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The New Sincerity

While looking through some iTunes podcast listings recently I came across a show called The Sound of Young America, a half-an-hour-or-so weekly interview show. The list of recent people on it was pretty impressive so I listened to a few episodes. I enjoyed it, but then something struck me about it. I had heard of this show before…

Then I remembered sitting outside the Santa Cruz Diner one morning waiting for a table, hung over and tired of sitting in the hot summer sun I grabbed a copy of Metro Santa Cruz (one of the two free alt-weekly newspapers in town). I came across a story called “My Life as America’s Radio Sweetheart”, a sort of long and rambling essay about a guy’s experience at UCSC and college radio. I didn’t know who he was and had never heard of his radio show, but the article was funny and kept my attention.

Back in the present I kept listening to the show and really enjoying it. I was looking at the website one day when I stumbled upon this idea of “The New Sincerity“. It outlines the death of irony and life post postmodernism. To quote Jesse Thorn, the host of The Sound of Young America:

What is The New Sincerity? Think of it as irony and sincerity combined like Voltron, to form a new movement of astonishing power. Or think of it as the absence of irony and sincerity, where less is (obviously) more. If those strain the brain, just think of Evel Knievel.

Let’s be frank. There’s no way to appreciate Evel Knievel literally. Evel is the kind of man who defies even fiction, because the reality is too over the top. Here is a man in a red-white-and-blue leather jumpsuit, driving some kind of rocket car. A man who achieved fame and fortune jumping over things. Here is a real man who feels at home as Spidey on the cover of a comic book. Simply put, Evel Knievel boggles the mind.

But by the same token, he isn’t to be taken ironically, either. The fact of the matter is that Evel is, in a word, awesome. His jumpsuit looks great. His stunts were amazing.

Looking at this in terms of my own life I think it has been slowly coming. I remember ironically listening to Neil Diamond a few years ago. “This guy was over the top,” I thought to myself. But as time went on I realized a lot of his music was awesome, not something to be laughed at. Something to be taken seriously and respected. Thinking about it this seems to have happened more and more. I’ll start liking something ironically, only to find a little while later I genuinely enjoy it.

I don’t want to have to act sarcastic and cool about everything. I don’t want to have to only enjoy things ironically because they’re so bad they’re good again. I want to appreciate them because they’re fun. I want to be sincere, honest and authentic. If I don’t like something I’m not going to pretend I like it to appear cool or hip. I want to be able to express myself in whatever fashion I like without the appearance of irony and sarcasm.

I stopped worry long ago about appearing cool to others and worrying about what they think of me. The next step is honestly embracing the things I enjoy and find awesome. In some ways its like a return to childhood excitement. As children we don’t know anything of irony or sarcasm. The things we enjoy we genuinely enjoy. There’s an exuberance and excitement about life that irony and sarcasm strangle and kill until we’re bitter hipsters trying to be as cool as we perceive everyone else to be. A social “keeping-up-with-the-Jones'” that causes us to worry about what everyone else thinks and not pursue those things in life that we truly want to pursue.

I’m not claiming this will be easy. Irony and sarcasm are deeply ingrained in all of us. It’s easy to slip back to an attitude of irony as a defense mechanism, but from here on out I’m doing my best to disavow irony and live life authentically.