Sunday, November 25, 2012
Isn't it ironic
My childhood: a study in unironic tie-dye.
Remember when irony wasn't a thing? Or if it was a thing, it was a dramatic thing? Saved only for moments of sheer theatricality. So far as I know, it didn't come in the form of skinny jeans and mustaches and vinyl and expensive espresso. Somewhere along the way, irony came to replace nostalgia and sentimentality. It was a way of recalling the past by making fun of it. It's something we all do, almost mechanically.
I recall an old friend from abroad whose layers of sarcasm were piled so thick that I could rarely understand what he was saying. There were jokes, but they were dark, and there were cutting, knowing observations, and there was bitterness, and there was anger, and at the very heart of it all, a kind of sadness so entirely swaddled in emotion that it would spill out at the most unexpected moments, little bursts of honesty that when unfurled, would wipe away all the bullshit. It was those moments that made him my friend. There was a brilliance to the way he cloaked it all in, an irony to his self-deprecation and occasional malevolence, and yet it was an irony I have yet to truly understand.
I wonder, though, if things in him had settled, and if all the caustic one-liners were swept away, if we had been better friends.
I've written before that irony is a thing that emerged in my generation in response to eight years of George W. Bush. I still believe this, and feel within me a deep-seated sense of political unrest whenever I think of those eight long years. Perhaps because that era is over, and because my personal life has achieved some semblance of stability, I don't burn with that glimmer of political dramatics the way I once did.
It's still curious, then, that during that period irony transformed into a cultural aesthetic, one that can be spotted cycling through San Francisco's Mission District on a fixie, sipping a four-dollar espresso, sporting expensive jeans with carefully-torn holes on the knees. But I could be wrong; surely I am. Some of them wear tie-dye.