Wednesday, September 29, 2010

That's Funny, I Think

Jonah Goldberg has a wonderful piece at National Review Online in which he comments on comedian Stephen Colbert's controversial appearance before Congress last week.  It was controversial mostly because the very people who invited him to speak didn't get it and were offended, or thought they should be anyway.  Goldberg argues that the entire episode was an instance of what he calls "ironic rot."

For some time now, an ironic posture has been celebrated as the surest sign of a superior intelligence and wit.  To aver a truth, any truth, and then wink, or better, to be understood to wink, or best, to be thought to wink, meant you were the smartest guy in the room.  And to catch that wink, well, pat yourself on the back, you're nearly as smart yourself, aren't you?

The problem with irony, or perhaps I should say with too much irony, is that it undermines itself.  Once "ironic rot" sets in, what are we to believe, the truth averred or the wink we think we're seeing?

Moreover, I've always thought there was something fundamentally gutless about the ironic pose.  If Stephen Colbert is misunderstood, or just isn't funny, he can always say he was being ironic, can't he?  We should all hope "ironic rot" has indeed set in.

In the meantime, as a corrective, consider for a moment the person of Ronald Wilson Reagan.  Reagan could be, and very often was, engagingly funny.  But was there ever a hint of irony about the man?  I, for one, would much rather have spent a pleasant evening laughing along with the Gipper than share even a cup of coffee with any one of a hundred contemporaries who pass for smart, wondering all along whether I was actually getting it or simply being had.

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