Don’t you think?
Capping its Worst Week Ever after bullying, booting and stinging passengers with scorpions, United Airlines’ stock price ironically took off, fueled by quarterly earnings that beat Wall Street expectations like they were recalcitrant doctors clinging to seats they purchased so they could fly home with their loving spouses and save dying patients.
Naturally, Alanis Morissette’s 1996 hit “Ironic” popped to mind, along with the ongoing, tedious debate over the meaning of the word “irony” and whether the lyrics described not irony, in the true definition, but coincidental bad luck. (You know: rain on your wedding day, free ride when you’ve already paid, etc.)
Morissette gets it. Last fall, she marked the song’s 20th anniversary with updated lyrics she performed with Late Late Show host James Corden (including, “It’s singing ‘Ironic,’ but there are no i-ron-ies.…”) Worth noting, Kory Stamper, the viral Merriam-Webster lexicographer star and word-nerd crush, resolved that Morissette did, in fact, use the word in its fluid definition correctly.
In a related but more important debate, chin-scratchers wonder whether the “Age of Irony,” with its “air quotes,” knowing self-references and bemused, detached meta-everything, has given way to a new “Age of Sincerity,” when we return to taking serious things seriously as our grandparents did. Like family, faith, and our duties as citizens in advancing a fair, just society for all.
I hope so. In a new Age of Sincerity, snarky Family Guy is out; meaningful Modern Family, in. Empathy trumps apathy. Engagement bear-hugs detachment. Emo makes existential collapse in a teary sob. United Airlines will not run Super Bowl LII halftime ads next February mocking how it Jason Stratham’d customers and defenestrated them, flailing, at 30,000 feet. Following Pepsi’s tragic fail with the Kendall Kops ad, PepsiCo likely will up the sincerity with the message: We care.
The new sincerity sounds good. I welcome. Believe me, and I say with the utmost sincerity, nobody is more sincerely sincere than I am.
But the downside of this New Sincerity is if we harden our beliefs, become dogmatic, take our views and selves too seriously, and let confirmation bias select the facts that support our preconceived views. We risk becoming Winston Churchill’s fanatic who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
Merriam-Webster defines sincerity as “honesty of mind: freedom from hypocrisy.” I find the definition ironic, because today’s sincerity seems obsessed with hypocrisy. We sincerely believe in something, and back it with our chosen facts. Others believe something different, backed with their chosen facts. Inevitably, we try to point out how each others’ views are corrupted, inconsistent, hypocritical. We see each other as vegans wearing fur, the classic Greek hypokrites: “actor.” Fakes. Phonies. At best, morons who we think don’t think.
Pointing out hypocrisy — often with serious sincerity — is the basis of much of today’s political commentary and comedy, from the right wing’s sexually dysfunctional, morally bereft, icky-creepy Milo Yiannopoulos, Bill O’Reilly and every other complicit, conflicted, conservative bloviator on Fox, to the left wing’s brilliant, beautiful, America-loving and insightful role models Rachel Maddow, Bill Maher, John Oliver, and Jon Stewart’s current spawn, whoever they are anymore.
In this Age of Sincerity, everyone is calling everyone else a hypocrite. And they’re right: Everyone is a hypocrite, except of course, ourselves. We each try not to be — or appear not to be — hypocrites, but to be people who mean what we say and say what we mean. Since that’s Impossible in Real Life, we rationalize so we can live comfortably with ourselves. That’s another topic for another time.
With that windy windup, in all seriousness and sincerity, let me ask: Isn’t it ironic — or moronic — that,
Medicare beneficiaries, including the many happy ones, are the most likely to oppose a government-run single-payer healthcare system even though that’s exactly what Medicare is.
More people hate Obamacare than the Affordable Care Act, even though they’re different names for the exactly same thing.
People who hate both Obamacare and ACA want to kill the mandate that everyone has health insurance, but still want insurers to cover preexisting conditions, even though — without defying the laws of physics, risk-management, economics and reality — you can’t have the former without the latter.
People who, all their lives, have treated their bodies like solid waste treatment plants and now as a result suffer from heart disease, diabetes and other symptoms, yet complain that Obamacare has raised their health insurance rates, not realizing that healthy people are subsidizing their coverage and bad health choices.
And isn’t it ironic that:
People in the most conservative, government-despising Red States get more government handouts than people in the liberal Blue States.
College kids who get a free ride at elite private universities after a free ride at elite private boarding schools, thanks to their family’s stock market and other wealth, or legacy status, hate Wall Street and love Bernie.
Trump voters who elected him for his promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington continue to applaud or say “give him a chance” as he refills government with the same old Washington officials, lobbyists and politicians.
Liberals despise “greedy” corporate shareholders even though everyone with a union pension, 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account, or health or education savings account, is directly or indirectly a shareholder and expects the maximum possible return on their funds.
Conservatives despise welfare and think recipients are poor, lazy minorities and immigrants living high on the dole when 50 percent of the recipients are poor whites.
People who bleat about climate change, proudly drive hybrid cars, and chide others for not caring enough about the planet’s future ignore the huge impact of having kids because somehow that’s not relevant.
Pick your own hypocrisy — we all have favorites. But let’s do ourselves and everyone a favor: Be serious, be sincere, but have a sense of irony about ourselves and our views, question what we believe, let go of the sanctimony, and before we attack another’s hypocrisy, look at our own.
Most of all, let’s regard the timeless, experienced advice of the early 21st century philosopher, Harold Edward Styles, who said, “I’ve learnt not to take everything too seriously.”
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.