Thursday, September 20, 2007

What the fuck is irony?

I had a chat today with my good friend Patrick about irony, and what in God's name this beast might be. I've thought about the concept a good deal in the past, and like any self-respecting English major, figured that I had a pretty solid grasp of the idea. Certainly, I've always felt confident telling people when something isn't irony. But the truth is that I only had a vague grasp of the meaning of the word. I think part of the problem is that there are some different kinds of irony that are categories in and of themselves: The two big ones, as far as I can see, are "situational irony," i.e., irony that comes out of a peculiar set of circumstances; and a sort of "verbal irony," a more specialized version in which a speaker deliberately describes something in an ironic way to elicit a certain reaction, either from a (real or imagined) interlocutor or from a disinterested audience. An analogy could be made here to situational comedy and stand-up comedy, which are both the same family, but require an adjustment by the audience in judging the relative awareness of the agent (Joey from Friends in the former case, and Chris Rock on stage in the latter) regarding his or her role in the comedic experience.

And, as Patrick and I discovered, "awareness" seems to be a really big part of how irony works. In the instances of irony that we were able to come up with, a common thread is that there is one player in the situation who has a greater awareness of the subtext of that particular situation, and the fact of this awareness is itself the primary catalyst for the ironic effect. Example: An angler is sitting on a rock trying to catch a fish in a stream. What he doesn't see (but we, the audience do), is that there is a large fishhook in the background, descending from the heavens, that is about to catch the angler himself. It's the punchline of pretty much every Far Side cartoon you ever read. So here we have a guy who thinks he's in control of the situation—thinks he's the all-powerful predator—when in fact he's really the prey, in the scheme of things. The irony works because we have a piece of information that completely subverts the understanding of the situation that the victim of the irony believes he is projecting.

So in most of these cases, it seems like we need an agent—someone who's creating the irony (in the case of the angler, the agent would be God, or fate); a victim of the irony (the angler himself); and a third party (in this case, the audience) that can appreciate both the intentions of the victim and the ironic actions of the agent at the same time. The most productive example that Pat and I came up with was the "Alanis Morissette" paradox. This young lady wrote a hit song called "ironic" that, in an attempt to illustrate the ironic circumstances that occur in our lives, describes a number of situations that are in fact complete misunderstandings of irony:

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
Isn't it ironic ... don't you think

[These are all simply unfortunate events—twists of fate. A black fly in your Chardonnay is no more ironic than a cockroach in your coffee, a flat tire on your BMW, or a bad grade on your test.]

It's like rain on your wedding day
It's a free ride when you've already paid
It's the good advice that you just didn't take
Who would've thought ... it figures

[Murphy's Law, yes. Irony, absolutely not.]

The real irony here, of course, is that Alanis thinks that she's written a clever song about irony, when in fact she's written a succession of textbook examples of what irony is not. She's sitting there, conscientiously trying to reel in a fish, while the language scholars are snorting milk through their noses about the great big linguistic fishhook in the sky that she's obliviously dangling from. (Ironically enough, the real joke is on the language scholars, who neither have girlfriends nor any way of paying off their massive college debts, while Alanis has long since given up thinking about rhetorical tropes and moved on to dating superstars and enjoying the millions she makes off the sales of her platinum album featuring the smash hit, "Ironic.")

So much for situational irony. "Verbal irony" is a much bigger pain in my ass. As far as I can tell, it's just a fancy description of a certain brand of sarcasm. Or, as Ethan Hawke put it in Reality Bites, "It's when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning." Who would've thought ... it figures.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RIP Farfour

Update: Farfour was killed last month by merciless Israeli soldiers. He has been replaced by Hamous the bee. RIP Farfour, and may Hamous irritate and ruin the picnics of infidel scum with his righteous stinger.

Monday, July 30, 2007


Why is it that propaganda is so glaringly obvious when you're not in it; when it's not directed at you? The thought was inspired by a bit of Internet research into a little fellow named Farfour. He is the Mickey Mouse of Hamas' Al Qasa TV in Palestine. Quite literally -- the cute little guy is a dead ringer for Disney's smiling mascot. But Farfour's role is a bit different from that of his American counterpart. Farfour totes an imaginary AK-47 and preaches revenge (in the form, presumably, of murder) against the enemies of God.

