I am someone who does a lot of stupid things. I routinely get myself in hot water by blindly rushing into situations. My best friend said I am “attracted to primordial danger”. When I was still drinking and drugging, I did unbelievably and unspeakably stupid and dangerous things. But mostly, I just do stupid things. On a treacherous mountain drive down from Big Bear, I literally jumped out of our moving car after witnessing a horrific accident, running across traffic towards the smoldering wreckage. I got chased away by the cops when I got out of my car and tried to pry a sign off a tree that read “LOOKY-LOOS GO HOME” in Brentwood, following the O.J. Simpson murders.
One night during the heat and hysteria of the 2008 election cycle, my boyfriend came home to find me making signs, one of which – ‘I AM AN IDIOT”, I insisted we hammer into a neighbor’s lawn late that night, in response to his over the top, awful and personally offensive lawn signage.
Also during the run up to the 2008 election, my sister and I were in a movie theater when a sweet looking older couple sat down next to us and I noticed the woman had a “McCain/Palin” button on her coat and I whispered to her: ‘”You’re voting for John McCain?”. My sister has never forgiven me. On my way home from work, I stopped my car in Beverly Hills after seeing protestors waving “God hates Fags” signs and got into a scuffle a bunch of lunatics – who, my boyfriend later explained to me, was the Phelps family.
On a trip to Madison, Wisconsin for a wedding, I made a beeline for the State Capitol in a bold attempt to have a chat with rightwing hero and prolific union-h8r Scott Walker. I tiptoed behind a security guard who denied me entry into the Scott Walker’s office at the Wisconsin Capitol (turns out, the good Governor does not even work out of the capitol, as he would have to face his constituents, who are unhappy about his turning their State into an economically-depleted wasteland of chronically sick underemployed poors).
But yesterday tested my ability to continue to call myself a sane person, in the clinical sense.
It all started when my boyfriend and I were emailing, searching “free horse” ads on the internet, you know like people do, sending free horse ads back and forth, arguing over which was the bigger nag, etc. It escalated/devolved into seriously assessing what we are neither in the market for nor can afford. Specifically, a hefty draft cross with SPOTS. The ad described her as an “easy keeper” who “loves to snuggle, and a “1″ (10 being the hottest) on the temperament scale. A “HUSBAND HORSE” the ad boasted.
Suddenly, we needed that horse. I sent a message to which owner responded by saying that this horse was sold but she had another horse for sale, an expensive dapple grey. We bitched and moaned and I even went so far as to mock up a “wanted” poster with the ad for the dream horse. In a response to the woman’s other horse that was offered up, I emailed my boyfriend a message:
“I don’t want that non-spotted nag“.
Or at least I THOUGHT I had emailed my boyfriend. I had, in fact, inadvertently emailed the woman selling the horse. I was forced to call my boyfriend with an oft-repeated precursor:
“I did something really stupid”.
Of course, I tried to clumsily explain to the horse seller woman the “story” behind the mistake. But, how do you explain to a woman in N. Carolina, in an email, how two assholes in LA were ironically obsessing over her horse to the point where I would accidentally send her an insane petulant message, rudely declining her “unspotted nag“. I mean, what kind of person would do that?
This sad incident got me thinking about how I – and some of my friends – are hopelessly ensconced in a culture of irony and cynicism that doesn’t always “play” outside of our peer group.
Similarly, I started to become aware of how all my “I hate this” and “that’s so dumb“, when talking to a “normal person”, could chip away at their innocence, that I am frivolously investing in sham social capital without ever paying back one sincere dime. By snarkily critiquing everyone and everything, I am hiding behind the “ironic mantle”. The simple act of admitting my self-defensive behavior and that I have no control over it and that my life has become unmanageable has made me think deeply about how potentially toxic my cynical and ironic posturing could be.
Years ago, I sent out a mass email about my switch from earthlink to mac mail. For some reason which isn’t even clear to me, simply sending the new information was not enough – I felt compelled to add an unnecessary “joke” about “leaving the church of scientology” (the earthlink ceo is a scientologist, which I became painfully aware, was not common knowledge). The surprised yet supportive emails came flying in at such a rapid clip, I had to send a follow up email apologizing for the confusion. I had to be physically stopped by my boyfriend for add yet another unnecessary joke, out of panic and shame. What am Idoing? Am I preemptively acknowledging my own failings by creating a shield against criticism via an ironic frame? Do I subconsciously feel that no attack can be set against me as my preemptive nonsense has already in essence conquered itself? I had to face the fact that before I make any choice, be it sending a mass email or making an off-the-cuff twitter joke, my brain has already subconsciously and rapidly processed several stages of anxious self-scrutiny, building an ironic distance from my humdrum life. It is a function of fear and pre-emptive shame.
