Eloquent and angry response to Jim Robinson’s Irony And Its Malcontents piece. I think Jim R’s been slightly misread, though: he’s arguing for irony as a mode of listening, not the mode. In the case of Johnny Cash, eulogists have quickly settled on the notion of him as a ‘bad boy’ (think that picture of him giving the finger which I’ve seen a hundred times easily since he died), which means downgrading or writing out all the goofy things he did, or the family man things, or the corny things, or the religious things, etc. etc. Bad-boy-itis in pop – the demand that its stars, even if they’ve lived as rich and complex and contradictory a life as Cash did, continue to act the badass – is a perfect example of how the seriousness this piece argues for can cripple pop. How to be serious and exciting at the same time? Easy! Be angry! Be rebellious! Because winning excitement through goofiness or triteness or jokes is seen as a betrayal of seriousness.

The irony Jim’s arguing in favour of is at root a kind of listening complexity – the ability to hold, or at least consider, two positions on the same thing. The same piece of cheap pop music can be heartbreaking or banal depending on your situation and mood, and the greatness of great pop music lies in the way it refuses to bully you into one particular response. Dashboard Confessional, cited on Zenarchery as an example of ‘bad’ seriousness, aren’t bad because they’re stupid – they’re bad because they can be ‘got’ so easily, the only dimension they have is one of the serious response. (Of course, if you do need something to take really seriously, I’m sure they do a very good job.) Robinson is saying – I reckon – that music you can’t laugh at sometimes is worthless – you have to have the option of not taking something seriously before taking it seriously can mean anything.