November 21, 2012

How ironic

Today's must-read is Christy Wampole's How to Live Without Irony. Every word rings true for me. A few excerpts:

The ironic frame functions as a shield against criticism. The same goes for ironic living. Irony is the most self-defensive mode, as it allows a person to dodge responsibility for his or her choices, aesthetic and otherwise. To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to “secretly flee” (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.

How did this happen? It stems in part from the belief that this generation has little to offer in terms of culture, that everything has already been done, or that serious commitment to any belief will eventually be subsumed by an opposing belief, rendering the first laughable at best and contemptible at worst. This kind of defensive living works as a pre-emptive surrender and takes the form of reaction rather than action. 
Excuse me while I hop on my hobby-horse for a minute and add that the flight from vulnerability and embrace of defensiveness are found not only in hipsters but in insecurely attached children as well. Gordon Neufeld, co-author of my favorite parenting book, has written:
But there’s the rub: the heart is also a place of great vulnerability. To care about someone is to set the stage for getting hurt if the caring is not reciprocated. To seek to matter to someone is to be wounded by signs of not mattering. To give ones heart away is to risk it being broken. To share the secrets of ones heart is to chance being misunderstood and abused. A child can bear only so much vulnerability. When attachments aren’t safe, the vulnerability is overwhelming. [. . .]

The flight from vulnerability involves a numbing out of vulnerable feelings, a tuning out of perceptions that lead to vulnerable feelings, and even a backing out of attachment. It is this flight from vulnerability that is at the heart of the matter with children who have problems learning and behaving. It is this flight from vulnerability that we are witnessing when we see children divesting of caring, protesting of boredom, no longer feeling shame and embarrassment, no longer experiencing felt fear.
You can read portions of Neufeld's book on Amazon. I especially recommend  Chapter 7, "The Flatlining of Culture." But back to Ms. Wampole:
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.
Okay, I'll come clean. I have a pair of ironic chairs in my living room. Here's one of them:
I like to think of them as Mad Men chairs. I got them at the thrift store for $15 each (talked-down from $20!) and I do actually like some things about them -- they're comfortable, not too large, and pleasing in shape. But then there's the fabric. The only way to live with that is ironically. Not only is it really shiny, but the glaring gold can sometimes take on an unwholesome greenish tint. Maybe I'll take Wampole's advice and demote my finds to a less visible location. Or throw a couple of discreet brown blankets over them.

Anyway, read the whole thing. Hat tip goes to husband @Campion1581 who tweeted a couple of great excerpts from the piece.

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  1. Is it ironic that I just like them as is, color and all?

  2. :) You really have to come over someday and see them in the flesh. Maybe January?

  3. his misses a major point, namely, the inherent, get ready, cultural conservatism of many people who'd qualify for the term "hipster." I know plenty of 'em, and, much as I hate the hipster ethos, it's nevertheless true that the things we might consider kitsch, are very often relics of a vanished, more innocent America. For example, I've an ex-girlfriend who collects ukeleles, and plays and sings old cowboy songs. Pure hipster, right? Then why am I far from the only one it leaves in tears? Pure, tender, aching songs. I've another for whom older clothing is more suitable, not only because it had more style and individuality, but in large part because it was more modest, and more of it was made for curvier girls. You have kids, would you rather have them wear what a hooker with a shred of self-respect left wouldn't have dreamed of in the 90s? Would you rather see your daughter in a granny dress, or a pair of Juicy Couture sweat pants, with the word "JUICY" sewn on the butt? For that matter, found a pair of women's non-sweat pants lately that even have pockets, much less allow for hips, or anything else that isn't pure heroin chic? I'm not talking about Madison Avenue, it's more than trickled down to the mall (one lovely revenge is, even New Old Stock vintage stuff is VASTLY cheaper on ebay.) I apologize for appearing soap-boxy, but I'm actually waxing rhapsodic -- including about that chair, which is a positively delicious antidote to the drabness of our time. And probably mighty comfy, too. Why should we let such things die?

  4. (Ugh, still typos on SUCH a sleepy day, but probably more irritating for you if I delete and post a THIRD time, so instead asking your forgiveness, and wishing you a happy non-LGBT-vegan-Turkey Day.)

  5. I like the shiny chair! And green is my favorite color so I'd probably like it even more on days when the lighting is weird and it has that greenish tint. It looks like a happy chair, and I love that you got such a great bargain on it!

    I hope you and the entire P&P family have a blessed and joyous Thanksgiving.

  6. That's three for the chair as-is....

  7. :)

    Wishing the same to your family, Zilla.

    Unrelenter, thanks for taking the time to make your thoughtful comments. That culturally conservative desire to preserve beautiful things from the past is a good and hopeful thing and I'm happy to hear of it. You're so right about the ugliness of so much that is contemporary.

    (If you haven't, you ought to leave a comment on the original article.)

    I love what the author says about hope making us vulnerable and irony adopted as a defense against that vulnerability. The part about her being unable to give a gift unironically was really insightful, I thought.

    Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  8. I like your chairs...what a great find. Hard to find something that nice at a thrift shop in Tucson. Slipcovers or reupholstering...and they will look beautiful. :-)

  9. I like your chairs...what a great find. Hard to find something that nice at a thrift shop in Tucson. Slipcovers or reupholstering...and they will look beautiful. :-)


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