New sincerity (closely related to and sometimes described as synonymous with post-postmodernism) is a trend in music, aesthetics, literary fiction, film criticism, poetry, literary criticism and philosophy that generally describes creative works that expand upon and break away from concepts of postmodernist irony and cynicism.

Its usage dates back to the mid-1980s; however, it was popularized in the 1990s by American author David Foster Wallace.[1][2][3]

In music

"New sincerity" was used as a collective name for a loose group of alternative rock bands, centered in Austin, Texas, in the years from about 1985 to 1990, who were perceived as reacting to the ironic and cynical outlook of then-prominent music movements like punk rock and new wave. The use of "new sincerity" in connection with these bands began with an off-handed comment by Austin punk rock artist and author Jesse Sublett to his friend, local music writer Margaret Moser. According to author Barry Shank, Sublett said: "All those new sincerity bands, they're crap."[4] Sublett (at his own website) states that he was misquoted, and actually told Moser, "It's all new sincerity to me ... It's not my cup of tea."[5] In any event, Moser began using the term in print, and it ended up becoming the catch phrase for these bands.[4][6]

Nationally, the most successful "new sincerity" band was the Reivers (originally called "Zeitgeist"), who released four well-received albums between 1985 and 1991. True Believers, led by Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham, also received extensive critical praise and local acclaim in Austin, but the band had difficulty capturing its live sound on recordings, among other problems.[7] Other important "new sincerity" bands include Doctors Mob,[8][9] Wild Seeds,[10] and Glass Eye.[11] Another significant "new sincerity" figure was the eccentric, critically acclaimed songwriter Daniel Johnston.[4][12]

Despite extensive critical attention (including national coverage in Rolling Stone and a 1985 episode of the MTV program The Cutting Edge), none of the "new sincerity" bands met with much commercial success, and the "scene" ended within a few years.[13][14]

Other music writers have used "new sincerity" to describe later performers such as Arcade Fire,[15] Conor Oberst,[16] Cat Power, Devendra Banhart, Joanna Newsom,[17] Neutral Milk Hotel,[18] Sufjan Stevens,[19] Idlewild,[20] and Father John Misty,[21] as well as Austin's Okkervil River[22] Leatherbag,[23] and Michael Waller.[24]

In film criticism

Critic Jim Collins introduced the concept of "new sincerity" to film criticism in his 1993 essay titled "Genericity in the 90s: Eclectic Irony and the New Sincerity". In this essay he contrasts films that treat genre conventions with "eclectic irony" and those that treat them seriously, with "new sincerity". Collins describes,

the "new sincerity" of films like Field of Dreams (1989), Dances With Wolves (1990), and Hook (1991), all of which depend not on hybridization, but on an "ethnographic" rewriting of the classic genre film that serves as their inspiration, all attempting, using one strategy or another, to recover a lost "purity", which apparently pre-dated even the golden age of film genre.[25]

Cinematic examples


In literary fiction and criticism

In response to the hegemony of metafictional and self-conscious irony in contemporary fiction, writer David Foster Wallace predicted, in his 1993 essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction",[1] a new literary movement which would espouse something like the new sincerity ethos:

The next real literary "rebels" in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of "anti-rebels," born oglers who dare to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall to actually endorse single-entendre values. Who treat old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that'll be the point, why they'll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk things. Risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal: shock, disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. The new rebels might be the ones willing to risk the yawn, the rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the "How banal." Accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Credulity. Willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law. Who knows.

This was further examined on the blog Fiction Advocate:[32]

The theory is this: Infinite Jest is Wallace's attempt to both manifest and dramatize a revolutionary fiction style that he called for in his essay "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction". The style is one in which a new sincerity will overturn the ironic detachment that hollowed out contemporary fiction towards the end of the 20th century. Wallace was trying to write an antidote to the cynicism that had pervaded and saddened so much of American culture in his lifetime. He was trying to create an entertainment that would get us talking again.

In his 2010 essay "David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction", Adam Kelly argues that Wallace's fiction, and that of his generation, is marked by a revival and theoretical reconception of sincerity, challenging the emphasis on authenticity that dominated twentieth-century literature and conceptions of the self.[2] Additionally, numerous authors have been described as contributors to the new sincerity movement, including Jonathan Franzen, Marilynne Robinson,[33] Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers,[34] Stephen Graham Jones,[35] and Michael Chabon.[36][37][38]

In philosophy

"New sincerity" has also sometimes been used to refer to a philosophical concept deriving from the basic tenets of performatism.[39] It is also seen as one of the key characteristics of metamodernism.[40] Related literature includes Wendy Steiner's The Trouble with Beauty and Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just. Related movements may include post-postmodernism, New Puritans, Stuckism, the kitsch movement and remodernism, as well as the Dogme 95 film movement led by Lars von Trier.[41]

