when the status quo frustrates.

What About Sincerity?

I don’t know if this really is a trend, or just something that I notice because it’s my circle of American culture, but fuck it, what’s a blog for if not to take your own experiences and apply them to the world at large?*

I am worried that we are a generation that cannot deal with anything with out a thick layer of cynicism and sardonic humor. It seems like we decided that if you care about anything, this makes you worthy of mockery at the very least, and at worst, an asshole.

The existence of 4chan seems to be the highest order of this, but it’s in mainstream society as well. South Park, if it has an over-arching plot at all, is nothing is worth it. Doesn’t matter if you’re Al Gore talking about global warming or Evangelicals winning souls for heaven, if you care about it you’re delusional, or fleecing someone, or just an ass. If you care about animal welfare rights, you’re going to grow pussies all over your body. If you want tolerance for gay people that means you want to put everyone in concentration camps and if you think that gay people shouldn’t marry that means that you’re just upset about the gay sex you’re not getting. There’s nothing as a sincere belief, and the few people who have them are shown as not having any ability to control them.

Reality television also proliferates this view. Nothing is private, nothing is worthy of respect and dignity. Love? Screw that, everyone knows it all about the sex and money (Rock of Love, Flavor of Love, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire). Somebody gets up on stage, belts out their very best rendition of “I Will Survive”? It sucks, they should be ashamed that they ever dared to get up there, how clichéd, and jesus, look how fat she is. Intervention for drug addiction where someone honestly, rawly, and openly cries for the person that they’re losing to addiction? Let’s video tape that shit, and then autotune it.

If we go into politics, it seems like the worst meta-joke in the world. “Hope and Change” was a punchline even before Obama didn’t really deliver on them. Why should we care? Conservatives are so increasingly pandering to the “jus folks” stereotype that it’s a mockery of it becomes impossible. Any belief of what would actually make a difference seems to get shot down as not being “realistic”.

I don’t want to go so far that everything is taboo, and we hide from one another and play so close to the chest that actual expression becomes impossible. But, I think we are doing something unhealthy but not being honest with our and others emotions. Some things should be private, and not broadcast for the entertainment of the masses. Some things should be allowed to be the intense experiences they are without worrying about that everyone is going to consider them a joke, or to turn it to cynicism to distance oneself from your own feelings.

Maybe it’s time to go from sarcasm to honest anger, from dark humor to true pain. Or maybe this is something that’s been going on from the time of Oscar Wilde and George Shaw and Romanticism and sincerity will come back into vogue again.

*And apparently, legitimate news sources as well.

10 Responses to “What About Sincerity?”

  1. Quin says:

    Point well taken, though anger is not the only answer. True feelings, deeply felt, come in other shapes, too.

    And I think another way of thinking of our cynical society is as “desensitized”. Ever bigger thrills (or as the case may be, crueler laughs) are always needed to give us our next dopamine fix, and except for these moments a cooling effect drifts over our lives, including own relations with each other. Most people can still cry when they watch a sad movie, but somehow many of them (especially men) (including me) find themselves inhumanly impassive and stony faced even in our own most traumatic real life moments. Something is amiss. Like those old folks I wrote about recently, we feel hungry for more real connections with people again. We are hungry for feeling. We try, but something is in the way.

    I think you’re on the right track here. There are other things you could turn to as well as anger and pain, though. Of course sincerity comes in many forms, and anger and pain are right in there. But to rephrase what you wrote, maybe it’s also time to practice going from sarcasm to warm acceptance, from dark humor to open celebration.

  2. KMTBERRY says:

    This was the exact same thing in the eighties, which then caused “the New Sincerity” movement. The fact is, cynicism is really a YOUNG person’s phenomenon: it is a way to try to seem more experienced than you are.

    Once you hit 35, most people begin being REAL. ANd we can all do our part, of being brave enough to be sincere and not caring if we get mocked.

  3. Antigone says:

    KMTBERRY-

    I’m not sure it is a young person’s phenomenon. I mean, Simon Cowell is in his 50s, and he’s probably the best example of cynical sincerity-blasting. Parker and Stone, though it doesn’t seem like it, are in their 40s.

    Unless there’s a meta-statement in there about how the younger generation’s life and flavor is shaped by the older generation. I’d buy that (it always struck me as ironic, even as a child, that the thing that people were moaning “what about the children” were most likely purchased by an adult. From Simpson’s t-shirts to Grand Theft Auto, most children just don’t have that kind of income).

  4. Selina says:

    I think the problem goes even deeper than cynicism and merges into open hatred. They say roughly 30% of any population are basically psychopaths – hence books like – The Psychopath Next Door – and it think it’s increasing in this country.

