‘It’s the end of the age of irony.’
— Graydon Carter, September 2001
You can stop laughing now. Seriously, that was the gist of what Vanity Fair pooh-bah Graydon Carter meant in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, when he declared that irony was dead. It was a reasonable thing to say at the time, when the entire world seemed to be dressed in black. How could anyone even think about trafficking in mindless, snark-based humor (such as the kind Carter pioneered at Spy magazine)? Easily. Within a matter of weeks, Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels was asking New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani for permission to be funny again. (Why start now? asked Giuliani. Ba-dum-dum.) Needless to say, the end of irony came to a quick end—just in time for Zoolander. For the record, Carter now insists he had been misunderstood: what he really called for was an end to ironing. Now that’s funny.
Peyser is the culture editor for NEWSWEEK.