“March 24, 2013. William is the cutest guy in class, but I’ve moved on. Now I have a major crush on Edward Cullen. If only he were a real person… (sigh),” reads my childhood diary. My entries from that year were full of musings about sexy vampires and lyrics from Taylor Swift’s new album Red. If a normal girl like Bella Swan could score a guy way out of her league, why couldn’t I? I remember it all too well.
A few years later, though, I was so ashamed of my long-time love for cringy girlish media that I tried to erase every trace of it. My “Twilight” posters were crumpled up and thrown in the trash, and my One Direction CDs lay hidden under piles of clothes in my closet. The internalized misogyny had finally kicked in — a natural response to the public perception of being a shameless Swiftie.
For a long time, any enjoyment of trashy vampire novels or silly pop songs had to be cloaked in a thick layer of irony in order to be viewed as acceptable by society. No self-respecting 17-year-old would actually admit that they still belt the chorus to “I Knew You Were Trouble” in the shower, right? So-called “ironic” media consumption became the solution to the constant subjugation of media primarily enjoyed by preteen girls, especially on the internet.
But I found that I had been tainted by ironic detachment for so long that embracing cringy content became a satirical performance of pleasure. I religiously watched each episode of “The Bachelorette,” but confidently assured my friends that I still hated every person on the show. It was enough to fool myself into thinking that I was still above this thing that I was so bent on making fun of.
Whether by disguising it as a guilty pleasure, or framing it as a kind of camp sensibility, I was able to justify watching aesthetically inferior — even morally objectionable — content. Transgressing this imaginary boundary between “good” media and “bad” media meant reconciling this contradiction in the public eye.
It was in these formative teen years that I started to realize the blatant whiteness of all my favorite childhood media. But rather than being kinder to myself by understanding the challenges of growing up without better representations of people of color like me, I dove deeper into spirals of shame and self-loathing.
As a pathologically self-conscious teenage girl, I longed for the time of authentic enjoyment when I didn’t have to hide behind justifications — when I could perform a choreographed dance routine to Swift’s “Mean” at my school talent show without a care in the world. It wasn’t until recently that I realized most of this content policing only exists on the internet, in the form of “still a better love story than Twilight” memes or constant jokes about Swift’s many boyfriends. In reality, the difference between earnest and ironic media consumption is muddled, and perhaps even meaningless.
In 1993, author David Foster Wallace postulated that the next real “rebels” in literature might be those “who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles.” Those who eschew self-consciousness risk disapproval in the form of yawns and eyerolls, but in rejecting the apathetic hollowness and ambiguity of irony, they find new joy in authenticity. This anti-performatism movement is often called post-irony, or “new sincerity.”
This is not to say that critique of popular media is never warranted — in fact, it’s often necessary to address gaps in representation or intersections with race, gender and so on. “Twilight” author Stephanie Meyer has been rightly criticized for her problematic portrayal of the Quileute tribe as werewolves, and Swift has aptly been called tone deaf for her peppy brand of millennial white feminism.
Unfortunately, the internet is deeply allergic to nuance, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon. Twitter trolls derive pleasure solely from degrading and undercutting other things because it’s simply too embarrassing to admit to genuinely liking something. People who are too deeply entrenched in online cynicism are doomed to become jaded misanthropes who never truly develop tastes of their own.
Not me, though. I’m proud to come out as the winner of my 6th grade class superlative for “Biggest Twi-hard,” a certificate that still hangs in my bedroom today.