With my usual good intentions, always poorly realized, I had been meaning to flag a cover essay from a few weeks ago in the New York Times' Sunday Review, titled "How to Live Without Irony." Author Christy Wampole analyzed the pervasive irony of our age by dissecting the paradigm of ironic person, the hipster -- but I think her diagnosis is one we can all recognize, in the culture and perhaps in ourselves.Wampole's essay was taken from the NYT's Opinionator blog and unfortunately displays some of the overstuffed style that can characterize prose on the web, where editing is minimal and word limits irrelevant. Still, there's a lot of perceptive stuff in her bravura performance. I think she rightly holds out seriousness as the opposite of irony -- not earnestness, often used as an antidote to irony but which is in fact an affect that has more in common with irony than with seriousness. Besides, serious people are witty while the earnest are humorless and dull.I especially liked the passage where she contrasts the ironic person with the nonironic:

Nonironic models include very young children, elderly people, deeply religious people, people with severe mental or physical disabilities, people who have suffered, and those from economically or politically challenged places where seriousness is the governing state of mind. My friend Robert Pogue Harrison put it this way in a recent conversation: Wherever the real imposes itself, it tends to dissipate the fogs of irony.

That passage seems especially relevant in the wake of Newtown. The young in their nonironic innocence were the targets, and the suffering of the survivors -- and the comfort of the faithful -- brooks no irony. Even Saturday Night Live began with a "cold opening" of a childrens choir singing "Silent Night."Then again, shooter Adam Lanza appears to have suffered from some sort of emotional disability that may well have put him in the category of the nonironic.In everything, balance. The SNL kids segued into the show, which went on as usual. It always does, and we will too. I doubt that irony was dealt a mortal blow at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, just as I fear little will happen to end gun violence, despite the enduring shock.But in a follow-up Q&A with New York magazine about the blowback from her essay, Wampole said, "This is less about bashing hipsters than getting everyone to be more self-aware."Maybe Newtown did that, at least.

David Gibson is the director of Fordham’s Center on Religion & Culture.

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