Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Serious and the Frivolous

“The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relationship to the ‘serious.’ One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.”

--Susan Sontag, “Notes on Camp”

People of my generation have an ironic relationship with the “truth.” Here is an example. Rather than getting my news from “serious” news sources like CNN, BBC, Fox?, MSNBC, I prefer to get news from The Onion, The Daily Show, the Colbert Report. These are, of course, comedy shows that present the “news” in a playful or ironic way. In the information age, in the age of corporatized media, of facebook and google, and blogs, the only “truth” that I can really digest is news that presents itself ironically, playfully.

This is a sad, but often true, feature of my generation. We have a shaky relationship with the “serious” and the “true” because we are intensely aware of the way people, corporations, and groups spin the “truth” to suit their fancy or bias. In this environment, is it any wonder that the only news I will take seriously is “comedic” news?

This ironic distance is one of the things that separates my generation from previous generations. While they see the world “seriously,” I see the world “playfully.” For example, while an older generation might be offended by shows like South Park or even The Simpsons, I see them as hilarious examples of social commentary and parody. In a sense, I take these shows “seriously.”

By contrast, many of the things older generations take “seriously” I can’t help but laugh at. For example, I know that the now-defunct Glenn Beck show was not meant to be funny, but I would often watch it because I found its over-strained patriotic fervor hilarious. I’m sure there were older generations who took the Glenn Beck show very seriously.

I don’t know if there is a way to bridge this generational gap between the ironic sensibility of my peers and the serious sensibility of our elders. I suppose the first step might be for us to try to understand the root of their seriousness, and for them to try to develop an ear for irony.


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