Cyanide Cynicism

Wed Oct 25, 2006

Whatever else we might disagree about, I think we can see that irony and cynicism haven't served us very well.

We were disillusioned and pissed off by the glamorized sixties that were fed to us in the 1980s. We blinked, shrugged, talked back at the TV as it told us about the summer of love over and over again.

But I also remember the 1980s as very optimistic. Maybe it was because I lived in a yuppie town, but it felt like success was almost guaranteed. That ended – at least for me –around 1988. From '88 to '96-98 it felt like the bottom was going to fall out. And then it did.

Commercials in the 1990s were so ironic that's it's difficult to imagine them succeeding in any other era. It really was an age of Joe Isuzu, hocking the hyper-real, pulling the curtain away to
reveal the bold lie of advertising.

The magic recipe for selling to our generation was to admit that products meant nothing; only cool counted.

Beck released Loser in, what, 1994? Cobain killed himself around this same time, too. By then irony had become so much a part of our generation's perspective that it was parodied on The Simpsons. We lost direction, forgot that what we really opposed was yuppie culture… attacked Lollapalooza and Woodstock in the breath.

We resented the Gen X label, saying it was a media invention or an empty sociological term. While Boomers drew strength from their shared perspective, we clamed that our only shared perspective was that we had no shared perspectives. To me it seems like a silly waste of energy now, focusing on alienation, irony and cynicism.

When Boomers were starving universities and driving the cost of college up or cutting taxes to kill off teacher unions, we were busy attacking each other. Instead of seeing the rising tide of religious conservatism, we wasted our time deconstructing the X-Files. Boomer think tanks enlisted Gen Xers to champion social security reform as a means of disinvesting the program, and we shrugged.

I've been trying to remember what life was life before irony. Because in some way I think irony is a dark nostalgia, an admission that you are not fully engaged in the moment, that everything important happened in the past.

Maybe irony was introduced to us like blankets spreading disease or maybe it was a happy Boomer coincidence that we decided to negate ourselves. It saved them the bother of doing it themselves.

Or maybe it was given to us by aliens as they left us on this cold rock of a planet.


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