Cringing is a sign of irony leaving the body

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of “anti-rebels,” born oglers who dare to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point, why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk things. Risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. The new rebels might be the ones willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the “How banal.” Accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Credulity. Willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.

– David Foster Wallace, E unibus pluram: television and U.S. fiction

DFW was talking about American fiction writers, but, 23 years later, it’s American television screenwriters who are plowing ahead in a very “anti-rebel” fashion.  To wit: the explosion of, I don’t know, “sincere”(?) television like 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and Master of None.

Have you watched Master of None yet?  It’s written by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, two Parks and Rec alumni who worked alongside Mike Schur during the show’s run.  The Mike Schur who also happens to have written that one episode of Parks and Rec, did that Decembrists video about Eschaton, and, yeah, owns the movie rights to Infinite Jest.  It’s absolutely no surprise to me, knowing all this, that Master of None is probably the closest thing we have right now to purely sincere television entertainment.  Each episode seems to be a chapter out of an as-of-today “How To Be A Decent Person” manual: how to be woke about gender inequality (“Ladies and Gentlemen”), how to be good to our parents (“Parents”) and old people in general (“Old People”), how to be aware of the damage of stereotypes (“Indians on TV”), &c.  On top of that, it’s incredibly funny.  (The first three episodes are okay, but “Indians on TV” is when the show really takes off.)

Okay, so Master of None is a thing, but so is 30 Rock, Parks and Rec, and who knows what other shows I’m missing.  And this is great!  This is what DFW predicted would happen–said needed to happen–that there would be a pinnacle of irony (an “ironic pinnacle”?), and that, eventually, the water would slosh back to the other side of the tub (the El Niño becomes the La Niña).  And I know I’m watching a show that represents this new wave of sentimentality and sincerity when I find myself, child of the late 20th Century, cringing into a tight ball or rolling my eyeballs straight into a toilet (TOO MANY EMOTIONS!).  It’s a sign of irony leaving the body, of unearned cynicism (cynicism as in the stuff you earn from living through a lot of political, cultural, and emotional shit) melting away.  I’ve got nothing but open-armed acceptance for this new form of entertainment.  I–we–need more of it.

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