Re: virus: Irony as public discourse
Thu, 11 Apr 1996 23:36:46 -0400 (EDT)

At 12:43 PM 4/11/96 -0600, you wrote:
>Question. I am thinking of writing an article. My current area of
>inquest is irony as public discourse. This works into a number of
>issues- especially in terms of Gen-X culture. But I am interested in the
>"convulsions" pop culture is experiencing between two or more dominant
>discourses (memes) if you will. The current popularity of Angels,
>Gargoyles and Vampires speaks of a convulsive 'phasing' between
>Christian spirituality and new age humanism. My take on this is that
>irony is a form of culturally practiced masochism and spawns pop artists
>such as Quentin Terantino (Pulp Fiction was pure genius) and Madonna. I
>was wondering if you have any thoughts (or sources) on the evolutionary
>purpose of remorse and grief. (From a Darwinian or Darwin-like
>Mucho Thanx in advance.

That is a fascinating thesis. From a memetic standpoint, I think many people
here would probably view the kinds of irony in cultural products you mention
as socio-organismic coping mechanisms.

For instance, one could argue that the popularity of Tarrantino's films
stems from his ability to throw a horrific or vile event (to be taken as a
meme complex) in front of the audience, force identification with it, and
simultaneously allow distancing through gimmicks (conjugational memes?) such
as humor, style, flash, cinematic technique, etc. Many artists and thinkers
have pulled this stunt off in the postmodern era...from Warhol to Acker and
Baudrillard. What we get is the chance to approach a set of memes we don't
want to imprint (either as traits or as experience) and simultaneously be
assured that we don't have to worry about it... the artist provides the
vaccination through the irony of humor, or surrealism, or reflexivity, what
have you... some manner of bringing the audience back to a state of relative
security with an inoculation.

Depending on the social discourse in question, this can be helpful
and/or detrimental. Example: awhile ago, I saw a play at the Annoyance
Theater in Chicago, "Prison Sluts". It's a musical set to piano and deals
with the terrors of prison life... "hey! we're in prison, yah!",
self-consciously in a Rogers and Hammestein style. It's unnerving. It's
hilarious. It's in very poor taste. It's very ambiguous. It's very
popular...because it jams the system. So, you could say that I've dealt
with a fearful meme complex (prison rapes, in this case) in a very ambiguous
manner... I still don't want to go to prison, but I've been witness to a
discourse that battles with the fear as humor.

I don't know if this is "remorse" or "grief". I don't know what those words
mean in the context of a cultural product.

Somebody tell me if the above makes any sense at all. If not, I'll stop
letting my chimp sit down at the keyboard on this list.