When Irony Becomes Cynicism


Understanding modern culture can be very difficult. There are so many parts and variables that make up modern culture, and on top of that, these parts are always changing. In that sense, identifying and analyzing a specific trait in modern culture can be extremely challenging. Pinpointing a trait that is so frequently overused it is often taken for granted. Then being able to explain it so well that people will be able to understand and see this trait as if they had never used, or been a part of it before. This is the case with an essay by Charles Gordon, When Irony Becomes Cynicism. Through his essay, one learns where irony?s roots started to grow into today?s monster that it is, and how irony is overused in television, radio and conversation. Gordon has skillfully and honestly shown how irony is perceived and used in today?s society. He fully shows that people use irony incorrectly, and it is to their disadvantage.

Gordon has a particularly negative view on how much irony is used today. The thesis in his essay is not clearly stated, but his implied argument is that the overuse of irony has made society cynical. This negative view comes across to the reader through sentences such as the following, after Gordon has explained the technical meaning of irony, "In today?s context, irony is a sensibility that values cleverness and style above passion and commitment. It attacks bad taste by seeming to celebrate it. It mocks devotion to important causes by feigning devotion to trivial causes? Which makes it sound pretty awful, and it can be." After the first few paragraphs in his essay, it becomes clear which side Gordon is on. However, he does show that he is not totally putting down irony, just the people using it incorrectly, "? there is a line between irony and cheap cynicism that not everyone finds easily. The skillful ironist, one who uses the form as a weapon rather than an instrument of self-amusement, does society a service." His argument towards society?s use of irony is well presented through his strong sentences. Gordon also provides an example of a popular show that is almost based totally around this cynical-irony he is discussing. "Take almost any episode of the much-celebrated Seinfeld television show and try to find anything more important than the lineup at a bagel store being discussed." Gordon then begins to hint at the source of this type of overused irony, a part of society he rests some of the blame on: pop-culture.

Although he uses current pop-culture as one point of blame for his argument, Gordon?s audience encompasses a wide rage of readers. This becomes evident through his examples throughout his essay, such as in titles of movies, books and newspapers. Many of his readers may not be familiar with Summer Gone, a book he mentions by David Macfarlane. However, readers not familiar with that novel, may be able to identify with the examples of movies Gordon uses, such as Shakespeare in Love or The Dinner Game. Gordon seems to want to be able to reach as many kinds of people as possible to present his argument. This may explain his wide-ranging use of examples drawn from various types of media. Everything from the business newspaper Globe and Mail, to She?s a Lady, a song made popular by singing legend Tom Jones helps to make his ideas feasible for everyone. Gordon must have done plenty of research for his essay, as he seems to be very interested in the subject.

At times, Gordon?s essay becomes wordy. He seems to be the type of writer whom, when wanting to get their point across, becomes very emotionally involved in their work. Gordon uses the word "gooeyness" to show the emotion of a film he is referring to, in comparison to the "I-never-mean-what-I-say smugness of David Letterman." Also found in his essay, are many sentences and parts written as though he was speaking directly to his readers, such as where he writes "? you can get sick of it when that?s all there is." This gives the work a more down-to-earth feeling, a feeling that he is speaking with society, instead of speaking at it. Moreover, Gordon even speaks for his readers. Two examples of this are where he writes: "Our attachment to irony?" and "We