Weekly Rant: Living in the Age of Irony

A couple of years ago, the always-inflammatory Salon ran a piece entitled “The 15 Most Hated Bands of the Last 30 Years.”  Included on the list were such hate-favourites as Nickelback (hatred of them has become so common as to be ubiquitous), but also many of the bands whose work came to define the sounds of the ’90s.  Think Goo Goo Dolls, Dave Matthews Band, and Hootie and the Blowfish.  Surprised to hear that they are the most hated band?  So was I.  But then again, in many ways I really wasn’t.  Though I was incredibly annoyed at rediscovering this list a little over a week ago, I saw it as just another sign that we are indeed still living in “The Age of Irony.”

At first, I couldn’t quite figure out why the list annoyed me so much.  Was it simply because they had listed the Goo Goo Dolls, one of my favourite bands, on the list?  Was it the commonsensical way it was written, as if of course we would all agree that those pseudo-authentic rock bands from the 1990s were really just plain awful and that anyone who thought they were actually good were delusional at best and philistines at worst?  Or was it the patronizing, ironic tone it adopted, so common among self-styled music critics and others in the click-bait universe who manage to garner views by adopting a hipsterish ironic pose to every item of popular culture they encounter?

Of course, it was all of those things.  In the Age of Irony, everything is just a surface to be mocked and ridiculed.  Indeed, the source of the pleasure isn’t even in the cultural object, but instead in finding something amusing about it, placing oneself above it so that one is, allegedly, no longer under the thrall of the omniscient, omnivorous, omnipresent culture industry.  At a deeper level, however, these types of ironic clickbait posts also suggest something deeper about our cultural zeitgeist.  We might just as well say that we are living in an Age of Alienation, when it becomes much easier (and allegedly more satisfying) to use the texts that surround us ironically, rather than seeking out any sense of emotional authenticity they might contain (because how could anything produced by the mass culture industry be authentic, anyway?)

Now, I’m not saying that irony doesn’t have its purposes, or that it can’t be an effective political tool for the disenfranchised to strike back at the dominant world that swamps them with its ideologies.  No one who has ever studied gay camp and its deconstruction of traditional gender norms and performances would be able to say that.  However, I fear that this particular type of irony, a key part of the world of postmodernism, only ends up reinscribing the very power structures that should be critiqued.  You can be ironic and laugh at how foolish the masses are, but only if you’re educated enough, only if you’ve managed to procure the types of reading skills that allow you to reach the Olympian heights of today’s finest ironists.  Otherwise, you’re just another one of the foolish plebians, shut out of the party.

You may call me old-fashioned, and perhaps I am blinded by my own love of many aspects of 1990s culture (I was born in 1984, so I am too young to have the millennial sense of distance from the ’90s).  But, on the other hand, can you blame me for wanting to obtain a little bit of authentic feeling from the music that defined my youth?  Truly, I think that some of these “most hated bands” do allow us to gain some sort of feeling, a measure of the zeitgeist of the last decade of the 20th Century (and, I might point out, the second millennium).  Simply dismissing them as “most hated” as if that is a piece of commonsense wisdom ultimately says more about the ways in which the contemporary decade looks at its 20th Century forbear than it does about the music itself, or about those who like said music.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go turn on my Goo Goo Dolls, settle in, and re-experience that heady, moody time known as the ’90s.

89 thoughts on “Weekly Rant: Living in the Age of Irony

  1. I greatly agree with you.Music from the past was the best than right now.I n my own idea new music will be famous at the time it is published but years past it will dimished because there are new songs that comes…

  2. This is so insightful and witty too! Loved that you threw in philistine, such a demeaning word. Re blogging, would love if you could give me feedback on something of mine!

  3. Well, as a teen of the 90’s I find that list sad and unsettling. The best thing about music of that era, and about most Generation X’ers is that we, as a group, have incredibly eclectic tastes in music. From Glam Rock to Country a person can glean information from an era or culture. If Hipsters are so busy trying to be ironic, then maybe they can appreciate the irony of being out of touch with not only their own generation, but all the others before it. Or they can suck it. I am OK with either scenario.

  4. I lived through the 1990s. It was a funny decade in many ways, filled with the promise of what the information age might become, but none of its realities. i don’t recall ever hating any of the bands of the day.

  5. Everyone is entitled to hate or love what they want but I hate when people try to speak for others. I love the goo goo dolls and others on that list. People are so annoying! Haha great post though, it makes you take a second look at things!

  6. Really???? I thought all these bands you named were boy bands, most of which were discovered on reality shows. The foo fighters. Seriously. Which one is beiber. The goo goo dolls. Is that the new band for zac or whatever his name is that left no direction. Hootie and the blowfish. Cmon. Boy george reincarnated. Buy some music mate.

  7. Don’t like it if someone disagrees with you. Ah poor baby. Should i have said YES YOU ARE GREAT. Would you not have deleted my comment then. ???????????

    1. Well, actually, I just hadn’t had a chance to approve your comment (which I have done now, btw). While I disagree with you, I appreciate your comment.

      1. Cheers. Sorry forgot about the approval. There i was all locked up in the 60s and 70s.

  8. Anyone who puts Dave Matthews Band on the list of most hated bands has obviously not seen them live and has no business critiquing music. you’re right it’s just click bait and snobbery.

  9. Loved this! I have no dislike for any particular singer or group. If it’s a song from the 20’s that’s moving or makes me think, or just takes me away – it’s great. Same for any other decade or genre. I am as happy listening to certain pop or rap songs that have a catchy beat as I am with my 60’s or 70’s songs or my meditative music. If it moves me in some way, it’s worth appreciation.

  10. I agree wholeheartedly about the Nickleback comment – it’s the popular thing to hate them now, and I’m not even sure where the hatred originally came from. Great post!

  11. Your piece is so clearly written and honestly felt you should never second guess yourself about what the cynics among us say.

    We live in an ‘Age of Abandonment’ where the once-cherished values of critical thinking, reasoned-debate and the resultant informed- judgement are no different from personal opinion. It’s all subjective and relative, you see, and a matter of opinion; and since the Constitution guarantees us all freedom speech, what I say is just as valuable as what the Nobel Laureate says. As if freedom of speech ever guaranteed freedom from error. As if.

    The other thing that’s happening in the “zeitgeist” is the rise of The Cynic. He’s the one who tears you down; the one who despises your passion and your talent because he has no passion or talent of his own. He could have; but he’s too lazy to achieve on his own; his resentment gets the better of him and we see the result. It’s really ugly out there in some places; on the internet in a lot of places.

    I find myself, time after time, returning to Voltaire’s conclusion in CANDIDE: we must cultivate our own gardens. Or, as we would say in the 21st century: fuck the idiots.

  12. I LOVED the 90s and if given half the chance think we should all revert back to our ways! We should all revive the era of inflatable backpacks, jelly shoes and the almighty reign of the spice girls and good ol’Britney!

    Great post!

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