Shakira, you eminent classicist, your casual song-lyric reference to lycanthropy makes me literally love the world. You know that feeling when you get an out-of-nowhere rush of love for someone? Or for somewhere or something, or just for people in general for being so weird and funny and great sometimes that it makes your stomach twist and leap. You know when the world is so achingly beautiful you can’t quite believe it’s real and you want to snog the sky; and the sunset’s so goddamn nice you can only point at it, helpless and dumb, and say ‘Look. Look!’ Look at it’, but you can’t capture it cos you don’t have the photographic skills or an SLR and your picture comes out looking embarrassed. And when you’re dancing with strangers and you think- ahh. You are but friends I haven’t got to know yet; and when you’re sixteen and you spend an entire week with butterflies and restless legs because you have a tiny crush but your dreams are enormous.
These are the kinds of roaring clichés that make you realise how onomatopoeic the word cringe is.
We have a problem in this country with sincerity. I’m cringing as I write this, even though all of the above is actually factually true. Because you can’t write that. We all know that pink skies are pretty—especially when they have that ray of light breaking through the clouds like the finger of god thing—and people can be surprising, and YouTube videos of pandas dancing to Teach Me How to Dougie are heart-warming and hilarious. We all know this, but you can’t say it. Call yourself a writer? Where’s your sly cynical twist, your ironic flourish? Sentiment and sincerity are trite, unoriginal, flabby, done; cynical ironizing is fresh, sharp, individual.
Except it’s not, is it. The sadly departed genius, David Foster Wallace, nailed this conundrum in his essay on television ‘E Unibus Pluram’. The only antidote to television’s homogenised sentimentality was to turn against it in a fit of meta-televisual satire, in a way that was, like, totally self-deprecating and self-aware. It became self-conscious of being a medium of the crowd, but used this mass-influence to pastiche individuality by ironizing its own groupthink earnestness and, thereby, lack of originality. I know, I know: television, right? What am I like? But this mushy-gushy mode is really just an edgy post-modern joke, it whispers, and only you get it, you smart cookie. You’re one of a kind. As is your fetching moustache.
Turns out perpetual, deathless irony is not that big and it’s not that clever, because when you use cynicism as the cover-all antidote to sickly mass-market sentiment, it doesn’t make it fresh and original; it becomes a new form of syrupy triteness, hidden behind a give-a-shit exterior. And I say this as someone who prides themself on being queen of the sarcateers, mistress of my own ironic kingdom, and prone to cynical rants about suitcases on tubes and inadequate indicator usage. I’m all about the sarc; I get shying away from sincerity when it just feels a bit too vulnerable to go around all starry eyed, all believing in people and stuff, with your blood-slick organs and shimmering sinews exposed meatily to the world. But if, underneath, you really think these things, if you genuinely look down on people going about their lives and enjoying what they enjoy; if you scorn the warm and fuzzies, constantly correct and wilfully contradict at every turn, well…you’re probably a bit shit. And you probably don’t get many invitations to come round for cheese, or to watch 80s films and drink rum from the bottle, and bros. I love me some stilton.
Case in point, while other cultures joyfully celebrate their traditional dress and heritage with genuine feeling, of our own heritage we just have the cheek-tonguing fridge-magnet saying: ‘you should try everything once, except incest and Morris dancing.’ Now I’m not suggesting coupling up with a cousin, but I don’t know why Morris dancing is subject to such disparagement. Hey, they’re just people who relish the sentimentality of an ancient tradition; who are truly and sincerely invested in it; who like to dress up in funny outfits; who have a bit of a fetish for bells, maybe.
By all means, let’s maintain the cynical cast and refusal to take things too seriously that’s become our new national heritage, but there’s a little room for some wide-eyed sincerity too. So go on, let it all out. Look around you and take it all in: sky! Trees! Dancing! Faces! Glitter! Stem-cell research! Grab your funny-looking Morris dancer shin pads and feel that good ole emotion pour. Take a deep breath now. And just say it.
Hello trees. Hello sky. Hello world.