Reject Irony, Embrace Sincerity

This will probably be a one off. It’s also going to be a disjointed ramble. However, I decided to give blogging a bit of a try. There’s a thread here, so bare with it. Maybe if anyone likes it, or it proves fruitful I’ll do more. Not really sure how useful writer’s blogs actually are…

Also some spoilers stuff in here…and mildly political stuff as much as I try to avoid it.

So, I’m a huge enthusiast of heavy metal. It’s something I can’t get enough of, I’m always searching for new bands. I follow the “New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal” YouTube channel. They recently posted a video by a band called “On Atlas’s Shoulders.”

The video is undoubtedly corny, but I genuinely enjoyed it. It was interesting, they’re playing something close to power metal, but they have a bit of a 00s metalcore breakdowns in it. Also the vocalist has a very “music theatre” style voice, which you don’t usually hear in the genre. Don’t get me wrong, the video is very hammy. The vocalist is very flamboyant, but is trying to come off as threatening. It’s incredibly awkward, but also charming. They’re trying so hard. So, I dug it and dove into their back catalogue.

Their first album is very rough in terms of production. They’re doing very smart stuff, musically, but it is muddy. However, the enthusiasm and earnestness of the vocalist’s performance just carry it. It’s hard not to absorb his passion.

Which brings me to my greater point about the band. Power metal is undoubtedly my favorite genre. It unapologetically turns everything about traditional metal up to 11. It’s the perfect mix for a workout or a bad day. It just gives you that energy to get through the banality of everyday life. The bands that created this genre did it by cranking all of the themes of metal up to 11. They had ridiculous over dubbed vocals about dragons, and honor, and glory. They did it sincerely.

This band, though not entirely power metal, does the same thing in terms of uplifting sincerity. Read some lyrics from a part that happens after a violin interlude.


“So we ride, side by side, one final time
And as my brothers fall beside me, I see them smile
For at the end of this fateful journey,
It is not death that greets us, it is glory”

Is this cheesy? Of course it is! But you know what that’s the point. It gets you through the day, and the kid sings it with such enthusiasm.

You’re probably thinking, what’s this go to do with anything? Well, so much of modern power metal is done ironically. Granted, I’m not saying it’s not enjoyable to listen to, but it’s not the same. Take for example Christopher Bowes, the man behind Gloryhammer, and Alestorm. He’s certainly a talented musician, but all of his stuff is laced with this post-irony about the subject. Its just insincere, and increasingly so as time went on. Both those bands went down hill as their careers progressed. I can’t help but think it’s because the joke is too self aware. There are countless other bands like this out there. They’re making good music, maybe because labels all have the same ghost writers, or they’re all ripping off the same genre titans, I don’t know. There was one that was a “dwarf” themed power metal band that literally covered a MEME song. It was incredibly stupid. I heard another song by the same band, and it’s actually good. However, the inauthenticity comes off on many of these contemporary power metal artists. The whole reason power metal was good was it embraced the aspects of the music that others derided, now it’s just deriding it itself. So what’s the point anymore?

Metal can be gatekeeping, and I’m not trying to be one, in any way. However, because metal has an aspect of youthful rebellion ingrained in it’s DNA, there is this perpetual obsession with “keeping it trve.” What is true? Making music about things you sincerely enjoy. There’s nothing true about doing stuff ironically, or a marketing gimmick.

This is 100% going to come off as old man yells at cloud. I go to a lot of underground metal shows. I’m a huge fan of the “Epic Metal” sub genre. Which is very nebulous when it comes to boundaries. I’ve met Jason from Eternal Champion, Vidaar from Legendry. This is no way an attack on them. They sincerely like the music they write about, and the themes they write on. They’re also both fantasist, like me, with published work’s you should check out.