As a cultural movement

"New sincerity" has been espoused since 2002 by radio host Jesse Thorn of PRI's The Sound of Young America (now Bullseye), self-described as "the public radio program about things that are awesome". Thorn characterizes new sincerity as a cultural movement defined by dicta including "maximum fun" and "be more awesome". It celebrates outsized celebration of joy, and rejects irony, and particularly ironic appreciation of cultural products. Thorn has promoted this concept on his program and in interviews.[42][43][44][45]

In a September 2009 interview, Thorn commented that "new sincerity" had begun as "a silly, philosophical movement that me and some friends made up in college" and that "everything that we said was a joke, but at the same time it wasn't all a joke in the sense that we weren't being arch or we weren't being campy. While we were talking about ridiculous, funny things we were sincere about them."[46]

Thorn's concept of "new sincerity" as a social response has gained popularity since his introduction of the term in 2002. Several point to the September 11, 2001, attacks and the subsequent wake of events that created this movement, in which there was a drastic shift in tone. The 1990s were considered a period of artistic works rife with irony, and the attacks shocked a change in the American culture. Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, published an editorial a few weeks after the attacks claiming that "this was the end of the age of irony".[47] Jonathan D. Fitzgerald for The Atlantic suggests this new movement could also be attributed to broader periodic shifts that occur in culture.[36]

As a result of this movement, several cultural works were considered elements of "new sincerity",[36] but this was also seen to be a mannerism adopted by the general public, to show appreciation for cultural works that they happened to enjoy. Andrew Watercutter of Wired saw this as having been able to enjoy one's guilty pleasures without having to feel guilty about enjoying them, and being able to share that appreciation with others.[48] One such example of a "new sincerity" movement is the brony fandom, generally adult and primarily male fans of the 2010 animated show My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic which is produced by Hasbro to sell its toys to young girls. These fans have been called "internet neo-sincerity at its best", unabashedly enjoying the show and challenging the preconceived gender roles that such a show ordinarily carries.[49][50]

A review of a 2016 play by Alena Smith The New Sincerity observes that it "captures the spirit of an age lightly lived and easily forgotten, which strives for a significance and a magnitude that won't be easily achieved".[51]

In the early 2020s, the shift toward a more overt embrace of new sincerity was codified in James Poniewozik's New York Times piece titled, "How TV Went From David Brent to Ted Lasso."[52] Poniewozik details the shift, arguing that "In TV's ambitious comedies, as well as dramas, the arc of the last 20 years is not from bold risk-taking to spineless inoffensiveness. But it is, in broad terms, a shift from irony to sincerity. By 'irony' here, I don't mean the popular equation of the term with cynicism or snark. I mean an ironic mode of narrative, in which what a show 'thinks' is different from what its protagonist does. Two decades ago, TV's most distinctive stories were defined by a tone of dark or acerbic detachment. Today, they're more likely to be earnest and direct." Poniewozik goes on to address possible impetus for doing away with the disjoint between writer and character ascribing some cause to what Emily Nussbaum calls "bad fans",[53] but the thrust of his critique centers on the possible shift towards the representation of new and previously unrepresented voices. As Poniewozik puts it, "In some cases, it's also a question of who has gotten to make TV since 2001. Antiheroes like David Brent and Tony Soprano, after all, came along after white guys like them had centuries to be heroes. The voices and faces of the medium have diversified, and if you're telling the stories of people and communities that TV never made room for before, skewering might not be your first choice of tone. I don't want to oversimplify this: Series like Atlanta, Ramy, Master of None and Insecure all have complex stances toward their protagonists. But they also have more sympathy toward them than, say, Arrested Development."[54] With this perspective in mind and the populous shift towards an embrace of diverse views and opinions,[55] the appearance of new sincerity in film and television is understandable if not expected. However, it is important to note that prior to the current shift towards new sincerity, popular culture had embraced a period of "high irony", as Poniewozik deems it.[54]

Regional variants

This conception of "new sincerity" meant the avoidance of cynicism, but not necessarily of irony. In the words of Alexei Yurchak of the University of California, Berkeley,[56] it "is a particular brand of irony, which is sympathetic and warm, and allows its authors to remain committed to the ideals that they discuss, while also being somewhat ironic about this commitment".[56][57]

In American poetry

Since 2005, poets including Reb Livingston, Joseph Massey, Andrew Mister, and Anthony Robinson have collaborated in a blog-driven poetry movement, described by Massey as "a 'new sincerity' brewing in American poetry – a contrast to the cold, irony-laden poetry dominating the journals and magazines and new books of poetry".[58] Other poets named as associated with this movement, or its tenets, have included David Berman, Catherine Wagner, Dean Young, Matt Hart, Miranda July (who is also a filmmaker herself),[59] Tao Lin,[59] Steve Roggenbuck,[59] D. S. Chapman, Frederick Seidel, Arielle Greenberg,[17] Karyna McGlynn, and Mira Gonzalez.[60]

