by Therese Eby
Besieged behind your brass-bound books, dust
embanking the bastion that binds
valor and love in paper confines—
there, my dear, you’ve stationed your trust:
pining for swords in words that won’t rust,
consuming the art, the grammar of rhymes
that flourish in hearts and batter in minds,
seeking the knowledge of ages unrushed.
Yet, since you won’t venture outside your head
or unsheathe the wisdom of all you’ve learned,
but bury your eyes and your heart in a tome,
and since I compete with men who are dead,
my last recourse is (as a woman spurned)
to render, per force, myself to a poem.
What you are about to read is a non-poem made out of the most unpoetical substance in the world: office jargon. It is composed entirely of fragments of phraseology heard in actual offices today. The only thing missing is the pronouncements of your own colleagues and superiors. Leave a comment with phrases you hear at the office today, and we’ll incorporate them.
Move forward, resources! Utilize
mandated features. Move our mission forward,
both on the same page as far as timewise.
Utilize ideation, tentatively exploring
a co-venture. It’s important to make sure
we’re trying to match all this energetically
until optimal utilization is achieved.
Utilize value-added services.
both on the same page as far as timewise
— Joseph Prever (@stevegershom) November 20, 2014
@GrackleRag anything about “our mission.”
— Sarah M (@SarahIsTired) November 20, 2014
@GrackleRag “It’s important to make sure we’re trying to match all this energetically until optimal utilisation is achieved.”
— Samuel Dodson (@InstantIdealism) November 20, 2014
@GrackleRag Utilize. Utilize, utilize, utilize. Value-added services. Mandated feature.
— Elizabeth Herreid (@eliz_herreid) November 20, 2014
@GrackleRag Tentatively exploring a co-venture.
— Elizabeth Herreid (@eliz_herreid) November 20, 2014
If you’ve seen The Lego Movie, you know that its tone is playful, self-deprecating, and whimsical. It has themes, but refuses to be ponderous about them. When the Master Builder Vitruvius states the moral message of the film in so many words (something along the lines of “You are special if you believe you are”), he follows up right away with a disclaimer: “I know it sounds like a cat poster, but it’s true.”
Of course, this disclaimer draws a laugh if you happen to be thinking exactly that before he says it. But the joke is also supposed to be cathartic. If you’re given permission to laugh at the silliness of the theme, maybe you can move past derision and also accept the message.
What is it about a platitude that makes us gag? Do we just think it’s wrong? Then all we need is to be reminded that truisms are true, and the nausea will subside. But that isn’t enough, is it? We also need to be able to laugh it off. Because a platitude is worse than false–it’s ridiculous. Innocent of all worldly wisdom, radiating naïveté, it is a sitting duck for mockery. If you are ever on the internet (apparently, you are), you’ve probably digested enough mockery that when you hear something high and empty sounding, you can already hear its ironic echoes resounding through the feeds and streams. It’s as inevitable as the closing bars of a song, that smug moral pronouncements will soon be reduced to sneering travesties.
Call it bathetic cadence.
Now if you want to repeat a platitude in an atmosphere like this, what do you do? You inoculate it, by mocking it yourself. There’s no satisfaction for mockers in taking you down if you’ve done it yourself in advance. Where I come from, we call that an “apotropaism.”
*laughes at all my haters* lol the jokes on u. theres no way u can hate me mor than i hate myselbf
— jomny sun (@jonnysun) April 5, 2014
This is exactly what Vitruvius does when he delivers the message of the movie. (Frozen makes a similar move by having its moral not intoned by a weathered sage but casually dropped by a confirmed idiot.) Children don’t need such apologies, but their parents do, because we’ve grown up in an age of irony. If we want to share an earnest moment with our children, it has to be post-ironic. It has to give us permission to laugh it to scorn even as we take it in.
What do these post-ironic apotropaisms (consider this your take-away phrase to sound impressive when you are describing this article to your friends) mean? Calling them “post-“ironic implies that we’ve made some progress. Irony must have been a step in the right direction or we’d be trying to get back to the “pre-” ironic. Getting past irony must be even better.
But where have we gotten? A platitude in brackets is still a platitude. If receiving it from a self-deprecating source keeps us from rejecting it, maybe we were rejecting it for the wrong reasons. We should reject platitudes not because they are ridiculous or even because they are false, but because the problems they solve are always inconsequential. Wanting to feel special, for instance, is a distraction from actually doing something that matters, whether it gives you a sense of fulfillment or not. If we simply override our disgust at platitudes, then we are losing the benefit of an ironic sensibility that protects us from such self-satisfied affirmations.
What we need is a post-post-ironic sensibility that is not just a return to irony but an improvement on the whole fruitless back-and-forth between irony and sincerity. Irony can and should be charitable and edifying instead of cynical and destructive. Sincerity does not have to be naive and trite. It can be literate and profound.
If you wanted to listen to Rictor Jomes bare his heart and reveal his secrets, this is not your lucky day. But if you want to hear him dodge questions and prevaricate, you have come to the right place. Last year I had the sad fate of interviewing Mr. Jomes over the telephone, and I am sorry to say that I am now sharing the first 10 minutes of that conversation with you.
And if for some insupportable reason you want to suffer through more of this kind of thing, then all you need do to further explore Rictor Jomes’s factory of lies is to click this attractive button and relinquish $9 from your bank account:
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