I don't intend to take this opportunity to rail against the politics of hatred or the indoctrination of the young into a culture of war and anger, because I think the substance of those ideas springs to mind quite readily when one thinks of this Muslim Mickey Mouse. What fascinates me about Farfour is that those who partake of his particular Discourse -- both his creators, who must see him as an acceptable means to an end, and his consumers, who presumably accept him as a role model, a friend, a lovable companion in their journey through life -- are able to do just that. He is so transparent to me. Why not to them? Yes, it could be said (and has been) that our Mickey Mouse is the same kind of cynical tool for indoctrination, though on this side of the fence he advocates consumption, conformity, obedience ... family fucking values and Valentines Day. But I think that my awareness of those more sinister aspects of our murine mascot is only equivalent to the awareness of Farfour's creators about their mouse's function in the social order. It does not represent complete freedom from the Discourse -- because I am immersed in it. I can conceive of looking at such a thing with full objectivity -- of Total Enlightenment Re: Mickey Mouse -- which is a start, I suppose. But I can't actually do it. It simply isn't in me. The thing (and I've moved on from talking strictly about mice here) is just too ingrained in my consciousness.

Which brings me back to a question that I have been asking for as long as I can remember. How can we be sure that we're right, when others are sure that they're right too? Certainty is something that drives me to do a great many of the things that I do. In my work, in my leisure, in my interactions with other people, I act according to basic principles that I am certain of, and I do so because I am certain of them. But looking at the model of Farfour, something that is so clearly hateful and wrong and yet something that real people are absolutely Certain about, I can't help but question whether Certainty is a concept that holds any weight at all. I'm not talking about fanaticism, because we're all fanatics in our own way. I'm talking about that feeling you get when you know something is right. Beyond the unlikely notion that we're all better than everybody else, what conceivable basis do we have to trust that feeling?

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Months, perhaps, since my last post. That such initial enthusiasm should turn so sour after such a short time. Or even just that a false start or two is part and parcel; par for the course. I am experimenting with short, impressionistic sentences at the moment. Gently dabbing the idea onto the page; one does not worry quite so much about staying within the lines. Must be a deeply annoying tendency. Unless you're Joyce.

Then it's sublimely annoying.

What's new? Well, I have been learning Flash, playing soccer, plugging away at my other blogs, failing to make out with a lot of different girls. Last night, I gallantly walked two separate inebriated women home at separate times and then turned around and walked home again. Like driving to the Grand Canyon parking lot, then just going right ahead and driving back without exiting the car. Twice. I would like very much to exit the car with someone one of these days.

This just in: Metaphor strains, breaks under pressure.

That's all for today. I will attempt to be more diligent in keeping this blog up to date. And by next time, we hope, I will have graduated from impressionism to high modernism. Fewer sentence fragments. Saying what you mean.

Sublimely annoying.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


I turned on my mechanical brain, only to find that my mechanical brain had turned on me.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Hang Tight

I said "Hang tight" today, to a fellow I'd never met before. I am unaccustomed to the feeling of power and responsibility that surged through my veins at that moment. "Hang tight, buddy," I said. "I'll come find you." Nor was it a lost, bewildered, possibly foreign child that I was ordering to do this thing. No, this was a real man — a working man; a beefy taxi driver who was preparing to give me a ride back to work from the auto shop. Perhaps it was the fumes from all the cars being fixed with wrenches and brake fluid and other such manly things that inspired in me this sudden rash urge to tell a working man to just "hang tight," but the rush that I felt upon uttering those words was beyond anything I've ever experienced. "Hang tight, buddy." Sylvester Stallone would—doubtless often does—say that to his taxi driver. Bruce Willis. The Rock tells anyone he likes to hang tight, and they just do it. I don't know where I picked up the phrase—the only thing I'm certain of is that I have never used it before. But this will not be the last time.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Thoughts Upon Having Just Cleaned My Room

