Sincerity 3.0 & White Writers Who Prefer Negro Spirituals To Hip Hop

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June 24, 2014 by The Zemanifesto

Lab Technician Examining Medical Flask

Meet The New New Sincerity, Same As The Old New Sincerity

Are you excited for the new new sincerity? How about the defeat of irony?

Luckily for you, it’s already happened, at least according to some 30-year-old dude who went to Bonnaroo to see what “the kids” are up to these days.

Through some cocktail of observation, music criticism, literary pretension and armchair sociology, he decided “the kids are alright” and that “the age of irony is over,” because Lionel Richie and Skrillex:

Most of the concertgoers around me knew very little about (Lionel) Richie, but it didn’t take long for the performer to have them eating out of his hand through a combination of charm, charisma, and talent… when I was growing up, if something was over-the-top or bombastic (unless ironically so) it was definitely not “cool.” But there is literally no music more over-the-top or bombastic than Skrillex, and that guy makes millions of dollars a year off the backs of young listeners.… The age of irony is over.

That or chomping handfuls of molly makes you feel like dancing on the ceiling.

Andrea Berg 'Die 20 Jahre Show'

Then again, the writer seems to attribute this amazing new cultural trend he discovered — at an outdoor music festival mostly attended by White college kids from the south and the midwest — to a blissful ignorance:

While the “New Sincerity” movement predicted by David Foster Wallace constituted a rejection of irony, this “New New Sincerity” operates under the ignorance than irony ever existed at all.

Like nearly everybody who tackles the notion of “sincerity” in art and culture, the writer dragged out this dusty chestnut from the late David Foster Wallace, which predicts a “new sincerity” in literature:

The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles.

A Supposedly Destructive Thing I’ll Never Stop Doing

I won’t try to score cheap contrarian points by bashing Wallace, who was undoubtedly a formidable intellect and excellent writer. But I do find a good deal of classical irony in a man who couldn’t un-ironically enjoy being paid $3,000 to take a Caribbean cruise lecturing on the evils of ironic detachment.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” has to be one of the most cynical, snarky, culturally entitled and emotionally detached essays ever put to paper. The man was paid more than most people get for a month of full time work to take a literal pleasure cruise, and he spent the whole time looking for rust spots, obsessing about sharks and (seriously) counting the imperfections on other people’s bodies:

Here’s the thing. A vacation is a respite from unpleasantness, and since consciousness of death and decay are unpleasant, it may seem weird that American’s ultimate fantasy vacation involves being plunked down in an enormous primordial engine of decay.

I’m pretty sure if Wallace said that at Bonnaroo, he’d be characterized as a “hater.”


Speaking of irony, I find this adorably smarmy article from Salon, which apparently took two people to write, sincerely amusing.

In it, a writer and a painter (cause duh) explain (mostly by talking shit about other writers and painters) how “irony is ruining our culture”and only negro spirituals can save it:

If one wanted to write a book that advanced the novelistic tradition and the possibilities for humankind, one could learn something critical from studying, for example, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” 

You can tell the writer/painter team are trying to be so reverent in their hagiography of Black music (which is bizarrely confined to one song) but in all their cooing and salivating over how wonderful that old spiritual is, they remind me of the old lady from “Bringing Down The House” — so lovely and sad:

The best part is how they use a huge picture of the very White Wallace, but then gently chide him because he “fixed his gaze within a limited tradition of white, male novelists.” Oh, I’m sorry, is there not a quote from Cornell West in your article? Is he not fucking photogenic enough?


If You Can’t Check Your Privilege, At Least Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

The thing all of these lame, overreaching articles have in common is authors with a very apparent cultural blind spot —  hip hop. Negro spirituals, yes, hip hop, no.

It’s especially pronounced in this piece, where the writer tries to debunk a New York Times editorial (why bother linking?) that claims the 90s were “relatively irony-free.”

Au contraire, says the Atlantic writer:

When she brings up the “grunge” movement; the roots of the New Sincerity are there. But she doesn’t see the disconnect when she describes the apathy of the ’90s, the slacker archetype, the anger and the melancholia. That’s how I remember it too; the only thing I’d add is ironic detachment… To be vulnerable or authentic, to be sincere, was death in those days.

Sure, if all you listened to was Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Silverchair, you might remember the 90s as pretty bleak and cynical. What about the rest of us who, you know, also listen to music by Black artists?

I challenge anybody to find a shred of irony in that song. “Death?” It was a Billboard top ten single for three months and went platinum in 1995, so unless the writer means sincerity was literally “death” and that the snark conspiracy gunned down Pac, it’s hard to overlook the omission of… you know, a whole genre of music.

Hip hop has always been sincere, it wasn’t just Pac. Need another example from the supposedly detached and ironic 90s? Enter the 36 chambers:

The Wu seemed pretty authentic when I heard them in 93, and I still don’t think they were saying not to fuck with them ironically.

There was plenty of saccharine positivity in the 90s too, I know because it drove me up a fucking wall back then, which is why none of it is linked here. Every generation has cynicism and sincerity and people and artists who express those extremes in different measure.

Those people are ok. The cynics and the suckers (consider the source) can live in harmony. The people we need less of are these privileged navel gazers, trumpeting broad pronouncements about the cultural zeitgeist based on their sheltered worldview.

Because they’re all illustrating the biggest pitfall of what they call sincerity — hubris.

Via various sources


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