Irony: the new ideal

December 15, 2017

It began with the television, a passive means of spending some time to relax, unwind, to escape the world after a long day of work. As the 20th Century closed, television became a natural way to spend several hours of free time, as normal and as frequent as a bowel movement.

Today, television is tame in comparison to the myriad of entertainment options. Heck, a scroll through Instagram can keep you as busy as a couple of The Simpsons’ episodes would’ve 20 years ago.

In 2015-16 research showed Canadians spent just under 10 hours a day with mass media and over four hours a day on social media.

With that shift comes the realization that we are active members of our entertainment through our social media caricatures and “news” feeds. We dictate the videos we watch and the people we follow and feel lethargic after not willing ourselves away as the hours pass by.

Social media culture has bred a heightened social awareness to the point of exhaustion. It didn’t take days before videos and photos of Bosnian war criminal Slobodan Praljak’s suicide at the UN a few weeks ago was “memed.” The constantly updating, mindless and poor taste online is so prevalent in our lives, it’s made us cynical and afraid to be genuine.

Television sitcoms started as wholesome and family friendly. Characters learned lessons each episode. While they were ham-fisted and not real, it was the cultural ideal – they didn’t seek to purely entertain at the cost of a mean-spirited joke.

Today, the most ironic and allegedly “edgy” wins over our time.

We know already how untruthful the Internet is. Published in Computers in Human Behaviour last November, researchers found only 16-32 per cent of people reported self-honesty when online and only 0–2 per cent expected others to be honest.

It’s a self-sustaining cycle. Since we know the score online it affects what we do and say. Spending too much time in that space looking for just the right type of meme and that “hip”, ironic undertone seeps into your life. Doing things ironically is an accepted “role” to play.

Whether it’s wearing a Nickelback shirt despite hating the band or blurting out a shock-value joke just to receive a reaction, how we choose to portray ourselves is becoming less and less a reflection of who we are. We are ironic so we don’t have to face our real feelings.

One of my goals for 2017 was to be more genuine – not for the purpose of people liking me more or thinking I’m clever or funny – quite the opposite. I’m using it as a way to figure out who I am. It’s difficult.

Many people don’t know who they are, social media or not. But if we know most of the Internet is lying and we know we stretch the truth in what we reveal online, then what do we know about ourselves?

What do we know about our friends, our boyfriend? Our girlfriend?

I’m not saying I’m very good at this. It’s something I’m working on. But noticing these empty pleasures and how they change you, if they do, is important.

For the first time, I think we are seeing the cynical effects of sustained immediate, vapid pleasure. It did for me. It stunted my personal growth in finding out who I am.

I don’t think the answer lies in social media diatribes either. This was an issue before social media and will be after. But the social media vehicle is so seductive, the memes so spot on, it’s ruining many people’s chance for real human connection. This isn’t some get-off-my-lawn sort of old-man tirade. It’s a call to retreat within and through your communication online. Be who you are.

We’ve created an environment where we can shirk our inner feelings and thoughts and replace them with convenient, easy, palatable lies, selling out to an invisible barometer of success or self-worth, missing out on the sappy, intimate and meaningful moments that honest and genuine connection provides.

It’s no coincidence that after hours of watching mindless YouTube videos and vine compilations there’s an emptiness.

Or as author David Foster Wallace put it: “There’s some great essay somewhere that has a line about irony being the song of the prisoner who’s come to love his cage.”

– Michael Menzies, Senior Editor