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Irony

Seong-Young Her

This is a Category Document: it’s a living note that I regularly add to, unlike articles, which are stable.

Last updated 2022-04-03

Thinking about what “irony” means in the post-ironic era

In the mid-2010s, the term “ironic meme” was a catch-all for memes that deviated from traditionalist memes. Traditionalist memes, for all of their diversity of form, were quite rigidly prescriptivist in their logics; there were right ways and wrong ways to use a meme, which were generally decided by tradition. As such, traditionalist memes entailed participants who were expected to correctly observe the rituals and traditions embedded in the memes. Such expectations could be fulfilled or subverted.

Ironic memes were much more disembodied than traditionalist memes. By this, I mean that the perceived causal link the memer and the meme was splintering:

Richard Wollheim, in his magisterial and timeless Art and Its Objects (1980), says:

I’m not sure whether this is in spite of or precisely because of the heightened awareness about the gene-meme analogy among many of their users (of course, most users have never cared very much for the concept or its etymology). Memeculturalists generally distrusted memetic engineering, even as they engaged in the practice, partly in reaction against astroturfing, but also as a part of the anti-reputational nature of many memecultures during the pre-ironic era; it was therefore something that people did or didn’t do. The drift from the agentive framework of thinking about irony, as in “ironic shitposting is still shitposting” (and the distaste for, and hostility against, “forcing memes”), towards the meme-centric framework of thinking about irony (“is this meme ironic, or not?”) is clearly an important point of difference here.

The post-ironic era seems not so much a return to agentive thinking but the completion of the ongoing inversion about the meme and the shitposter, culminating in the notion that virtual identities are fundamentally memetic. So much so that, instead of asking whether we can clearly communicate ironic intent (the “sarcasm font” being one of Elder Millennials’ holy grails of digital communication), users ask whether it’s possible to be sincere:


Pages Attached to Irony


  • When You Drink [water] Seong-Young Her
    Post-ironic memes are great because they are meaningful. Meaningful memes bring us closer to the dream of the timeless meme, just like early comics artists who aspired towards serious literature with an ostensibly unserious medium.
  • Defining ‘Normie’, ‘Casual’, ‘Ironist’ and ‘Autist’ In Internet Subcultures Seong-Young Her
    The following is my take on doing the same for online subcultures. I do this by clarifying the definitions of three highly popular terms used on the Internet to describe different kinds of subcultural participants, and clarifying the concept of the ironist in the context of online subcultures.
  • Post-Irony against Meta-Irony Seong-Young Her & Masha Zharova
    The Ironic Meme Movement was a reaction against the mainstream co-option of the subcultural products of the underground; an attempt to create incorruptible inside jokes. The Ironics employed defensive strategies which paralleled that of the punks against the commercialization of their own subculture. Like the punks, they failed.
  • The Revised Quadrant Model S. Y. Her
    Revised model of the four quadrants model of irony.
  • The Revised Quadrant Model S. Y. Her
    Revised model of the four quadrants model of irony.
  • The Ironic Normie Thomas Rososchansky
    On some parts of the Internet the term ‘normie’ is used to define anyone who does not fully comprehend the humour and language of certain communities. A normie is usually seen as someone who has a social life outside of the Internet, and who does not know, or care, about its obscure customs. In this particular case, the term is as much an accusation as a label, expressing disdain toward anyone who is unaware of the growing community of Ironic memes.
  • Bane, Loss and Phylogeny S. Y. Her
    I have been developing a theory of Internet Memes, through which I hope to operationalize memetics for the scientific analysis of Internet Meme culture. Here is a case study I used to test and develop some of my models.
  • The Quadrant System for the Categorization of Internet Memes S. Y. Her
    Memes are not just art they are art-concepts, necessarily materialized cybernetically. This means their analysis must always be two-tiered, firstly, memetic; secondly, aesthetic.