The Power of Glibness

Paul Zummo - Glibness


The Internet has revolutionized communication and allowed ordinary citizens access to wider audiences, as well as an ability to disseminate information and opinions to ever widening circles. This is both a blessing and a curse. It also has led to the creation of  a certain type of internet celebrity. These are writers of, err, questionable talent who nonetheless attract a certain amount of attention and traffic mainly by writing shocking things. Few exemplify this type quite so well as Amanda Marcotte. Yesterday she demonstrated her unique ability to draw eyeballs to her scribbling by tweeting the following today after the birth of the future King of England:

I\’ll give everyone a couple of hours to enjoy this arbitrarily selected baby to gush over before I start reminding you of infant mortality.

— Amanda Marcotte (@AmandaMarcotte) July 22, 2013

Marcotte, who has spent a lot of time lately defending the practice of late-term abortion, decided that this was the opportune time to make a complete non sequitur that was meant to make some kind of point that must have made sense in her mind at some point.

Now perhaps I\’m just as guilty of drawing attention to Marcotte by singling her out in this blog post, but her comments (and there are many more if you follow the Twitchy link) help crystallize something that has bothered me about the current state of discourse, particularly among young secularists.

We are all likely familiar with the incident that took place in the halls of the Texas state legislature where a group of pro-abortionists began chanting \”Hail Satan!\” as pro-life demonstrators were singing \”Amazing Grace.\” Now the pro-aborts were attempting to make some kind of ironical point, though like Amanda Marcotta above I think the point got lost somewhere between when the idea germinated in their brains and when it escaped their lips. Of course those of us in the pro-life camp have snarked that there is some truth in advertising with their little ploy, but to me the incident spoke more about a generation caught in the snares of glib irony.

We see this irony on display all over social media, especially Twitter and Facebook. There are entire hipster subcultures that seemed to be completely enveloped by irony. Even the preferred choice of television programming among the hipster set demonstrates their affection for glib irony, particularly the one-two punch of the Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report featuring Stephen Colbert. To be sure not all fans of these programs are urban, secular hipsters, but they certainly make up a core constituency of both. Stewart in particular has made his bones with an approach that can best be described as snarkish bemusement. One of Stewart\’s go-to moves is to respond to some \”crazy\” bit of commentary (usually from Fox News, though he sometimes mocks MSNBC and other leftist establishments) by doing nothing more than staring wild-eyed in moch disbelief, soaking in the hearty applause of an audience eager to cheer his sheer genius.

Stewart is not alone. Another somewhat popular show among the under-30 set is Girls, a show that runs on HBO. One of the show\’s creators, Lena Dunham, made news during the 2012 election season by appearing in a commercial that compared voting for Barack Obama to losing one\’s virginity. Then on Memorial Day of this year she drew further derision by Tweeting, \”Happy Memorial Day! I\’ve already peed in two different Starbucks bathrooms.\” I\’ll wait while you stop laughing at this incredible witticism.

The reaction to this Tweet went too far, with more than a few conservatives willing to play up to stereotype as humorless scolds for her supposedly offensive dig at Memorial Day. I didn\’t think the Tweet offensive – just stupid and unfunny, like most of the things that Dunham has ever written. It was just another painful attempt at glib irony by a witless wonder unable to do anything more creative than engage in a metaphorical eye roll.

But this is the hallmark of many a young secularist. And while we can roll our eyes back in return at their drollness, I think actually this attitudinal pose is quite dangerous and helps undermine traditional values in ways that we do not fully appreciate.

You see this sort of glib attitude is buttressed by a fundamental belief that their values and opinions are so self-evidently correct that all contrary viewpoints are worth nothing more than a not-so-gentle scoffing. Anyone who believes that marriage is an institution solely for one man and one woman is a some fringe kook, and you\’ll be told as much. Now can they tell you why holding such an opinion merits nothing but scorn and mockery? Not really, other than to insist that the idiocy is self-evident, and being unaware of why you are so self-evidently wrong is further proof of your stupidity. Now here\’s a 20-picture slideshow from Buzzfeed to further cement the fact that you\’re a silly bean.

You may wonder why we should care. These are just young skulls full of mush, and their fundamental lack of seriousness should naturally be their undoing. The problem is that despite lacking any real foundation in their smug self-assertiveness, they exist in a cultural milieu which only provides nothing but reinforcement for their smug sanctimony. It is a vicious echo chamber that constantly reasserts the rightness of their causes. They don\’t have to formulate concrete philosophical arguments to justify their beliefs because it is taken as given by this cultural echo chamber that they are right. And so this mentality seeps into their collective consciousness, constantly reinforcing itself. So when someone happens to step into to their Twitter timeline to express a contrary opinion, nothing need be done than the virtual eye roll.

Generation Stewart\’s glibness is a far more potent force for secularism than even the most erudite philosophical arguments on its behalf. Rational arguments can be defeated by better and more logical rational arguments. But a glib determinism that constantly reinforces itself and paints the other side as absurd is actually more difficult to combat. In the case of homosexual marriage, we have a generation convinced in the fundamental rightness of their cause but who can formulate nothing more than \”because you\’re obviously a homophobe\” in response to criticisms of their position. But as long as this absolute steadfast position is shared by a majority of their peers, then they will never have to re-examine the basis of their position. And so it continues.

So while we shake our heads in unison at the frankly bizarre mutterings of an internet celebrity, we need to appreciate that this glibness has thousands of others nodding their heads in eager approval. And while we ourselves scoff at the inane ramblings of actors and actresses who take to social media and telvision to display what seems like their profound ignorance, also remember that these folks have millions of twitter followers and viewers and you and I don\’t, so who do you think has a greater ability to shape cultural attitudes?

© 2013. Paul Zummo. All Rights Reserved.

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8 thoughts on “The Power of Glibness”

  1. Pingback: | SNL casts Lena Dunham as ‘Eve’ in the Garden of Eden

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  4. I couldn’t agree more with you Paul, and you articulate so well what is surely the demise of any truly intelligent thought. Unfortunately it is the truth and it depresses me if I think on it too much! At any rate, I appreciate your insight.

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  6. You may wonder why we should care. These are just young skulls full of mush, and their fundamental lack of seriousness should naturally be their undoing.

    Seeing as how those “young” skulls include those well into their thirties…..

    1. Yeah, I would say the generation I’m talking about includes many close to my age (mid-30s).

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