Quit Being Ironic and Stand Up for Your Beliefs

All the cool kids are doing it

Human Parts
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readDec 18, 2013

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When I was a child, my father’s car got broken into four times that I can remember — a result of parking on the street or the ‘90s or not owning “the Club” or whatever. The car would regularly be emptied of spare change, mix tapes, and sometimes the entire radio; and when this happened my dad would tell me stories, campfire style, to kill time while we sat in traffic. One of my favorites was “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.

Have you heard of it? It’s pretty famous. “The Gift of the Magi” is about a young, struggling couple that takes extreme measures to secretly buy one another the perfect Christmas gift. The wife, Della, has a long and beautiful mane, so her husband Jim buys her a set of expensive combs. And Jim owns a gold watch, in his family for three generations now, so Della buys him a matching platinum chain for it — a most excellent gift, in Della’s opinion. But here’s the kicker — Della had to sell her hair to afford the chain. And Jim, likewise, sold the watch to afford the combs. So now here they are: both having lost the things they valued most (the relationship notwithstanding), stuck with a couple of expensive, useless gifts. This was irony, my father explained.

I felt shocked and horrified the first time I heard “The Gift of the Magi,” and in earlier years regarded irony as this really dark and potent literary device that had to be used sparingly and with expertise. So imagine my surprise when, years later, irony had been reduced to a crutch for apathetic and self-conscious human-like things who can’t be bothered with passion and stuff.

When irony is organic and unadulterated, it has the power to remove us from our comfort zones — but its effectiveness has been completely diluted by a significant fraction of this generation using irony as an excuse to be noncommittal or ‘shocking’ with their taste levels rather than, I don’t know, just enjoying things they actually like. Saying things they actually mean. Boring shit like that.

Maybe that gets the Ironic Person off, but it’s pretty tedious for the rest of us. What you’re asking of us, you with the quirky and unexpected interests, is to assume that these interests somehow betray who you are. You’re begging for more than the requisite amount of attention. You are a dog that needs to be taken for a walk. So I’ll bite — what is surprising about the fact that you listen to Metallica, for example? Did you grow up Amish? Are you deaf? Or am I supposed to consider your dress and your liberal arts degree and your hip neighborhood and from that, glean that you are way too cultured to authentically listen to and enjoy Metallica? Metallica is worth over 200 million dollars. Lots of people listen to them. Not sure how listening to a band ironically puts you on some sort of superior mount, out of reach from the less-thans you’re trying to distance yourself from.

This, the ironic wearing of gauche clothes or the listening to ‘crappy’ music or the advocating of unpopular social beliefs — you’re doing one of two things here. You’re possibly committing to these interests because you believe they illustrate how indifferent you are to the status quo and what’s expected of you. But what exactly do you think is expected of you? I get that it’s chic to vote conservatively or not at all when everyone at the dinner party is a bleeding heart, or that it’s totally unexpected that you, paradigm of taste, should listen to Bare Naked Ladies (that you in all likelihood grew up listening to because they were flamingly popular when you were a kid with less of a ‘refined’ palate, however you define that), but in the grand scheme of things, lots of someones somewhere share the false identities you’re adopting, and to outwardly believe that you’re superior to those earnest people because society expects you to be ‘better than that’ is narcissistic and naïve to an embarrassing level.

Or maybe you actually do enjoy getting down to Eminem once in a while and not believing in gay marriage. You’re just too afraid to admit it, so light bulb! Listen to the Slim Shady LP ~ironically~, like you’re totally aware of how shitty it is (why it’s shitty, you’re not sure, maybe if you listen to it loud enough someone will come along and explain why exactly you’re supposed to eschew something that brings you enjoyment). With that kind of self-awareness, you can indulge in all of the unrefined kitsch your heart desires without risking judgment!

Whatever the rationale, the end result is the same: an identity mostly based on what other people think. Other people think this is bad, therefore it’s good. Other people think I know better, so I’ll prove them wrong. And if that makes you happy, go for it. But for the love of apathy, quit acting like your faux-self awareness is anything but another fickle trend train you’re riding. Quit responding to any earnest statement with, “I hope you mean that ironically!” I’m flattered that you think so highly of me that I couldn’t possibly enjoy… well, anything, but no, I’m not listening to REM or Sade or Brandy ironically. I know this sounds insane, but sometimes people like stuff.

Of course, there’s another option. Stop listening to things ~ironically~ and stop “hoping that’s ironic” and just like the things you like. Stand behind your beliefs. Say what you mean. Irony has been worn so thin that the only way to confuse and shock people anymore is to be sincere. Try it sometime! None of the cool kids are doing it.

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Human Parts
Human Parts

Recommended reading from the editors of Human Parts, a Medium publication about humanity.