However, I notice something at the shows. Again, the point of this is not to gatekeep. However, I’m about a decade older than most of the kids that come out to underground metal shows in Philly. I’ve noticed it’s a lot of formally “boyband with breakdown” scene kids who decided they like trad metal now. They wear battle vests like it’s cosplay. You can’t even tell if they actually like dressing like that, or if they’re doing it as a joke. Which is sad, because they devote so much to. It’s not cheap, in terms of money or labor, to make those outfits. (For the record I don’t dress up at shows. It’s not my thing.)

I’m not trying to judge or gatekeep them. I used to listen to KORN in the 90s. I liked lost of cringe stuff when I was younger. We all do, and our tastes evolve. Everyone should be welcome, but they’re enjoying the corny music about barbarians and steel, ironically. I think it’s a post-irony thing, where they can’t even tell if they actually mean it or are just being ironic. This just seems sad to me. If you like something, just like something without the shield of irony, but I’ll get into the using irony as a shield later.

The next item that had been on my mind regarding sincerity and earnestness was Cora Buhlert’s story in Whetstone #3. When I first read it, I liked it, but it admittedly wasn’t one of my favorites in the issue. However, the more space I had from it, and the story had room to breath, the more I liked it.

Why?

Earnestness. The story revolves around a young man who wants to join an order of monks that defend the world from an evil gateway. It’s a very heroic and simple story. The story makes no apologies for this either. (Romantic heroism is so derided in a post-GoT world.)

The two protagonist have cheeky banter and at the end the two fall in love. The two happen to be men. I think why I liked this so much was in my experience most LGBT themed content tends to have a very sarcastic or ironic tone. However, this was just a genuine heroic story that subverted the romance element into being LGBT, or subverted the bromance and made it actually romantic? However you want to take it. I don’t know if I’m way off base about LGBT content being very cynical or ironic. I’m not sure if that’s just biased sample of what I’ve experienced, something about being oppressed in those groups gives people that kind of attitude, understandably so, or maybe it’s some latent homophobia in straight writers creating gay characters. I hate even talking about the subject, because everything is so polarized. My perceptions could be wildly off. Anyway, I really liked the sincerity in this story.

Which brings me to my final piece of entertainment I consumed. I watched the season 5 debut of Rick and Morty. Don’t get me wrong. I laughed. But if I think about it for more than 5 seconds, I hate it.

The whole B plot makes me viscerally angry. It’s clearly a satire of Narnia. Let’s stop for a second and think about this. The Narnia books are great, whatever misgivings one may have about Christianity, I’m for the record not religious. They tell children’s fables that promote values that people across any reasonable belief systems would support. Such as; heroism, selflessness, integrity, honesty, holding something more important than yourself, sacrifice, honor, etc. They’re genuinely positive and encourage the best in people in a communitarian way. I can’t imagine a child reading them and not coming away a better person.

Now let’s look at Rick and Morty. What has Rick and Morty’s story telling ever inspired? People harassing underpaid McDonalds workers? INCELS and mass shooters? That priceless “high IQ” meme? The show itself spent it’s entire fourth season hating on it’s own fanbase for good reason. However, I don’t think there was any reflection about why what they’re creating attracts those kinds of people. At least I don’t think so. Not that authors are responsible for their fans, but some self-reflection on their part is probably in order.

The irony(classical definition) of Rick and Morty is that it’s absurdist not nihilistic, but the nihilists are the people that most latched onto it. Even though it’s making fun of them to an extent. (How anyone watches that show and likes Rick, or doesn’t realize he’s the villian is beyond me.)

The tragedy of this is that the writers of Rick and Morty are actually incredibly gifted. The B plots of much of their stories tell compelling stories. The irony(classic definition) of the B plot that annoyed me, in this episode, is if done sincerely it would have been a genuinely compelling narrative.

I can think no further than their other show. Solar Opposites. The B plot, which comes to a head in episodes 8, was so gripping and compelling. If told honestly it would have been a science fiction masterpiece. My wife and I were genuinely in tears. However, it was all just a ploy to tell a joke, and it undermines the power of what could have been told. I can’t help but want the story they could have told had they taken this subplot sincerely and made a show about just that. (Who needs another Family Guy clone?)

