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Jon Stewart: Wrong?

November 27, 2009

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A couple weeks ago in this post I mentioned this video of Jon Stewart taking MSNBC’s new morning show Morning Joe to task over their Starbucks sponsorship. As always, Jon is on point, neatly dissecting the absurdity of the MSNBC team’s seemingly odd relationship with their show’s patron.

Or so I thought.

As much as I appreciate Jon’s fiendish logic, I wonder if we haven’t moved into some bizarro cultural landscape that I would characterize as post-ironic. In the post-ironic cultural landscape we are so hyper-aware of the irony of any given situation, rather than using the irony as a tool for critique, we embrace it by drawing attention to it, while simultaneously accepting it. Advertising today teems with examples of this condition. In post-ironic advertising, advertisers and their partners are hyper-aware of the purported soulless/sell-out nature of their business. To appeal to an audience that they perceive (somewhat correctly) as being as cynical about advertising as they are, they demonstrate this awareness in nod-and-wink fashion to suggest authenticity, that they’re on the level, that we’re all in on the game. Thus, in today’s cultural climate, as much as Jon Stewart – idealist that he is – would like it to be different, it is valid for Joe Scarborough to claim that they were being sarcastic (except that he was actually confusing sarcasm and irony, but oh well) about their show’s sponsorship, because we have moved beyond the belief that someone who endorses a product really “loves” it. It’s merely brand association and a way to pump dollars into the programming. Or an attempt to have your cake and eat it too.

We’ve been moving into this space for a long time now. In my mind, the tipping point had to be this infamous clip from Wayne’s World, probably the most epochal example of what I am trying to describe.

More recent examples include:

Brands such as Pepsi buying airtime on SNL to be featured in mockumercials.

The current crop of Old Spice commercials.

Weezer’s post-ironic promotional parody Snuggie infomercial that says, “Isn’t the whole post-industrial mass commercialization of everything just such a farce? That’s why we’re offering a free crap product from those infomercials you see on tv all the time to help promote our new album!”

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