I used to know a teacher who used Alanis Morissette’s song, “Ironic” to teach irony in her English class. Back then, at Procter Hug High School in fabulous Reno, Nevada, I did not teach Literature. But I did listen to pop music (and I still think Jagged Little Pill is a great album even if that one song is about someone who was on Full House) and I was pretty sure that what Alanis was singing about was not really irony.
It’s like rain on your wedding day [Bad luck?]
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid [Bad planning?]
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take [Bad judgment?]
Ironic? Not really. Irony is, among other things the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. Or it is an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.
Here I am using the following Oscar Wilde quote to describe irony: “Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.”
I think it is mildly ironic that an oil rig went down in the Gulf on Earth Day, but as I don’t actually expect people to give a shit about the Earth anymore, it does not really fall into the opposite of what one might expect to happen category. Politics tends top be full of irony, but most people do not realize it. Somethings start out ironically and then become sort of standard: Priests shagging little boys, Anti-gay blowhards being secretly gay, Family values jackasses being repeat adulterers, Tea-Party whackjobs who don’t actually know what the Boston Tea Party was about (like the (so-called) Boston Massacre, this was largely a media spectacle… [how bizarre.] I wonder if these proud Americans remember that those guys who dumped the tea in the harbor dressed up like Native Americans, ostensibly to “Blame the colored folks’ if they got busted. I knew you were a brave one under that XXXL “These Colors Don’t Run” tee. Idiots.) Oh, wait. Not ironic – What did I expect with Palin as their leader?
Frankly, I think that the coolness of irony has sort of been lost totally been lost. My British friends tell me it is America’s fault. Ah, hell maybe. We are used to taking the blame for shit anyhow, we might as well own this too… But I have to say, often it is not that I don’t get the Brit wit, I just don’t think it is funny, which is different, so it is not always that you have to s-p-e-l-l it all out for us. Irony seems to have been replaced by overt insults and low brow puns (neither of which I have a problem with, except when they are trying to pass themselves off as irony), or as some kind of way to call something stupid while sounding erudite. If something is stupid, call it stupid, it is really only ironic if you expected it to not be stupid. [Biggest reason why I cannot understand how anyone thinks hipsters are ironic, where were your expectations people??]
Take this lyric from Alanis’ misinterpreted song:
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
That shit is not ironic. That is reality. Man of dreams without beautiful wife = just a man. And for those of you for whom that is not enough, you’re probably still bitching about being stuck in A traffic jam when you’re already late or A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break when you shouldn’t even be smoking, or like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife (hey, you have the handle…) That is not being ironic. That is being a whiner.
This… now THIS is irony: