the importance of irony


There are some things a grown man should never say without a sense of irony. "Welcome to the desert of real" is one. Another is "Be mindful of the living Force, my young padawan." Others include "With great power comes great responsibility", "Let's hunt some Orc!", "I know kung-fu" and "Nooooooooo!". And yet lines such as these are uttered in cinemas across the world with all the sincerity and conviction of a Methodist denouncing Darwin. At times one looks for a smirk, a raised eyebrow, a reassurance that thinking adults were involved somewhere in the production, but one looks in vain. Irony is nowhere to be found.

Irony -- so often derided as a cheap defence, a hedged bet, betraying lack of confidence in the material -- is much more often a welcome acknowledgement that the material is childish and silly. In short, it's a sign of good taste. It's a sign that the artists have reached a sufficient level of consciousness. It's a sign of literacy, discernment, judgment, intelligence. It's a sign that the artists respect their audience, and expect the same standards of them.

The lack of irony about the latest cinematic kiddy-fare is greeted with approval by nerds everywhere, who can't bear to see anyone jeer at their object of fandom. Irony speaks to two audiences -- an audience of simpletons, who get only the literal meaning, and an audience of educated insiders, who get the joke. Nerds not only want to side themselves with the former group, they also don't want to be reminded of the latter's existence.

To this end, the outrageous campness of the original Star Wars must be a constant source of grievance to some fans. With his penchant for digital tinkering, and his increasing self-reverence, I'm surprised Lucas hasn't released Star Wars -- the Unironic Special Edition, with all of Harrison Ford's smirks and "wtf?" expressions digitally removed, all the unintentional innuendo rewritten ("Isn't your Body Mass Index a little low for a Stormtrooper?"), new dialogue adding depth and pathos to C3PO's character ("I have to keep talking, Artoo -- it's how I survive,"), and grafted-on scenes of a flying CGI Yoda spouting Californian wisdom for the generations.

The total lack of irony in the new Star Wars and Batman Begins and Peter Jackson's Warcraft trilogy has been described as heralding a new era of seriousness in the cinematic art. Bollocks! To take art seriously, you have to know when not to take it seriously. To treat a scenario like Batman with absolute seriousness requires not just a suspension of disbelief, but a suspension of intellect. (Which is why the only tolerable version remains the 60s TV campfest.) That hacks like Christopher Nolan depict the Batman 'legend' with poker-arsed reverence, and that journalists lap up all this stuff uncritically, is in fact the sign of a new low in cultural life. All we need is George W. to start flashing the Bat-Signal and channelling the Force, and the circle will be complete. As I believe Darth Vader might have said.


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