A Rant on Irony

This is something I've discussed with multiple disjoint friend groups of mine, and since I make the same argument every time, I thought it might be prudent to put my thoughts down onto the public internet, so now I can just link this article whenever I feel like going on the rant. Maybe some of you out there will find this insightful and identify with this, even.

A trend I've noticed1 in online circles I've frequented over the better part of a decade or so is the increasing use of irony for, well, pretty much everything. It permeates everything, from memes to longer-form content. It's difficult to tell if and when someone is actually serious about something.

I think that's a really bad problem. Maybe indicative of a much larger one, too.

At a glance, the most obvious problem with overusage of irony is that it prevents further meaningful discussion. If you can never be sure if someone actually means what they say, why bother weighing in and devoting time and effort to whatever the topic is at hand? Anyone trying to communicate in earnest is left out in the cold, and criticism cannot take place.

But that last bit — the dearth of criticism in an irony-clad venue — may actually be by design. Maybe not on purpose, depending on who you talk to, but I'd argue it's at least a subconscious defense mechanism guarding against a potential deluge of all-too-earnest internet backlash2. If you always have the excuse that you were "just joking" and everyone else wasn't in on it (and this holds more weight the more people online do this), you've essentially given yourself an automatic out.

I freely admit that if you somehow managed to get that many people breathing down your neck, it could very well be that you deserved it. But — and here I switch gears from an already-shaky "is" to my own personal "ought" — I believe that we would be better served by a policy of honesty. It'll be easier for us to move forward if we're upfront about where we're going and want to go.

Let's show off our honest sides. That's who we really are, after all.


[1] - No, you're not getting a source from me. The title is "A Rant on Irony," not "A Properly-sourced Discourse on the Growing Trend of Irony" — I'll leave the discourse version for a later date.

[2] - If there were some way to somehow quantify and track usage of irony relative to the trend of the adoption o linked internet IDs (think OpenID and similar) and/or usage of one's real name where applicable on the internet, I think that would prove interesting.