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The Age of Irony is a term used to define a period of cynicism in society in which extreme beliefs or emotions are not taken seriously or dismissed altogether, typically through vehicles such as black comedy, satire, sarcasm, or absurdity. Some suggest that this reaction, particularly in Western society, stems from a sense of invulnerability to the extremities of horror and chaos experienced in other parts of the world. Conversely, others theorize that the sense of detachment arose as a defense mechanism to cope with feelings of extreme vulnerability.
The issues of when the Age of Irony began, and whether or not we are still living in it are often debated. Many associate it with the era of postmodernism, which is generally agreed to have begun in the late 20th century. In “Critic's Notebook: The Age of Irony Isn't Over After All”, Michiko Kakutani notes that the popularity of the theme song to the hit TV show, M*A*S*H, “Suicide is Painless”, is one early example. A more recent example is the success of Michael Moore’s post September 11 documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11", which acknowledges the extreme suffering of Americans caused by the terrorist attacks, and also implicates the country’s leaders and culture of violence simultaneously.
Less than three weeks following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, Roger Rosenblatt predicted in his Time magazine article, “The Age Of Irony Comes To An End”, that the attacks heralded a new and chastened time in which the horrors of grief and bereavement would usher in an awakened sincerity. However, in “The Final Irony," written two years later and featured in the UK’s The Guardian, Zoe Williams pointed out that the Age of Irony did not end at that time, and is, ironically, thriving.
Advancements in new media and the communication capabilities of the Internet seem to have supported the survival of the Age of Irony into the new millennium. Websites such as The Onion and Funny or Die regularly parody serious topics such as the War in Iraq and America’s economic meltdown. Television shows such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and This Hour Has 22 Minutes, which all pose as television news reports, also satirize current topics, and frequently mix serious issues alongside absurd issues for further irony.