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. Every generation tends to view itself as superior to the one that came before it. This is more about human nature than music. How ironic.

  2. If the guardians of zeitgeist aren’t telling us what to hate, they’re telling us what to love. You feel for the 90’s what I feel for the 70’s and 80’s. So maybe I don’t connect as well with current music, but it is still valid to the younger and I respect that. Good insight. Now I’m going to go put on my Frampton Comes Alive lp.

  3. Reblogged this on For Nature, Wherever I May Find Her and commented:
    Interesting take on the hipster “irony.” I was glad to see the calling out of postmodernism and the intellectual elite… Not to say that they are bad, just simply part of problem.
    As someone who feels criticized for being too earnest and not ironic or critical enough, especially when it comes to music, I appreciated this post.

  4. Thank you! I was born in ’84 also and have the same views on 90s music. Everyone enjoys and has fond memories of the music of the decade of their youth. I hate 80s music because I didn’t grow up with it to appreciate it. I get annoyed by music snobs who poke fun at others for their taste in music. It is subjective, come on!

  5. Good stuff. Some thoughts:

    “In the Age of Irony, everything is just a surface to be mocked and ridiculed.”

    In some ways, I wish it was. There are certain subjects and concepts you can NOT mock publicly.

    “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. ”

    The problem with post-modern thought is that everything is “subjective” including the concept of power structures. Everything is an opinion. Naturally, this hurts discourse.

    Note, I’m a millenial, but at the tale end. I was born in 88, yet I am a product of 2000’s culture, rather then the 90s. I’m surprised how much of a difference 4 years can make.

  6. Excellent post! I was born in 84 too. Hootie and the Blowfish was my first CD! I’m in grad school in the liberal arts where what you’re describing runs rampant!

  7. This is about your image up there – not about the content of the post (I can’t seem to get to that other post). Just wanted to say this: I am straight, and that image nearly breaks my heart – the tenderness of it and the entire movie. That’s all. Thanks for filling my heart with warmth and love right now.

  8. Totally agree with the others – great post! All the bands you listed are on my favourites list! I try not to read that blithering nonsense and find their opinions and articles tedious.

  9. Give it another decade and trust me, the Goo Goo Dolls and all your faves will come back. Disco was a joke for a long time & now it’s retro-cool 🙂 Great post!

  10. Every generation has their music, we all know that. I’m a 70’s 80’s person myself. i think all good rock and roll died after that (tongue in cheek) I loved the Hootie and the Blowfish. i loved their rythmn and the lead singers voice. it was a shame they only did one album and I know it back and front. We identify with the music we have our memories with. When i listen to my oldies I’m immediately thrown back to that younger time in my life. I have no memories with todays music. I have wondered how, though, they will turn rap into music companies play when they put you on hold, or how their 40 year class reunions will be since it has had so much violence in it. I agree – someone just made up that list based on their own interests.

  11. I do love myself some Goo Goo Dolls. The first gift I got from my Hubby was a Goo Goo Dolls CD and a Goonies T-Shirt. We played two of their songs at our wedding.

  12. Thank you!! The world needs to hear this. I totally agree, it’s getting ridiculous. The irony (no pun intended) of the situation is that this whole culture of treating things ironically in order to establish some kind of image of “superior wisdom/intelligence” is really just based on the superficial need to look good… #ironyoverload

  13. As a music writer, my mission is to avoid the negative and focus on the positive. Music is subjective so obviously that ‘Most Hated Bands’ article was written for page views (FAIL) and hipster snark (MAJOR FAIL). I love the Goo Goo Dolls. The 90’s were the best! ❤ 😛

  14. Excellent post! I graduated HS in 1983 so I could be your Mom and I have to tell you that you young people are amazing!! You have a beautiful mind!!

  15. Poor Goo Goo Dolls! I agree with you about this being the Age of Irony, especially since people can get away with it more easily now that they can simply post comments online

  16. I enjoyed your thoughts on this, especially
    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.
    I remember having a conversation with some friends at a party a couple of years ago in which sincerity was derided. I understand criticism of naivete, but sincerity? Shouldn’t that be a good thing? I concluded that if that’s what the cool kids are about, I’m not so interested. If my speaking authentically about my experience isn’t cool enough, I’m good with that. I have my own uncool reasons to be myself.

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