Mr Brightside: Sincerity

Dan Leigh 5 May 2014

Prince, thou art sad; get thee a wife, get thee a wife!
-Benedick to Don Pedro, Much Ado About Nothing (V, IV, 120-1)

I live my life behind the protective screen of irony. Everything seems a lot safer when viewed from a wry distance with a self-awareness that is indulgently aware of itself. A conscious removal from what is going on around you, even when you are participating in it yourself, creates a buffer zone which one can use as an excuse when faced with criticism or failure.

It also makes you feel clever.

Now this is all based on my own experience, but judging by actual people I have actually met and actual TV shows I have seen, irony is prevalent, very popular and judged to be intelligent. It offers a very seductive way of life, but a potentially all-encompassing one that can shut you off from doing and enjoying things wholeheartedly. And that is why I am writing this totally non-ironic defence of sincerity.

Irony can be pretty funny.                                                  Credit: Adrian Wallett

Sincerity encompasses all things that are actually there and happening. Irony is basically non-existent: it is a detached reaction to actual things that cannot stand without the thing that it is commenting upon. Irony is totally dependent on sincerity existing somewhere. The removal that takes place in irony has the effect of diluting sincerity; this often makes it more malleable, but less powerful. Irony reduces involvement and this puts a limit on all the different emotional engagements a person can have with a thing, positive and negative. Irony is often used as a safeguard against the negative at the expense of realising the full potential of the positive.

Irony is dangerous.

I was about to apologise for all this pseudo-intellectual theorising, but to support my argument I will not, and as a result I am having more fun.

The quotation I have used from Much Ado About Nothing as an epigraph demonstrates this idea more clearly. Throughout the play, Don Pedro teases Benedick about his renunciation of love and marriage, and attempts to foster a relationship between him and Beatrice through trickery in order to make him look silly and hypocritical. After many twists and turns he is successful, and at the final wedding scene he aims further jibes at his friend, asking ‘how goes Benedick, the married man?’ Benedick’s happy response, concluding with the mocking ‘get thee a wife’, turns the tables on the Don by pointing out that although he has had fun with all his ironic mockery, Benedick is the one left with something tangible at the end of it. Don Pedro has only his wit to keep him warm.

WWSD: What would Shakespeare do?                                   Credit: Tonynetone

You might say that it is ironic that I am deriving a way of life from plays, and you would be right. That is one of the problems of irony: it is inescapable. Yet I think that Shakespeare has a real point here. And a more real life example would actually be the engagement people have with media: admitting you love Shakespeare to the extent that you would analyse him in a column that isn’t supposed to be an essay for your supervisor may bring much derision and scorn, and I would maybe look towards irony to protect me from that. But it makes me much happier to indulge in my dorkdom wholeheartedly than to arbitrarily temper it in a bid to save face.

So enjoy things in all their full glory. Don’t be afraid to involve yourself in something totally, even though you risk mockery and failure. By all means be ironic, but don’t totally detach yourself from the beauty of the thing itself. Sincerity may be uncool, but it can make you so much happier.

And before I go, a short list of some awesome pieces of sincerity:

The Simpsons
Seasons 2 and 3, and particularly Lisa’s Substitute.

The Office UK
If you don’t believe me, watch the second Christmas special again.

Bruce Springsteen songs
Even Born in the USA is sincere in its irony.

Annie Hall
The hilarious jokes all occur around a sincere portrayal of a dying relationship.

Werner Herzog documentaries
Especially Encounters at the End of the World.

Jane Austen novels
Especially Pride and Prejudice and Emma.

James Joyce’s Ulysses
Bit of an ask I know, but you can just read sections and it will still be worth it.