Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Last Taboo

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal." -Oscar Wilde

Okay, I'll admit it: I am an earnest person. I know it is highly uncool and rare these days, but I am sincere, if not all of the time, at least most. Being earnest, sincere, is surely the last taboo.

What I like about it, though, it has a shock effect these days and is often disarming, producing not the expected response: irony, sarcasm, even cruelty, but a dash of high-risk sincerity in return, sometimes nicely spiked with humour.

So tell me, why is sincerity taboo?

Why is accusing a person of being earnest the biggest diss?

Enlighten me. Sincerely.


oreosandpeace said...

Very interesting blog post, Ami! It is indeed true that people being sincere is a rare thing to come by these days. Sarcasm is a simple way to feel intelligent. It is almost the easy way out at times.

Chez Ami said...

Folks assume that sincerity equals the death of humor. Can sincerity and a killing sense of humor co-exist?

STOP!!! 'n the name of love said...

There's a great TV show, Nurse Jackie, that examines hospital life from the point of view of a sardonic medical professional who snorts Vicadin and Adderall to get through the day. One of the doctors on the show is an English bombshell, Doctor O'Hara, who is at once reserved and hilarious. O'Hara takes a nerdy intern out to dinner, and the intern says to her, "I think it's really interesting how you use humor to cover up your real emotions. Somebody in your past must have really hurt you and I'm sorry for that, because I think you're one of the most generous people I've ever met." O'Hara answers: "If you think you've got a rat's ass chance of getting a pudding you better come up to the surface where I can breathe."

When Wilde says that a great deal of sincerity is fatal, I interpret it several ways. For one, it can mean the death of a conversation: sincerity may make you come off as self-absorbed. It can dull the power of a short story because readers are inherently suspicious of any character that reveals their inner feelings, at least when the writer makes it happen too fast or too dramatically or too elegantly.

Utterly sincerely: sincerity is corny.

Chez Ami said...

Hey Stop,

Interesting comment. Sincerity strips away layers, there's a nakedness to it, yet it adds layers too, as you eloquently observe.

How readers actually feel what characters go through is one of the most complex--and mysterious--elements of brilliant, masterful fiction. And you are right, if the writer is too insistent, too blatant, relying on special pleading for her characters, the result will be, well, schmaltz.

Personally, I love humor, wit, there is nothing sexier, nothing more bracing. I've fallen in love with men because of their sense of humor, their voice and hands.

But sarcasm, for me, is fatal.

Leo said...

Sincerity and honesty go hand in hand. To be sincere is to be honest - to yourself, to the person sitting across from you, to an audience (physical or virtual).

But there is a danger in being too honest, too open with all that goes on in your mind. That is when it become self-absorbed. There is a fine line to be drawn between the two, a delicate balancing that we as social beings must always take into account, to aportion in the right measure.

It is not a taboo, not in my book anyway. It is perhaps a rare thing, particularly amongst colleagues, or acquaintences that don't know the full extent of the other person's faults and issues. We all want to put on a good front, hence the resort to humour, or sarcasm, as a way of throwing up a sheild for protection, a way of being popular and accepted in the world.

Sincerity, therfore, must be drip-fed in the right amounts and at the right times, otherwise you risk being labelled the self-absorbed type, or a little too honest with people who don't know you.

And humour can so easily co-exist with sincerity. It's part of the charm of sincerity after all.

Chez Ami said...


Your comment is interesting and in-depth...but, with a capital B, being sincere does not necessarily equal talking about oneself or being self-absorbed. One might be sincere on any number of topics, no?

Sometimes, life is simply too short for sarcasm.

But a humorless sincere being is surely a bore and a boor.