Sincerity is not scary


  • Cova Bernard
  • Cova Veronique


  • Copycat
  • Ethnography
  • Experience
  • Heritage
  • Pilgrimage

document type



“Sincerity is scary” is the title of a song performed in 1989 by the English band The 1975. In this song the singer reflects on communication in society and how it sadly tends to place irony before important things such as candidness and sincerity. “Irony is okay, I suppose” he begins before stating that “you try and mask your pain in the most postmodern way”. His emphasis on a sense of ironic detachment and fear of sincerity – or praise of insincerity – resonates well with the postmodern condition and its textual expressions (Brown, 1998). This postmodern ironic stance has not been without effect on consumers who are supposed to “possess a ‘marketing reflex’, an inbuilt early warning system that detects incoming commercial messages… They no longer read ads innocently, but look behind them, as it were, to see what the advertiser’s up to” (Brown, 2003, p. 37-38) and question her sincerity. In addition, the capitalist commodification of all what had remained outside the commodity sphere has pushed consumers to denunciate the sincere in contrast to the strategic and question “if some particular thing, event or feeling is the expression of the spontaneity of existence, or the result of a premeditated process aimed at transforming an 'authentic' good into a commodity?” (Boltanski & Chiapello, 2007, p. 446). Similarly, consumers often wonder if a smile, a gesture of friendship of a service employee, is the expression of a spontaneous, sincere friendship, or the product of company training. In fact, they prefer remaining cynical and ironic in front of marketing moves especially when these try to blur the frontier between earnest and ironic through ‘murketing’ ruses (Dunne, 2018). However, beyond the manipulative rhetoric of neoliberal sincerity, some argue that according to a post-postmodernist sensibility (Cova, Maclaran and Bradshaw, 2013), postmodernist irony should be shunned for the way in which it makes it impossible to engage in a meaningful, sincere way with reality or express emotion in a sincere, way. Indeed, three decades after the first performance of “Sincerity is scary” by The 1975, post-postmodernism appears to function as a shorthand for what is understood as a turn away from postmodernism through the suspension of irony. A post-postmodern sensibility could help consumer researchers to interpret what happens in the market in a less cynical way and make them able to decipher what is sincere in market actors’ performances. By questioning the constant state of flux between sincerity and irony – “sincerity challenging irony and irony challenging sincerity” (Doyle, 2018) – they could open new perspectives to the understanding of consumption and marketing. Sincerity is not scary for consumer culture theorists; it is a rather comforting conceptual lens. As such, it requires more attention and a complete theorization (Belk & Sobh, 2018).

more information