11/13/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Irony of Irony

Advertising has a knack of co-opting all that stands in opposition to it. This is no different with ironic skewering of Madison Avenue. Urban Outfitters sells ersatz retro t-shirts with slogans like "getting lucky in Kentucky". What was once satire of slogans is now ironic slogan for consumerism.

Where does this leave our counter culture -- if such a thing even exists anymore? Do we battle the co-option of irony with yet another level of irony? Think Stuff White People Like. Or do we try and engender more earnestness?

I tend to go for the latter. Oftentimes the first level of irony is hard enough to grasp without adding another layer. There is only so meta you can get and still reach a broad swath of people. When I say young people should be more civically engaged I do so without cynicism. I really do think we can make a difference in the world! It is easy to be smug and snide. It is much harder to posit your own beliefs.

Now don't get me wrong, I love biting sarcasm and satirizing American politics and culture as much as the next Brooklyn 20-something, but when the snark becomes affected attitude rather than a tool for pointing out hypocrisy and absurdity it becomes tiresome.

Can I subvert corporate capitalism through my clothing choices and sardonic detachment? Probably not. Can I register people to vote by sincerely telling them why I think it is important? Most definitely.

Because of the anxiety and alienation caused by modern society, people yearn for authentic interaction and a sense of belonging -- whether they consciously realize it or not. This is part of the reason millions of us join social networking sites. The co-opted cynical detachment about playing the role of consumer can make us realize the human desire for meaningful connection and action. In other words, the very forces that separate us provide an opportunity to bring us together, which, if you think about it, is kind of ironic.