Saturday, July 30, 2011

My Terribly Ironic Friends: Reconciling Cognitive Dissonance Through Art

I had a group of friends in college, virtually all white men, who were, and still are, as far as I can tell, terribly ironic, sarcastic, clever, irreverent guys. They made fun of everything. Bascially they were my drinking buddies. On some level, I'm still drawn to people like that: it's the Jon Stewart syndrome. But it's been decades since I've gone out drinking, and now I recognize this attitude as something more than fun, but rather as an attempt to reconcile cognitive dissonance through irony and humor.

My ironic friends are educated enough and moral enough to recognize their unearned privileges. They never use the term "white supremacy" and rarely discuss or recognize race. They have gripes with capitalism but accept it as inevitable. But deep down, my ironic friends feel conflicted about the suffering of others: crippling poverty, failing schools, foreclosures, prisons, endless war.... And they're smart enough to connect the dots and understand that the extreme disparities between rich and poor are due to a global system of oppression, intended and designed to benefit a few. They understand that this global system is one of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. They oppose this system, yet recognize they benefit from it. Yikes!

So Irony and Art come in. We use these practices to let just enough air out of the white supremacist/patriarchal/capitalist bubble to relieve our anxiety and allow us to sleep at night, but don't release enough air to actually burst it. We stand outside the bubble and question it, poke it, make fun of it, and talktalktalk about it, but don't actually change it. In this way, art and humor become palliatives, Marx's opiate for the masses, which is why we can't get enough of Stewart and Colbert.

So instead, can we actually use art and humor to change our lives and our behaviors? Can we use art for the revolution? Instead of retreating into the palliative of art, we have to make our lives the work of art itself. It's not enough to create art, to BE an artist. That's so 20th century. We actually have to LIVE it.

How do we daily live outside the white supremacist/capitalist paradigm? How do we daily refrain from buying anything produced through exploitation, using unrenewable energy, ingesting corporate media, supporting big pharma, depending on corrupt banking systems, and participating in racism/classism/sexism/heterosexism/ageism? These are the only ways to overcome cognitive dissonance. Irony is only a first step, a harmless little poke to the bubble of white supremacy.


Anonymous said...

wow, intriguing thoughts, and many parallels to the dfw quote I sent you

i'm thinking about writing a long essay tying together various ideas that have been bubbling in my brain----relationship between irony & oppression, passive rebellion, near-universal hatred towards the hipster, cigarettes as the ultimate in passive rebellion (a symbol of disaffected youth that, like irony, represents both superficial rebellion and the deep suffering of bondage/craving/addiction), dfw's call for "new sincerity," and dfw's own demise.
but it'll probably take a while to get all that down on paper.

peggy hong said...

please write it--wanna read it!

RhythmAnarchy said...

Humor is useful to pop a CD bubble and also lesson the shock of landing with the reintroduction of gravity to that sphere of faith