I was raised by humble, liberal parents who taught me things like reverence for the elderly, “do unto others”, respecting the office of the President of the U.S., being respectful of ones differences, standing up for the National Anthem at Phillies games while avoiding Patriotic and religious obsession, the value of hard work, and sincerely stating one’s opinion and beliefs as well as allowing oneself to laugh sans smugness. Yet somehow, through exposure to the deep cynicism of my teen and college years, directness and sincerity have become untenable, and I find refuge in jokes, mockery, and overt cynicism. It’s a form of defensive living that acts as a pre-emptive surrender, allowing me to dodge responsibility for my choices, aesthetic and otherwise, a fear of inauthenticity. Is it true that being cynical is the lowest form of humor? And what percentage of my dialogue is even meaningful underneath the snark and the hyperbolic language (it’s always a bit humbling to go through your old material and find hyperbole and irony coming across as all too serious). Even worse, how does my incessant cynicism and ironic living affect my friends, co-workers and acquaintances?
In an interview I did with Forbes magazine, I was described as a “snarky female from Philadelphia”. That moniker was repeated so often it became my sole descriptor. Here comes the snarkmeister into the party! Acting like it’s all a game, she enters, an air of expectant interest; her rancorous comments, her polemical wit, this interesting person who blathers on about failings rather than virtues… now they do notlike the snarkmeister, she is in fact annoying and depressing, but they regard her as penetrating and well informed and doesn’t that trump fuck all? Does it not make you cooler i.e. better to flaunt a kind of cultural numbness, resignation and defeat?
“TOO Ironic” is, after all, a first-world problem, a provisional answer to the problems of too much comfort, too much reference and connectivity and too many choices, a kind of credit card that the well-educated and financially secure are handed that they never have to pay back. Non ironic models don’t always include “stupid” or “Uneducated” people or “Republicans”. They are also people who have suffered, and for whom “seriousness” is the governing state of mind. Because, wherever “real life” imposes itself, the fogs of irony tend to become detritus in the wind.
In what would be a terrible irony, does abetting a culture that relentlessly mocks everything actually create the vacuum by which such walking parodies as Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are actually taken seriously? Are they my fault? I don’t wear horse shirts ironically (I am serious about my horses). I giggle self-superior ally at hipsters in a Gen Xer equivalent of “you kids, get the hell off my lawn!” kind of way. I recognize that “cool-ness” and “different-ness” are dishonest – in looking back at photos from the 1960′s of airports full of travelers wearing suits and ties and find symbolism in an era when an unconscious unity in dress went along with conscious unity in national purpose. And most importantly, I recognize that I do not want a life consisting only an endless series of snarky jokes, puns, put-downs, and pop references, a clutter of kitsch. That was okay in my 20′s, when life was legitimatelyand literally a competition to see who can give the best performance of caring the least, transforming role playing into a symbolic elevation of daily life. But is beyond unseemly now.
The culture of snark is easy to fall victim to and very hard to overturn. How does one overcome the cultural pull of irony? I know that getting off Twitter is the proverbial First Step in the process. The trite pissing contest to see who can come up with the most pious aphorism on Twitter becomes a ironic brain drain. The struggle to move away from irony and towards some sort of sincerity seems insurmountable and I may never manage to fully shed my intellectual dishonesty. Because I AM an Idiot. Despite my on-paper intelligence, I am an Idiot. I can only keep trying to grow up, to be more sincere, to turn off the snark and learn to lead a more real life. At some point you realize its time to put all the kid things away.
6 thoughts on “I Am An Idiot”
Humor isn’t rooted in kindness or altruism. It’s just not. At one point or another, you’re gonna offend or piss someone off. You have your own particular style, and it makes for great material!
As a fellow Philadelphian, I know that in our hometown “snarky” means “charming.” And there’s nothing wrong with being charming.
As I am a severe case of arrested development and a relocated Philadelphian I would buy a “Snarky Female from Philadelphia” tee-shirt in a heart beat! Funny stuff Kara!
I am a new super huge fan of yours. Consider me one of your worshippers.
I must be prejudiced! I don’t think snarky at all! I think sweet and kind and okay, maybe a little snarky… 🙂
Snarky humor can come from watching too many sitcoms!
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