Among the questions unexplored in the reams of news copy commemorating the 20th century’s end is the likely fate of Boomer Irony. Chatterbox agrees with Jedediah Purdy that there’s too much of it (though he hasn’t bothered to read Purdy’s book; Chatterbox feels that William McGowan covered the subject pretty comprehensively in a three-page article* published in the Washington Monthly in 1986, under the headline “Why David Letterman Is Bad for America”). But Chatterbox–who is, after all, a Boomer–is not willing entirely to give up the habit of discoursing ironically. It is therefore with some apprehension that Chatterbox views the coming of a new century.
Boomer Irony is, after all, a distinctly fin de siècle phenomenon. Here is how Britannica.com defines fin de siècle:
of, relating to, characteristic of, or resembling the late-19th-century literary and artistic climate of sophistication, escapism, extreme aestheticism, world-weariness, and fashionable despair. When used in reference to literature, the term essentially describes the movement inaugurated by the Decadentpoets of France and the movement called Aestheticismin England during this period.
Sound familiar? (To sample some bona fide fin de siècle art and poetry, click here.)
Bill Clinton’s sexual indiscretions (not to mention his casual perjury about them) make him a very fin de siècle president, though as a policymaker he’s clearly superior to William McKinley. Should history repeat itself, we should expect next year to elect a humorless, no-nonsense president like Teddy Roosevelt. (Chatterbox is not so fin de siècle as to contemplate that this president would take office as Roosevelt did–succeeding a predecessor who dies in office.) This speaks well for the chances of Al Gore** and Bill Bradley, and poorly for those of the smirky George W. Bush. (John McCain is a hard case, being conventionally brave and forthright but also kind of a cutup; his crack about propping up a dead Alan Greenspan à la Weekend at Bernie’s was very fin de siècle.) However, to give an appropriate nod to the underdogs, the TR model also speaks well for the chances of Gary Bauer, Orrin Hatch, and Alan Keyes (none of whom has an ironic or decadent bone in his body, as far as Chatterbox can see). You begin to see the cause for Chatterbox’s anxiety.
*edited by Chatterbox
**Though Gore does have an ironic, Boomerish sense of humor, he shows so little of it to the public that he might as well not have one.