Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A little less irony please...

I assume that the two or three of you who read this have probably already seen a Kate Bush music video from the 80s. (In a very unhip fashion I kept saying she was from the early 90s yesterday. Everyone present rolled their eyes, and rightfully so.) Well, Kate Bush is one of those musicians who has gone under my radar until relatively recently, so please humor me while I make discoveries that may already be very familiar to you. If they're new to you too, you're in for a treat. All of Kate Bush's dancing is fantastic, but the dance that really got me is in the music video to "Running up that hill." I was struck by a nostalgia for a time I remember so little I have a hard time saying whether it was the 80s or 90s.

What is this thing called irony? Why does the zeitgeist suddenly fluster, embarrassed, at something that could once earnestly touch people on an emotional level? I ask because this video, for all of its parodied style, is unmistakably beautiful. It will be interesting to see, in the future, if eventually videos like these may shed their post-ironic skin and become universal touch points for humanity again. Shakespeare was also unfashionable about twenty years after his hey day. Then I started thinking about all of the music videos that I loved so much in the late eighties - early nineties. They were so unabashedly serious - dramatic - even tragic. Madonna's Like a Prayer video, Aha's Take On Me video, Meatloaf's I Would Do Anything for Love. They all had amazing narratives, a nearly gothic sense of atmosphere that really captured my childhood imagination. And then, suddenly, music videos decided that they were entirely too frivolous to take themselves seriously. We were left over with these earnestly emotional and dramatic videos, and first we dismissed them, tried to forget about them, and then, trying not to give away too much, hesitantly stepped forward to reclaim them under the umbrella of irony.

I've always taken a bit of issue with my generation's love of irony - mostly because I wonder if it's a bit of cowardice. I wonder if, by claiming irony, we keep ourselves at a distance from our emotions - from the things that truly touch us, excite us, make us think. I say this because liking something "ironically" does buy the admirer a lack of commitment, a shield against criticism, because irony suggests a simultaneous critique and admiration. It seems fine and dandy, but imagine someone telling you that they were in love with you, ironically? Imagine someone being your best friend ironically? Or loving their dog, ironically? It's terrifying, because in the action of love, there is a dismissal that suggests that they will brush you aside as easily as they'll embrace you. That at any moment they might shed you like a skin. I've got to say, what we call irony is a kind of armor our generation has invented to deal with the way things are.

Then of course, there's an artist who encapsulates every aspect of the 80s we blush at, who is cheesier than brie, but is entirely beyond irony. He's invulnerable to it. He keeps the 80s alive and well, but only if you are willing to love him earnestly, as a fearless emotional leader. If you will stand by him, vulnerable to the jeers of those who just don't get it, the man is a moveable feast. I'm not talking Morrissey, though I could be. Check the link, for the sexiest pay off to this question in the form of a video I can't embed.

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