See also


  1. ^ a b Wallace, David Foster. "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction", Review of Contemporary Fiction 13(2), Summer 1993, pp. 151-194.
  2. ^ a b Adam Kelly. "David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction". Consider David Foster Wallace: Critical Essays. Ed. David Hering. Austin, TX: SSMG Press, 2010. 131-46.
  3. ^ Williams, Iain (May 27, 2015). "(New) Sincerity in David Foster Wallace's "Octet"". Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 56 (3): 299–314. doi:10.1080/00111619.2014.899199. ISSN 0011-1619. S2CID 142547118.
  4. ^ a b c Barry Shank, Dissonant Identities: The Rock'N'Roll Scene in Austin, Texas (Wesleyan University Press, 1994) (ISBN 9780819562760), p. 148–149 & p.271 n.84. (excerpt available at Google Books).
  5. ^ "Jesse's Music Bio" at Jesse Sublett's Little Black Book (retrieved September 18, 2009).
  6. ^ Peter Blackstock, "'is it worth the admission....'" Archived December 4, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, No Depression blog post dated January 15, 2008.
  7. ^ True Believers at AllMusic.
  8. ^ Kent H. Benjamin, "Why Should Anyone Care Now?", Austin Chronicle Weekly Wire August 30, 1999.
  9. ^ Doctors Mob at AllMusic.
  10. ^ Wild Seeds at AllMusic.
  11. ^ Glass Eye at AllMusic.
  12. ^ "Donald Trump and the "New Sincerity" Artists Have More in Common Than Either Would Like to Admit". August 9, 2016.
  13. ^ Kristin Gorski, Almost Famous: The Austin Texas Soundtrack Circa 1985 Archived October 16, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, Annabelle Magazine, No. 12 (2006).
  14. ^ Michael Corcoran, "The New Sincerity: Austin in the Eighties", reprinted in Michael Corcoran, All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music (University of Texas Press, 2005), ISBN 978-0-292-70976-8, pp. 150–156.
  15. ^ Huffington Post, "ultra-sincere indie artists from Arcade Fire" Huffington Post, May 16, 2013.
  16. ^ "Mr. Sincerity tries a new trick" The New York Times, January 16, 2005.
  17. ^ a b Jason Morris, “The Time Between Time: Messianism & the Promise of a “New Sincerity”, Jacket 35 (2008)
  18. ^ Huffington Post, "many significant indie artists" Huffington Post, May 16, 2013.
  19. ^ Huffington Post, " many significant indie artists" Huffington Post, May 16, 2013.
  20. ^ Robert Christgau, "Vibrators", The Village Voice, March 27, 2001.
  21. ^ Jude Russo, "The Joke Is On Us", The Washington Free Beacon, April 15, 2017.
  22. ^ Kate X. Messer, "Okkervil River: The New Sincerity", Austin Chronicle, March 3, 2000.
  23. ^ Austin Powell, "Texas Platters: deEP end", Austin Chronicle, March 13, 2009.
  24. ^ "Boring Like A Drill. A Blog. » Michael Vincent Waller: The South Shore". Retrieved December 15, 2017.
  25. ^ Jim Collins, "Genericity in the 90s: Eclectic Irony and the New Sincerity" in Jim Collins, Hilary Radner and Ava Preacher Collins, eds., Film Theory Goes to the Movies (New York: Routledge, 1993) (ISBN 0415905761, ISBN 978-0-415-90576-3), p. 242, 245.
  26. ^ "New Sincerity". June 3, 2015. Retrieved December 30, 2021.
  27. ^ Avatar, Top Gun: Maverick, Scream, Creed III, & the New Sincerity - The Escapist
  28. ^ 'Eternal Sunshine' Is a Perfect '00s Time Capsule - Vulture
  29. ^ With Shrek, Irony Went Mainstream – for Better and for Worse - The Escapist
  30. ^ In Defense of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’: Toward a New Sincerity - Hollywood Insider
  31. ^ Puchko, Kristy. "You're wrong about Timothée Chalamet in 'Wonka'". Retrieved October 29, 2023.
  32. ^ Moats, Michael (September 19, 2012). "The Infinite Jest Liveblog: What Happened, Pt. 2". Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  33. ^ Gorenstein, Zuzanna. New Sincerity and the Contemporary American Family Novel: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, Dissertation, Free University of Berlin, December 2014. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  34. ^ Jensen, Mikkel. 2014. "A Note on a Title: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" in The Explicator, 72:2, 146–150. [1]
  35. ^ Gaudet, Joseph (Spring 2016). "I Remember You: Postironic Belief and Settler Colonialism in Stephen Graham Jones's Ledfeather". Sail. 28.
