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Monday, October 1, 2001

Moronic Irony and Patriotic Hypocrisy
Publishing's New Refrain

by Clinton Fein

The Age of Irony Comes to an End, declared Time magazine earnestly, a sentiment echoed by numerous publishers including Vanity Fair's editor Graydon Carter, who told subscription-only publication inside.com, "Things that were considered fringe and frivolous are going to disappear."

Following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the very publications that define the shallow culture of celebrity (remember the It Vanity Fair issue?) are now ditching irony with about as much authenticity and believability as Donna Rice Hughes teaching American girls values or Solicitor General Theodore Olson reading Ann Coulter editorials over coffee in the morning.

Who, after all this, cares about Rudy Giuliani's loud, messy divorce or some rich, spoiled PR brat's class-motivated reversing of daddy's Mercedes into a crowd at a Hamptons nightclub because she didn't have hot enough parking credentials? Who wants to read gushing details about the lavish launch of a new fragrance by infamously idle, infinitely wealthy teen sisters, adding one more chemical to compete for shelf space at Neiman Marcus?

How can we possibly escape the irony of Vanity Fair being too sincere now for articles so trivial and frivolous as Nicky and Paris Hilton's perfume launch? Instead it's now all about Steven Hilton's handing out $1-million-dollar Hilton Humanitarian Prizes and convening Humanitarian Assemblies to tackle topics such as "Social Justice: Bridging the Global Gap Between Rich and Poor". (Which, ironically, has been postponed owing to the New York attack).

And so the refrain. The new irony-free America supposedly won't fawn over celebrities. Not even those doing telethon tributes beamed by no less than ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, UPN and WB to an estimated 210 countries. Nor wallow in such trivialities as a mayor's Catholic-defying divorce or the irony of an adulterer setting up a Decency Commission. Especially not now that he has just achieved international celebrity status.

Instead, we can expect Brill's Content to now focus its attention on New York Post's Page Six for irony violations instead of accuracy. From now on we should only read publications with Irony Free labels.

To deny irony is to deny humor and healthy cynicism.

Not since Alanis Morisette's song "Ironic," in which she lamented mournfully about nothing more than a series of shitty coincidences, has anyone been so off base as to what irony is and does. Irony is just as hard to deny as it is to define whom we are supposed to be fighting in this newly declared war: where and how.

In the days that followed irony took center stage along with Rudy, ranging from a visit by George W. Bush to a Muslim temple urging tolerance toward Americans of Middle East origin (These are good people...good people...) to the almost surreal image of Hillary Clinton weeping at the site where a plane carrying anti-Clinton author Barbara Olson crashed into the Pentagon where, all but for the grace of her husband's legacy, Linda Tripp could have been sitting. That is irony.

The PATRIOT (Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act, an 'anti-terror' bill in Congress which essentially criminalizes any American who fails to hop, skip and jump in sync with the Ashcroft-Bush-Rumsfeld Axis is an acronym for almost the most draconian, anti-American legislation ever written. That is irony.

The Goebbels-like monologue spewed by White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, "The reminder is to all Americans, that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and that this is not a time for remarks like that." No less, over politically incorrect, advertiser-pulling remarks by Bill Maher, on his aptly titled TV show, Politically Incorrect. That is irony.

Talk radio host Don Imus in a MSNBC studio angrily spewing venom over the airwaves over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Saudi Arabia by scornfully referring to traditional Saudi headdress worn by the Saudi leaders as "laundry" on their heads, whilst sitting with a dirty, stinking dead animal on his own. That is irony.

Irony is inescapable. If it died with the attack on September 11, it was reborn again the instant the very purveyors of frivolity declared it dead.

Anne Kingston, in an article on the subject in the National Post, warned that a "new political correctness, bereft of any ironic associations, is falling into place. And that should concern us all." Indeed it should.

If nothing else, rather than refrain from irony with politically correct, insincere niceties that do nothing to address the seething hostilities belying them, we would be better served by targeting the real enemy: hypocrisy.


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