We All Come From Somewhere, Part 2: Stryper, Nascar, Slow Dancing, and Irony.

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(We All Come From Somewhere, Part 1.)

What did I think would happen? I suppose I hadn’t really thought about it. Still, what actually did happen came to me as a bit of a surprise.

The concert started at 7:30, the doors opened at 6:00. At around 5:00, I stopped by the venue to buy my ticket. What did I see? A line. There was a line. Fans were already gathering so they could get right up to the front of the stage—fans wearing Stryper t-shirts and holding records they hoped to get autographed.

Why did this surprise me? It wasn’t that Stryper had fans. Of course they had fans. The surprise was how willing these fans were to identify themselves as such. And even more, how unwilling I was to do the same.

Lest you think I’m using Stryper or their fans as the punch line of a joke, let me explain myself. For close to a decade of my life, when I told people I was a Stryper fan it was a badge of pride. Then there came another decade where, when I mentioned liking them, people thought I was joking and I sheepishly denied it. Now I’m in a decade where people buy music, concert tickets, and t-shirts for ’80s big-hair metal because they think it’s “ironic.”

To like something “ironically” is to like something that wasn’t meant for you, and to like it for reasons other than those originally meant to make it appealing. One example might be going to a Nascar race mainly to observe Nascar fans in their natural habitat, though you have no idea how the scoring system works or who the drivers are. Let’s be honest, irony played a much bigger role than Nascar ever did in making Ricky Bobby a household name.

(The Onion created a pretty good – and funny – video explanation of what I’m talking about here.)

As the line formed, I realized I didn’t exactly know how I was supposed to feel about this concert. Was I supposed to be excited to see my one-time favorite band? Did I think the concert would be, in some way, funny? Was I there for ironic reasons? Would I maybe get nostalgic for a time long past? Or would I end up loving every minute?

And who were these people in line with me? They were mostly my age. When they were kids, they probably covered their bedroom walls with the same posters I had. Could it be that these were, in fact, my people? Could it be that though we’d perhaps weathered the ’90s differently, we had each come to gather on this common ground—ground we all felt, at some point in our lives, was the soil from which we’d grown?

I played it cool and kept my distance. The last thing in the world I wanted was to get into some conversation with a stranger about what we hoped would make the set-list, or whether the band would be wearing yellow and black spandex, or if vinyl was truer than digital.

I slipped into the venue and climbed up to the balcony where I planned to observe the show from a distance. But so help me, by the middle of the second song I found myself headed for the stairs to stand among the crowd right in front of the stage. Why? Because my favorite band from high school was putting on an amazing live show. They moved me from being a distant observer to being a part of the experience.

A couple days after the Stryper concert, one of my more recent favorites, Josh Ritter, played a rare full band show here in the city I love. During that show, he helped me make sense of my experience at the Stryper concert. Toward the middle of the crowd favorite, “Kathleen,” Ritter’s band shifted into a slow waltz and he began to talk about how we’ve come to regard so many things we used to love as funny now. He reminded us that there was a time when we bought Hallmark cards for the sentiments they expressed, not for the humor of how cheesy they could be. Then he invited us to do something I hope I’ll never forget. I’m paraphrasing, but here’s what he said:

“In all this love of irony, I wonder if we’re forgetting how to love things for what they are. And I wonder how much we’re staying on the sidelines for the sake not feeling awkward when what we could do is become a part of something beautiful. Let’s do something real tonight. Let’s put away our cynicism for a moment, and lets create a beautiful piece of art together. Turn around and find someone—anyone, it doesn’t matter—and lets share a very short, very loving slow dance. Just find someone. It doesn’t matter who. And if it doesn’t work, just bounce off to someone else. Let’s turn this room into the biggest slow dance in this city.”

This was a risky thing for Ritter to ask of his audience. We spend a lot of energy working hard to distance ourselves from things that move us. But do you know what happened? The people responded. The concert transformed into a dance hall, and every last person in the room was smiling from ear to ear whether they danced or not. Why? I think it was because the moment became what Ritter was hoping it could be—a work of art.

I think the phenomenon of liking things ironically is disingenuous and self-protective. It comes across to me as more of a boast: “I laugh at the things that actually seem to stir the hearts others.” But, just as C. S. Lewis said that “an atheist cannot guard his beliefs too carefully,” the same can be said of anyone who attempts to like something ironically.

The beautiful flaw in liking something “ironically,” is that if you’re not careful, what you start off liking primarily for the way it plays in our culture eventually begins to grow on you, and you start liking it for what it really is. And when you start to like something for what it actually is, then your heart gets involved. And when your heart gets involved, you move from the balcony to the front of the stage. And when you move to the front of the stage, you begin to participate. And when you participate, you begin to grow and change, and dare I say, enjoy yourself.

