Hi, I’m Being Sarcastic, and Other News


On the Shelf

Just joking around, drinking milk in the sun.


  • How about irony, huh? It’s complicated! On the Internet, any ironic message broadcast beyond certain narrow parameters has the irony sucked out of it like bone marrow: blockheads and buffoons get ahold of your words and are all like, Is that some kind of joke? Do you think that’s funny? We’re a post-joke society, and the situation is dire. Amelia Tait has diagnosed our cultural disease, and she proposes a radical solution: a full-time sarcasm font. “We now live in a time where people are being divided right down the middle on social media into camps called ‘Yes, Enlightened’ and ‘No, Very Bad.’ In the world of woke, one misunderstood joke runs the risk of ruining someone’s reputation. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I must suggest an immediate worldwide implementation of a sarcasm font … I want everything sarcastic to henceforth be written in that one WordArt that is all wavey and blue and great for GCSE Geography projects on the Savanna. Any time a satirical article is written, the whole thing will be bright and blue so that no one need pop over to the Facebook comment section to wish the author would be forcibly taken from their bed at dawn and shot in the face. The future of our fragmented society relies on this, more than anything else.”

  • In search of himself, Carvell Wallace goes west, to the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering—but the culture he discovers there is even more rife with complications of race and privilege than the one he left: “I had an image of cowboy poets as something very close to how I saw myself. Not culturally, but spiritually. People who find beauty in the simplest things. People who like to wander. People who become overwhelmed with feeling and need to write it out … but for some reason I couldn’t focus. It occurred to me that while I really wanted to be here, I kind of didn’t want to be here. I would have been excited to be a fly on the wall, hearing the music, listening to the poets, taking in the ranching tales. But I didn’t want to be me here. I didn’t want to be a black writer from Oakland walking through a room full of cowboys.”
  • With Geert Wilders soundly rebuked in yesterday’s election, let us turn our attention to finer aspects of Dutch culture: short stories about insane people. The Penguin Book of Dutch Short Stories, a new anthology edited by the perfectly named Joost Zwagerman, collects thirty-six quintessential fictions from the Netherlands. As one critic writes, “Together they map a landscape of the imagination that is far from flat and never dull. Zwagerman, a prolific writer who committed suicide in 2015, says in the preface that the writers he selects share one aim: ‘to give a voice to madness’ … Readers abroad should hearken to that literary voice in all its cliché-busting oddity. Rational calculation and amiable consensus do not invariably govern Dutch heads and hearts. Dig beneath the topsoil of ‘this supposedly hard-headed country,’ advises Zwagerman, and you hit a contradictory layer of ‘contemplative arch-romantics’ and ‘reserved iconoclasts.’ ”
  • In the (surprisingly resilient) brouhaha surrounding Gay Talese’s book The Voyeur’s Motel, Michelle Dean sees the fault lines of New Journalism—a series of problems that have followed its original practitioners, Talese especially, into this century. As masterly as they can be, she writes, it’s hard to buy their claims that “they were deeper reporters than others, and they used the literary techniques and fine prose of fiction to help capture the ways that all reporting is, in part, subjective. That they were preceded in this by American journalists reaching back to Nellie Bly, who innovated many of their techniques long before them, most of the New Journalists never seemed to acknowledge. Their eagerness, above all else, was to claim their novelty, and in retrospect, it seems that this may have been the most radical thing they did: to elevate the writer’s style and personality above the subject matter … Today, they are venerated by other journalists for having finally managed to become famous merely as bylines. But look, oh look, where it has got them.”