Post-ironic Ramblings

It was laundry day today. I composed a special outfit comprised of the biggest lumpy grey wool sweater I could find and shiny purple lame' leggings. Then I put on heels for good measure. Is it wrong for me to take so much delight in ridiculous outfits?
Probably. But I do it regularly anyway. Mad King Thomas has fueled in me an unhealthy love of all things shiny, gold, outrageous, or lame'.

And here's the thing. It used to be ironic. Now it's a little too genuine. It used to be a joke. I guess it still is a joke... a very serious joke.

Friends, let me introduce you to perhaps one of the most relevant words in my life: 'post-ironic.' It's not the same thing as just being earnest. Earnestness is perhaps innocent and naive and genuine. It's definitely not ironic- the tongue-in-cheek posturing and cynical laugh have faded. It's that strange space where you've gone through the irony and come out the other side, feeling genuine and whole-hearted, aware of how ironic it could (or should) be, but somehow you can't help your honest love.

Eighties pop is particularly ripe for this, I think because so much of it was made in earnest, with an aesthetic that isn't afraid that people will laugh at the dramatic tone. Our cynical referential generation loves to scoff at the cheesey soul-baring, but eventually the synth beats its way into our hearts. One day you're laughing at Bonnie Tyler and the next suddenly you ARE holding out for a hero, at the top of your jaded little lungs. And by "you" I mean "I", clearly.

I probably experience post-irony most frequently with music, but it's a concept that permeates my life. Honestly, it's one of the best strategies for dealing with the wreck that post-modernism tends to leave well-intentioned liberal arts students like myself. Once everything is deconstructed, lying about in shambles on a floor of shifting truths and self-aware derision, there's not a lot of space for earnestness. You get laughed out of college as a deluded essentialist, sneered at for your simplicity. Earnestness is too easy to undermine.

But it's a bleak miserable life when you can't love anything, when everything has to be picked apart and problematized, when heartfelt emotions are scorned as antithetical to intellectualism. Irony provides the humor and let's us love again in a bleeding, broken way, but it's a cynical existence.

Here's where post-irony kicks in! You've picked apart the world, tried on the pieces in high-irony, laughed and nodded and made knowing winks, and now you've hung out there so long something else is bubbling up. There's a space to engage with the complicated and contradictory nature of a constructed reality, not just wallow in the brokenness of the world. You get to enjoy things! and still value the critical deconstruction and recognize how fraught with problems everything is. But your laughter doesn't have to have that bitter edge anymore.

Okay, so maybe we're not talking about my laundry-day outfit anymore. But we are talking about my dance-making now. Perhaps Post-ironic is a term better saved for musical loves and clothing choices, but it gets at the contradiction that Mad King Thomas talks about all the time. Part of what drives us to make dances, and what makes us make dances the way we do. It's a fucked-up, broken world out there. And we love that world SO HARD. It hurts to love something this much, and it hurts that what we love is so fucked up. We couldn't love it so hard if we didn't recognize how awful and fucked up it is. We're angry, and it is in accepting- no, meeting head-on- that anger and disappointment that we can love and have the most hope.

As facebook says, "it's complicated." We choose to LIVE in the complication, dance from fragment to fragment, knowing that meaning will be made in between, and the need for stability will be diminished in the revelry and inquiry of a dancing spirit. No longer is the only question "What can we do?" Now we ask, What does doing look like? What decides can? Who are we and what is what? What can be? And how can we do to make that be come to be? Let's scrabble it all around, embrace the mud, which we know is also gold, and roll in the mess because magic is in the making.


I was so much older then

Interesting post. You inspired me to go back and look up a paper I wrote back in 2003 (EIGHT years ago! I was 19! crazy) about sarcasm contrasted with (what I termed) post-sarcasm. What you term irony is something like what I was calling post-sarcasm. I was worried - and still am - about the failings of that phenomenon to either valorize or to criticize. One of my rants involves contrasting The Simpsons against The Family Guy and South Park: I think the Simpsons (at least the golden era) tended to use sarcasm as a weapon to criticize institutions and dominant cultural practices, grounded in a belief in basic human good; whereas the other two tend more frequently to adopt the mode of (post-)sarcasm/irony merely to play with dominant discourses, ultimately relying on the mobilization of those discourses for the humor and failing to assert a grounded position/investment for the text itself (from which meaningful criticism might flow).

Often I feel like I'm firmly (still?) in the earnestness camp, so I certainly sympathize with what I take as a desire/impulse to rebuild a practice of valorization. Post-modernism to me means recognizing not just the fragmented and partial nature of cultural meanings, but also recognizing our inevestment and agency in that fragmented space. It's an opportunity to own up to and stake a position(s) - even creatively co-opt and appropriate to make that position - and then ground your work in space. To me it means the freedom to argue for what is good and beautiful to you in a way that communicates to others the lines you follow or cross in order to own that position. It entails an ethics of relationships for which to care while working in the world. All of which I think is ultimately more humane and meaningful than arguing/creating from an assertion (or assumption) of abstract and absolute principles. Or wandering through fragmented positions half-mobilizing/half-distancing dominant discourse/nostalgia without ever taking the risk of valorizing a home space (however imagined or imaginary that might be).

So yeah, choosing to live the complication sounds right on. I think choosing is an act of creation by itself, the necessary but insufficient starting place.

-- Jesse M

making sense of things

I've never seen an actual MKT show in person, though I guess I glimpsed the australopithecus version once or twice. During that, and at the snippets I can pick up from the scattered corners of the internet, I usually laughed a lot. And I had the nagging sense that what I was laughing at was also important. There are a few things that feel like that. It's a weird feeling, and I wouldn't be able to articulate it well, but it looks like you are. So I really like this. 

Humor turns out to be awfully important when you grow up, doesn't it? 

- Eric DS

From your biggest fan

Yes!!! I get it!


Big Fan

This is great, Theresa.

I just read a book by Robert Bly called "The Sibling Society" where he talks about how we've torn down all of the vertically-modeled, patriarchal sociocultural structures (where the family looks up to the father, the father looks up to the king, the king looks up to God) - and replaced them with a horizontally-modeled non-structure (adolescent sibling style) where everyone is in fierce competition for attention and no-one is willing to either take responsibility or be subjugated.

He does a pretty good job, in my opinion, of not being infuriatingly anti-feminist (in this particular book) - and I think the vertical vs. horizontal formulation is worth checking out. You can borrow the book from me if you want.

But this post definitely helps me to "get" MKT a little bit more - you guys do a fantastic job of creating some kind of vivid synthesis between the elegiac and profane, the reverent and the irreverent, vulnerability and rage. In my opinion.

-Kevin O