When I clean my room; once the initial reluctance has become acceptance of the task at hand, which in turn has become a relish for the project bordering on the maniacal -- or at the very least obsessive compulsive -- once I have finished cleaning my room; after weeks of squalor which feeds on itself because, honestly, what's one more pair of dirty underwear on a floor that I haven't seen in days? When my room is finally clean -- when the last book has been reshelved, the last sock reunited with its partner, the curtains opened so the world can look in again on the whole eminently presentable project ... once everything's finally tidy again in my living space, I like to just sit there and look at it. I sit in my swivel chair, swiveling gently, and take in the carefully arranged CDs, the empty desk space, the made bed, the neat stacks of notebooks, and the folded piles of clothes. When I have a room like that, I just like to sit there and stare at the fucking thing for ages, which is precisely what I've been up to for the last twenty minutes. It just struck me today how weird that is.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Not Drunk

I have given up drinking beer. This is not strictly true. It is true that today, for the first time in a very, very long while, I have not consumed an alcoholic beverage of any sort. It is also true that this seeming anomaly in my bibulousness is no accident, but in fact a direct result of a resolution that I made yesterday, which stipulated that I refrain from imbibing ale, wine, or spirits. But we are being very careful about making rash claims about what has or hasn't been given up for good. It is half past midnight and I am not drunk. The very statement is an admission of a problem. But in truth, it is my rapidly expanding flab that has proved the strongest interventionist in this case. Hedonistic as I am, my vanity trumps my lesser, appetitive desires any day of the week.
Nonetheless, the odd hazelessness that I am experiencing is singularly unpleasant. We will have to revisit this resolution tomorrow.

Sunday, June 3, 2007


I am returned lately from a beach wedding, at which I became inebriated, swam in the ocean, danced clunkily but with enthusiasm, sang along loudly to indie rock music, professed (at great length) my strong distaste for Flash websites to a software designer, and occasionally had wistful thoughts about the nature of love, the ritual of marriage, and why it is that I have gone such a very long time without having intercourse. In retrospect, the answer to that last question may very well be intimately tied to my propensity for lengthy disquisitions about Flash websites.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


I have cooked myself a meal, showered, cleaned my room, taken out the trash, payed my bills, dicked around, professionally, on the Internet, and fed and played with my cat in the last few hours since I finished with work. What in God's name possessed me to spend my precious leisure time in such a tedious way, I have very little idea at all. I suppose the idea is that if I were sitting, hungry and dirty, in a messy room with an overflowing trash can, unpaid bills, and an un- or unprofessionally-dicked-around-on Internet with a bored, angry feline for companionship, I would be in less of a fit state to properly enjoy my leisure time than I am at present. But with bedtime on the horizon in about T-minus-five-minutes, you will doubtless see the Catch-22 inherent in such logic.

Monday, May 21, 2007


It's that awkward time of day when I really ought t0 just pack it in and go to bed, but I have this feeling that I need to Live My Life somehow, in these few moments I have to myself. After having worked all day, then socialized with people, which is like work except more stressful. So here I am, beer in hand, Living My Life, which if the last 20 minutes is anything to go by, involves trawling the Internet for traces of myself—gmail, MySpace, Digg—the usual suspects; kind of like socializing with people except less work.

Oh, Internet, we are such strange bedfellows, you and I. You are a generous lover, but not a gentle one. I'm not entirely sure I like you very much.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

First Post

Where to begin? I'm sitting at my computer, peering over the top of the monitor onto a beautiful day that I really ought to be out in, but I'm having to be very careful not to move too much, on account of the nasty tummy ache that I anticipate (nay, that I deserve) as a result of some well-intentioned but ill-advised alcoholic endeavours yesterday evening.

Normally, at a time like this, I would go for a coffee, but where I live there are two competing coffee shops on opposite sides of the road, one with nicer coffee, the other with nicer baristas, and the prospect of making an existential choice of that magnitude in my emotionally fragile state (what do I value more—social or material goods?) is daunting to the point of being paralyzing this morning.

Nonetheless, something must be done, lest, coffeeless, my day spirals yet further downward into, well, whatever it is that days spiral into when they're going downhill. Wish me luck and Godspeed. If fate is on my side this Sunday, I will return home shortly with a latte.