    Example – A teacher at a local University wrote an editorial to the paper proudly stating that on the first day of each semester she tells her students – Now that you are adults – You can HATE whoever you want. She actively uses her position to promote hatred and intolerance, and in her article she complained about the fact that students actually had to be nice to each other whether they liked each other or not.

    You’d think after what was done to President Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, what was done to men like James Byrd, after what happened to Matthew Shepard that somebody would think twice about encouraging shit like this. It goes beyond cynicism and to me it reflects a very real, very scary sickness in the soul of this country.

  5. Thene says:

    Antigone, you say at the start of your post that you’re speaking of American culture, and then later in the post you cite 4chan – an English-language version of a successful Japanese website, one that’s open to posters from all over the world; in comments you go on to mention Simon Cowell and Grand Theft Auto, both of which are British. (Pop Idol was originally a British show before it was imported to the USA and became American Idol, too).

    I don’t think this ‘all culture is American culture’ slant is intellectually coherent; I think it’s erasive and appropriative, tbph.

    Reading your post, it struck me (and I’m speaking as an emigrant) that the attitude you’re complaining about – the refusal to value sincerity above cynicism – is something I’ve always associated with British culture, whereas I find Americans are far more open but also far more touchy and can be hopeless at delivering or receiving valid criticism.

    If we go into politics, it seems like the worst meta-joke in the world. “Hope and Change” was a punchline even before Obama didn’t really deliver on them. Why should we care? <—another cultural thing – American political campaigns are about platforms or slogans like 'Hope and Change' rather than written manifestos that politicians can (and will) be later held to account for. How can someone 'deliver' on something as empty as 'Hope and Change'? If he'd promised to deliver on the public option, on closing Gitmo and getting climate change legislation passed then we'd be able to talk about sincerity and responsibility; sloganeering is the wide-open door that leads to cynicism, imo.

  6. Antigone says:

    Thene-

    The first thing I got out of your comment was defensiveness. I said “American culture” because I’m not familiar enough with any other culture to be able to say anything intelligent, and wanted to avoid speaking to other countries, not because I felt the need to erase other cultures. If I know of it, it’s GOT to be a force in American culture. I was unaware that Grand Theft Auto was first made in the UK (The others were all American, according to wikipedia) but they sold the most copies in the US (again, according to the internets). I do and did know that they did a Pop Idol, but that’s not the same show so I wasn’t speaking to it. As far as 4chan is concerned, again, I am talking about the English speaking version done by an American. If American culture is anything, it is taking other art forms and making them our own. If stuff that is widespread, widely consumed, and produced in the US doesn’t count as American culture because it was inspired by or originally produced in another country, there is no such thing as American culture.

    But, you have in your very comment that Americans cannot receive, valid criticism, so I went to look up cultural appropriation to see if there was something that I was missing. And I found this link:

    http://clairelight.typepad.com/seelight/2009/01/defining-cultural-appropriation.html

    And I’m still not entirely sure if your criticism is valid.

    I don’t believe that all culture is American culture. But, I think if many to most Americans consume it, repeat it, and it appeals to them, than it starts to be a touchstone of what it means to be American, appropriated or not. I think that is a perfectly coherent definition of something as fuzzy as “culture”.

    As to the appropriation and erasion, I think you might have something. I had no idea that there was a Japanese 4chan (and looking around doesn’t lead to anything, so I’ll take your word for it). And I had no idea about the GTA being British.

    But, on the other hand, I don’t know how you can claim the UK and Japan are subordinate cultures to the US. So, it would seem it would be more of a syncretistic relationship than an appropriating one.

    But, if you think that Americans are far more open, I would be willing to hear your evidence to that point. I believe that the Brits may be MORE cynical, but again: I’ve never been there, I cannot speak intelligently to that point.

    Your last point, however, seems muddled. If it is American for us to go to sloganeering, and that directly leads to cynicism, then, isn’t it still American to be cynical against politicians?

    But, how you deliver on “hope and change” is by defining what his promises were (and you listed them, and I would also include abolishing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and responsibly protecting reproductive rights). The slogan was the short hand for the promises. And when people make a punchline out of “Hope and change” they weren’t mocking sloganeering- they were mocking THAT slogan, like the idea of having hope and wanting to change things was in and of itself wrong.

  7. Thene says:

    If I know of it, it’s GOT to be a force in American culture.

