Postmodernism, as well as similar ideological movements such as Critical Theory, Marxism, and Cultural Marxism, appears to be generating ideological reactions from the entirety of the philosophical spectrum. Such reactions have emerged into many fields; yet more so within liberal arts (i.e. Literature, Philosophy, Politics, Art, etc.). More narrowly, these reactions are meant as movements towards some type of change, or as a response to the postmodern plateau or end of history which we find ourselves in. This essay will not be a critique of postmodernism, but rather an illustration of the linear path of “reactionary” schools of thought.
It is important to note, the definition of reaction here is not aligned with the reactionary or neoreactionary right-wing as a vessel for a return to traditionalism. Rather, in this context, reaction is a description or category of an ideology, philosophy, or any other structure of thought and action which seeks to change the cultural, political, or conceptual paradigm.
Modern man does not do as much as he thinks about doing. He is held back by existential anxiety and an overwhelming apprehension with being wrong or failing.
Though the armchair philosopher will badger one in vague cliches to overcome these anxieties, this does not get at the root of the problem. This is not to say that some, if not many, will never overcome such anxieties, but that the paradigm in which one thinks will remain the same across his every endeavor. What use is there in shedding one’s fear of the fire if one cannot breathe through the smoke? The modern man has been conditioned to be gracious of those who shatter his will and destroy his future; as the punishment for stepping out of line to question intention leaves him with less than what little he had before. Yet there seem to be some who cross this line without actually crossing it.
Not a Solution – Not a Problem
Modern day humor seems to be a fairly accurate parallel to the manner in which this line is crossed, while maintaining the illusion that it has not been crossed. Before the vast application of postmodernism and related theories, humor was quite straightforward and could be evaluated and understood on a basic level. It was sincere and meant to be taken at face value. However, once postmodernism began to take hold of various cultural norms and societal institutions, the prevailing method of humor changed to an ironic and indirect form. Its meaning was implied, yet the implication was strong and easy to decipher.
Now a new form of humor has begun to emerge and become immensely popular, and it is principally influenced by metamodernism or post-postmodernism. The humor centers around the concept of post-irony. Within the post-ironic framework (or lack thereof) the comedy is not only aware of itself and its intentions, but is also aware of the viewer and the disorientation which the viewer experiences. Post-irony takes a ridiculous concept (often a postmodern idea applied ad absurdum) and makes it serious so that it is no longer obvious what is funny and what is not. It relies often on nihilism and dark humor in an attempt to get one thinking, to bridge the gap among shared experiences, and to expose or alleviate dread. It does seem that there most certainly is intention behind post-irony, but it is quite difficult to analyze, and that is part of its purpose. It acts as an “oscillating” reaction to modernism and postmodernism at the same time.
Two great examples of this brand of comedy are Sam Hyde and Million Dollar Extreme, as well as Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s work with Adult Swim.
This is another experimental essay, but it seemed like a good idea to parse out these ideas in this format. Part of my inspiration for this essay was from a YouTube video called “Why Is Millennial Humor So Weird?” which is in itself a response to an article on The Washington Post, thus making my response to a response part of the post-ironic maze.