  36. ^ a b c Fitzgerald, Jonathan D. (November 20, 2012). "Sincerity, Not Irony, Is Our Age's Ethos". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 24, 2016.
  37. ^ Hamilton, Caroline D. (October 21, 2010). One Man Zeitgeist: Dave Eggers, Publishing and Publicity. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9781441167491.
  38. ^ Hoffmann, Lukas (2016). Postirony: The Nonfictional Literature of David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers. Bielefeld: transcript Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8376-3661-1.
  39. ^ Raoul Eshelman, "Performatism, or the End of Postmodernism" in Anthropoetics 6 (2000/2001). See also his book, Performatism or the End of Postmodernism. Davies Group: Aurora, Colorado 2008.
  40. ^ Timotheus Vermeulen & Robin van den Akker, "Notes on metamodernism" in Journal of Aesthetics and Culture 2 (2010)
  41. ^ Alexei Yurchak, "Post-Post-Communist Sincerity: Pioneers, Cosmonauts, and Other Soviet Heroes Born Today", in Thomas Lahusen and Peter H. Solomon, eds., What Is Soviet Now?: Identities, Legacies, Memories (LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster, 2008), ISBN 978-3-8258-0640-8, p. 258 & n.4, excerpt available at Google Books.
  42. ^ Ben Kharakh, "Jesse Thorn, America's Radio Sweetheart" Archived September 29, 2008, at the Wayback Machine in Gothamist, posted November 2, 2006.
  43. ^ "Interview: Jesse Thorn, Part 1" Archived September 13, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, The Merlin Show, posted June 4, 2007.
  44. ^ Dan Brodnitz, "An Interview with The Sound of Young America's Jesse Thorn" Archived October 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine, O'Reilly Digital Media, posted September 15, 2008.
  45. ^ But see Bill Forman, "Müz: The New Ambiguity", Metro Santa Cruz, March 8–15, 2006 (opining that New Sincerity is "just another ironic hoax").
  46. ^ Jonathan Valania, "Q&A: With Jesse Thorn, America's Radio Sweetheart", Phawker, September 15, 2009.
  47. ^ Beers, David (September 25, 2001). "Irony is dead! Long live irony!". Salon. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  48. ^ Watercutter, Angela (September 21, 2010). "Sincerely Ours: Glee's Success Cements Age of Geeky 'New Sincerity'". Wired. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  49. ^ Ghomeshi, Jian (December 7, 2011). Curious about Bronies? (Adobe Flash) (Radio broadcast). CBC Radio. Retrieved December 7, 2011.
  50. ^ Watchcutter, Angela (June 9, 2011). "My Little Pony Corrals Unlikely Fanboys Known as 'Bronies'". Wired. Retrieved June 9, 2011.
  51. ^ Hsiao, Irene (March 11, 2016). "Review: The New Sincerity/Theater Wit". NewCityStage. Retrieved January 30, 2021.
  52. ^ Poniewozik, James (July 26, 2021). "How TV Went From David Brent to Ted Lasso". The New York Times. Retrieved December 30, 2021.
  53. ^ "That Mind-Bending Phone Call on Last Night's "Breaking Bad"". September 16, 2013.
  54. ^ a b Poniewozik, James (July 26, 2021). "How TV Went from David Brent to Ted Lasso". The New York Times.
  55. ^ Maese, Ellyn (July 28, 2021). "Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: 10 Lessons From 231 CHROs". Retrieved December 30, 2021.
  56. ^ a b Alexei Yurchak biography Archived June 20, 2013, at the Wayback Machine at University of California, Berkeley Department of Anthropology website (retrieved February 15, 2009).
  57. ^ Yurchak, at p.259 n.6, further explains this contrast in terms of Susan Sontag's comment that a good writer should "Be serious. By which I meant: never be cynical. And which doesn't preclude being funny." (Citing Sontag as quoted in Jenny Diski, "Seriously Uncool", London Review of Books 29, no. 6 (March 22, 2007).)
  58. ^ Katy Henriksen, " Drunk Bunnies, The New Sincerity, Flarf: How Blogs are Transforming Poetry" Archived November 10, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, EconoCulture, January 23, 2007.
  59. ^ a b c "What we talk about when we talk about the New Sincerity, part 1". Retrieved December 30, 2021.
  60. ^ Blueskye, Brian (July 19, 2013). "Western Lit: SoCal Poet Mira Gonzalez's Debut Collection Finds Success With Deep Simplicity". Retrieved December 15, 2017.