Those people in line? They were my people. We had so much fun.

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian’s Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003).

Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


15 Comments

  1. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Well done, Russ. I like this and you, totally non-ironically.

    This hits home to me. I need to hear this.

    Also, it makes me think of a generation schooled in public discourse by The Daily Show. Scornful, mocking, hip, and above it all, able to restore sanity by feeling superior to earnest people. Hooray for us, we’re better than you.

  2. James S.

    Amen, this is great!

    Irony and sarcasm were the languages of my childhood and those of so many others. It seems so harmless and joking, but when I talk to my brothers and peers wounding and heartache seem to be the rule and not the exception.

    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Caleb Morris

    It took guts to post that mullet pic. After the first Stryper post I went to YouTube and had fun catching up with them.

    S.D. Smith, I love your comment about the hip, cynical generation. Unable to take anything seriously but themselves.

  4. Alice Mayfield

    Wow that was intense. I’m just in awe at some of the things you said.

    “And when you participate, you begin to grow and change, and dare I say, enjoy yourself.”
    “We spend a lot of energy working hard to distance ourselves from things that move us.”

  5. James Witmer

    I learned in college the self-protective tactics of irony and sarcasm. I learned to look for the ridiculous and point it out as bitingly as possible. As long as I could keep it up, it was less likely that someone would be doing it to the things I truly loved.

    It’s soul-destroying, as CS Lewis’s Srewtape writes:

    Among flippant people the joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies they have already found the ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour plating against the [Lord] that I know. It is a thousand miles away from joy; it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

    It’s been a long journey back to being who God made me, even when that’s goofy or overly sincere (which can be goofy). Many of the RR artists have helped. And a couple of months ago I stumbled across this quote by author John Green, whose writing I have never read:

    Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff. We don’t have to be like, ‘Oh yeah that purse is okay’ or like, ‘Yeah, I like that band’s early stuff.’ Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself-love it. …When people call people nerds, mostly what they are saying is, ‘You like stuff’, which is just not a good insult at all, like ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.’

    I like that.
    Thanks for sharing this, Russ.

  6. Aaron

    My generation has been dubbed ‘the ironic generation’, who, ironically, don’t understand what irony actually is.

    Keeping a safe distance from joy is exhausting. God help us participate.

  7. Eowyn

    I’m not one of the “ironics” generation, but I know that I don’t tell people about many of my interests because of fear – fear that they’ll think it’s stupid, that they’ll ridicule me, think I’m immature. (No, of course I don’t write YA fiction about spies and fantasy!)

    Anyway, it’s not just you guys, those of us still in high school still struggle with admitting that we like stuff that others don’t (or that we think don’t). I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve been following The Hobbit trilogy with fangirl-ish-ness that I should’ve grown out of. Or should I? I enjoy it, I’m not obsessed with it.

    We should be free to enjoy things, and not make a self-deprecating joke about the fact.

    Thanks for that, Russ. 🙂

  8. Jen

    And… ouch. Truth. I have been victim of the irony disease, and am still learning how to come down from the balcony. Thanks for this. Man, I wish I’d been at that Josh Ritter show now….

    (also, I laughed out loud at The Onion video)

  9. Josh Kemper

    This is how I feel about AudioAdrenaline. They were my highschool band. Many of my friends liked them “ironically”, but I never felt right about that. I like AC/DC ironically, but not AudioA because I felt like they really meant what they sang. And this reminds me of an article published here at the rabbit room about Steve Perry. The author (was it the Proprietor?) wrote about how so many people thought Steve’s exuberant, romantic, over-the-top lyrics and music were a joke, but he meant it from his heart. I can’t imagine how hurtful that is. When I’m listening to “I’m Cryin'” I don’t enjoy it “ironically”. Most people probably do. I really take in the emotion. Sometimes I laugh, but it’s mostly out of amazement that they were able to express such powerful emotion (and so well!) with their instruments. It’s not music that most people can enjoy, but it doesn’t need to be mocked.

    Thank you Russ for articulating this point so well.

  10. Greg

    Hey! My generation understands irony just fine. It’s like rain. On your wedding day.

    See? Firm grasp.

  11. Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Aaaaaaaand there it is. I figured that song would get a mention at some point, and I hoped whoever did it wouldn’t waste their shot. Nicely played Greg. Nicely played.

  12. Greg

    I have a theory about that song. Everyone makes fun of it because most of the examples or irony aren’t actually ironic. Ha ha… Alanis doesn’t understand irony.

    Except… wouldn’t it be ironic to write a song called “ironic” and the lyrics are all things that aren’t actually ironic?

    Maybe the joke is on us…

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