with it, I want to tell them. Stop trying tobe diplomatic when there's obviously a point you want to make. Ironic clothing? That's just dumb. You simply look like you have problems identifying what is appropriate or useful.

Duchesse said...

Gretchen: Oh, yes! Sometimes I tell myself to be patient but mostly just wish they'd spit it out. Ironic clothing is best worn (is that an oxymoron?) by members of indy bands or teenage girls with one-inch bangs.