Tag Archives: irony

How Irony Is Ruining Our Culture

Irony is ruining our culture

Twenty years ago, Wallace wrote about the impact of television on U.S. fiction. He focused on the effects of irony as it transferred from one medium to the other. In the 1960s, writers like Thomas Pynchon had successfully used irony and pop reference to reveal the dark side of war and American culture. Irony laid waste to corruption and hypocrisy. In the aftermath of the ’60s, as Wallace saw it, television adopted a self-deprecating, ironic attitude to make viewers feel smarter than the naïve public, and to flatter them into continued watching. Fiction responded by simply absorbing pop culture to “help create a mood of irony and irreverence, to make us uneasy and so ‘comment’ on the vapidity of U.S. culture, and most important, these days, to be just plain realistic.” But what if irony leads to a sinkhole of relativism and disavowal?

The art of irony has lost its vision and its edge. The rebellious posture of the past has been annexed by the very commercialism it sought to defy.

Shortly after “The Real World” spawned dozens of other reality shows, the format reminded me of the coliseum in Rome. American Idol was the worst of the lot, where the first episode is a blooper reel of the worst auditions. Mass media encourages us to feed on each other, savoring the humiliation of others who could have just as easily been us. Matt Ashby and Brendan Carroll’s article is an excellent analysis of the intersection between irony and sincerity in art at the nexus of fiction, television, rebellion, and commercial interests.

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Notes from ConDor – How Cthulu Became Cuddly

All beauty comes from harmony and contrast, goes the line from the film Vatel (2000). So, too, horror and humor have a similar relationship. By contrasting opposing moods – opposing tones – each hits harder. The laughs are more heartfelt, and the fear twists deeper into your guts. The same goes for reverence and satire, ostracism and belonging, and finally, the Cthulu mythos and plushy toys.

There was a discussion at ConDor this year about how Cthulu became cuddly. H.P. Lovecraft’s story, “The Call of Cthulu” was originally published in Weird Tales in 1928. The monstrous creature was one figure in over a hundred works by Lovecraft, whose stories (an absolute simplest terms) delve into mysterious and terrifying forces that shape civilization – and humanity’s reaction to either flee or worship those forces. Lovecraft is a brightly-burning star in horror’s lineage, and his popularity has spread, attaching to the goths of the 80s and remaining popular in both geek and steampunk culture of today. Lovecraft’s stories, and Cthulu in particular, have become iconic for reclaiming power as an outsider, celebrating one’s own strangeness, and laughing in the face of evil.

For some, it’s a way to both experience religious community and make fun of those communities. Cthulu is a charged repository for “unknown” fears.  As geeks, we want to justify our sense of being an outsider. But this, in and of itself, is an inherited chip on our shoulders. Geek culture was strange and misunderstood before it became the massive, accessible, sexy (profitable) subculture it is today. Nascent religions experience similar punishment – when beliefs and community membership were grounds for everything from ostracism to violence. Humans respond to If you’re an Other, you’re guaranteed to trigger a fight or flight response. Geek culture, like the religion it teases, It is a safe means of rebellion now. It has been stripped of its ‘outsider’ status in all but name.  The horrors of the deep, with their twisting pseudopods, now adorn H&M necklaces and home décor.

The octopus’s popularity followed the same path into trendiness carved by punk’s spikes and studded-leather look. Rebellion sells. Counterculture sells. Malificent and Wicked were hardly the first tales to re-frame evil. The city of Dunwitch, associated with Mordred of the Arthurian legend, had an alternate myth that cast Mordred as the hero. Whether it was by accident or design, Cthulu has experienced a rebranding. Arkham Horror the board game and santa-hat Cthulu are about fun and silliness, not horror. Godzilla experienced a similar transformation, going from a terrifying force of nature, to a friend of children everywhere, and then to a giant monster again. This is how we tame our fear: transforming the face of evil into an inside joke.

santathulu

Santa Cthulu, from ToyVault.com

What really makes horror horrible is the wall that stands between us and the abused. In a slasher movie, for example, the violence is being perpetrated for your benefit — your amusement. This is happening because you need to be entertained. For horror fans, we either feel obligated to be horrified by others’ blasé attitude toward violence, or we can relax and laugh from irony and cynicism. Making Cthulu cute is part of this catharsis. By making fun of the terrifying it’s easier to cope with, and through Cthulu you can have Hitler-grade level of irony without having to explain why you made a Hitler doll. The Mayan saying, the sun in the sky is not the sun, means that the sun we see isn’t the sun god. We’re not actually dealing with Cthulu, (or Hitler, if you have a Hitler doll), but rather the fear, darkness, and absence of humanity that these images represent.

Just as we see the beauty in objects by setting them in harmony or contrast with their environment, we’re better able to cope with evil by setting it against comedy. The different beats — fear, horror, fear, horror – allow both experiences to come to the fore in all their glory. Cthulu represents both evil and community – a fascination with darkness, and a way to poke fun at it. In the end, Cthulu is as warm and cuddly as we are to ourselves – and that perception could change at any moment.

From even the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent.
― H.P. Lovecraft

Blood is really warm,
it’s like drinking hot chocolate
but with more screaming
.”
― Ryan Mecum

Moses saves, Jesus forgives, and Cthulu thinks you’d make a nice sandwich.” ― Tracy Nolan