The author focuses on irony and lack of seriousness in art. But the hegemony of irony is certainly something I’ve noticed getting more and more widespread in recent years. It seems to be the default position of most millennials, for example, at least in their public personae.
I haven’t quoted Milan Kundera for a while, but the ironic stance towards life seems to be a subset of what he calls “lightness” versus heaviness in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being [emphasis mine]:
But is heaviness truly deplorable and lightness splendid? The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in the love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body. The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously the image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of a burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”
But belief (in religion, for example) can lend both heaviness and lightness to life. Belief in God—especially one with standards who makes judgments—can mean that each act has weight on a scale larger than our individual identities and lifespans. But at the same time, belief in redemption and grace can mean that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Many people seem to crave heaviness and significance. If it’s absent (through lack of faith, the rise of moral and cultural relativism, or the prevalence of relative ease in terms of basic survival), they will tend to seek it out in other circumscribed areas of their lives. Thus we have a very serious attitude indeed on the part of the young, especially towards racism (imagined or otherwise), sexism, homophobia, and anthropomorphic climate change, to name a few. Heaviness can’t be banished; it sneaks in the back door.
Is the left aware of this? You betcha, and more.
[ADDENDUM: From commenter “Mac,” this article on Letterman’s ironic influence. I don’t quite agree that Letterman did it practically single-handedly, but he certainly had a lot more than a bit part in the spread of irony as the default position.]