    Can’t something be an influence on your culture without being part of your culture? I admit, I was galled that you cited Simon Cowell as part of your problem with ‘American culture’ (I assume on the basis that he does the same shtick here as he does back home). He’s a person, not a cultural work, and he isn’t American. Were you referring to his work rather than him as a person? If so, would my writing be described as culturally American just because I live here? That idea makes me extremely uncomfortable. As does the idea that specific cultural works that originated in other countries become American simply by being popular in America. GTA is an odd case because it’s always been set in America, albeit an America first imagined by people in Scotland. But it’s only one of a many works from other cultures that sell more copies in America than in their place of origin, and I do think classing those things as ‘American culture’ is problematic. I think it robs them of their original identity. It makes it easy for Americans to ignore the fact that there are other cultures out there that are influencing them – because if you can just wave a hand and say everything’s American as soon as it crosses the border, you don’t have to think about the world outside.

    If stuff that is widespread, widely consumed, and produced in the US doesn’t count as American culture because it was inspired by or originally produced in another country, there is no such thing as American culture.

    Then there are no cultures other than American culture, I guess. What does everyone else have to do to maintain an artistic identity? Quit exporting? Not immigrate? Can’t such things be described as influences on American culture rather than as American culture?

    fyi, 4chan was modelled on Futaba Channel which was itself an offshoot of 2channel, a site coded on the principle that people can only have honest conversations if they’re anonymous. Back in the early 00s a lot of IRC folks got interested in Futaba/2channel and that lead to someone opening an English-language fork of it (the code is open-source), which then grew legs and became the ravening monster it is today. 4chan has users all over the world, just like the English-language internet as a whole. Describing such international efforts as ‘American’ while saying that other first-world cultures aren’t subordinate to America is…kinda inconsistent imo.

    But, if you think that Americans are far more open, I would be willing to hear your evidence to that point. I believe that the Brits may be MORE cynical, but again: I’ve never been there, I cannot speak intelligently to that point.

    I’ve lived in both cultures – most of my life in the UK, several years in the USA. It’s one of those things that’s too big to easily describe. I’ve just tried to dig up some examples of the difference between a platform and a manifesto but I am failing at finding online copies of manifestos that don’t make me want to shoot someone – I’ll have another go tomorrow if I can.

  8. Antigone says:

    Can’t something be an influence on your culture without being part of your culture?

    I’m actually not sure how. I mean, I’m pretty sure I’m on as solid ground when I say that Individual Liberties are an American value. But, our Constitution and our values came out of Greek and Roman institutions and philosophies by way of England and France. When does the line from “being influenced by” cross into “our culture”?

    And yes, I was citing Simon Cowell’s work, not the person. To be more specific, I was citing his influence on Americans.

    And it’s not that it’s culturally American because you live here- but I’d say that if you became well-read and the United States, and talked about, an mimicked, then yes, your work would be an example of an American values.

    I find this kind of interesting, because in meat-space the other day I was talking about the sort of opposite of this problem, that of American cultural hegemony. That too many other cultures are ending up taking in “American culture” and pushing out other cultures. So, it sort of seems like it’s cultural appropriation when the US does it, but it’s forced cultural hegemony when other countries take on aspects of “American culture”. (To be specific, we were talking about Japan’s subculture of yankii).

    Honestly, this is the reason I didn’t do well in anthropology. I put the disclaimer in that I was talking about what I saw in America because I didn’t want someone to come in here and say “Well, we’re not like that in Germany/ Britain/ Norway/ Canada and there are more places in the world than US you know” which is a perfectly legitimate point. I put in the disclaimer because I only have the vaguest notions as to what the rest of the world is like and what are their cultural values. I don’t want to talk about people unless I can back it up.

  9. Dr. Psycho says:

    For years I have wanted* a T-shirt that says

    At first I was disgusted
    Later I was just amused
    BUT NOW I’M PISSED!

    * apparently not to the extent of actually having one made, though….

  10. Cecelia says:

    Sorry, I know this is old. But you’ve articulated something I’ve been wanting to for a long time now.

    Seriously. Have you been to tumblr recently?

    I don’t know what this obsession with “everything is a joke lol wut r u the pc police grow a dick laff at sum titz nazis are attractive look @ this gif” mentality. It definitely came from the internet, though. If anyone cares about anything, they better be tough enough to fend off the ironic sexism/racism/homophobia/cynicism/whatever that is somehow acceptable.

    The fact you mentioned it may be something specific to American culture is interesting. I’ve often asked myself if it has anything to do with the trend of anti-intellectualism America is so (in)famous for. Either way, I’m getting used to people scoffing at me for being a) emotional b) “learned” in anything that requires critical thinking c) serious at all. Hmph.

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