So why does this bother me? Isn’t irony, sarcasm, and humor a tool to speak truth to power? To say things that can’t be said? Maybe once. I’ve watched the first season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Certainly the titular main character, and the real life Lenny Bruce, we’re speaking truth to power through irony and sarcasm.

However, Irony is now used as a shield. If you’re doing everything ironically you don’t have to commit. It’s the ultimate form of cowardice. I tell a great story, but it’s all a joke, that way no one can critique me. They say “I don’t like X.” I reply “It’s all just a joke.” It’s a defense mechanism.

The thing about sincerity is that it’s a state of vulnerability. If I write a sword and sorcery story people are going to critique it, mock it, if they even read it. If I make it ironic I can always fall back on “oh it was just a joke.” It’s a shield from the inevitable emotional fallback of putting yourself out there.

For anything to work people have to put themselves out there. You have to do things sincerely at some point, not doing so is a recipe for the death of meaning, and depression. You can’t ironically land on the moon, or ironically storm the beaches of Normandy, or ironically write LOTR. (Yeah..yeah…cranky old man.)

I think Justin Roiland could tell an incredible science fiction story. I think he is a genius. However, he hides everything behind irony and mocking the works that inspired him. It’s funny. I still like the show, but I think it’s getting tired, and it’s time to put down the shield and do something sincere.

The worst part about our culture’s rampant embrace of irony is its dire ramifications on real people. One of my closest friends has gone down the alt-right rabbit hole. He was genuinely one of the most moral people I knew. Someone I would have followed through the gates of hell, etc. He can’t express anything without post-irony now. He can’t do anything sincerely. It’s always this tap dance of “oh it’s just a meme.” The doing everything ironically has made it impossible to communicate. To communicate you have to be sincere and vulnerable. So there’s no way to even get through to him, because he can’t express anything sincerely. If he has genuinely reprehensible beliefs there’s no way to explore them, and try to change his mind, because it’s all shielded by this “am I kidding?” Performance art. It really depresses me. Probably more than anything else in my life. Also, guess who first exposed me to Rick and Morty in 2013. I’ll give you a hint….

There are lots of young, and not so young people like that nowadays. They can’t express a single thought without making it ironic. It’s just vapid and in some cases becomes dangerous.

Look, I still like the show, it still makes me laugh, but if I think about it I realize I hate it. It’s a waste of talent. Though some of writes went onto LOKI, which so far is good. It’s still humorous and thematically similar. I find it sincere, or at least as much so something made by Disney can be. So maybe these writers will move on to brighter pastures, and tell a story that’s good for more than a cheap laugh.

Since I’m in the pulp rev scene I do come across a decent amount of reactionary material. I see people appropriating Tolkien’s “the eye can only pervert it can’t create.” They think the eye is anything that doesn’t fit into their warped view of Christianity and Western Civ. I’d argue the eye is Irony.

There’s a dumb meme. Reject modernity, Embrace tradition.

(I’m a total hypocrite, because I get a kick out of people posting MEMEs of it but modernity is a PS5 and tradition is an N64. Which I get is irony.)

I say

Reject Sarcasm, Embrace Sincerity

Or

Reject Irony, Embrace Earnestness

It takes a tremendous amount of work, perseverance, and luck to get your story out there. Why put all that into something you don’t even know if you really mean? Why not do it with genuine enthusiasm and mean what you say? After all, sarcasm and irony in the end are just forms of lying. Do you really want to devote your creative energy to creating lies? I don’t. I love sword and sorcery, sword and planet, and Ray Punk. I don’t care if it’s corny, or simplistic, or whatever. It’s what I want to make, and I’m going to do it as earnestly as I can. Even if I do enjoy a good joke making fun of Conan.

Yeah, yeah, lighten up old man…have a sense of humor.

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