Sunday, May 19, 2013

What Irony is, and What it Ain't

Ring the metaphorical bell, because class is back in session! It's a class in the Unintimidated School, which is kind of like old schools in that we care about using words correctly, as opposed to joining trendy conventions of misuse. We're not at all Old Skool, as we feel that is an inane, largely meaningless phrase. In that sense, you could say the Unintimidated School is ironic, or at least the term "Old Skool" is. (Also, we feel it's impolite to kick things, and proponents of Old Skool are always kickin' it.)

Let's get something straight: "ironic" is a term way too often misused. When you notice that something is coincidental, unexpected, or occurring under interesting circumstances, why not just say so? Too many kids (and even adults) like to claim these situations are ironic. Irony is when something turns out completely contrary to what's expected, given the usual meaning or behavior of the elements involved.

It's ironic when an ambulance runs over you, or a murderer saves your life. I could say "How ironic! A hard hat fell off the shelf and landed right on my head, giving me a concussion." This would be a correct use of the term. Some incorrect uses would be, "Hey, I was just thinking about you, and now I've run into you in the elevator... how ironic!" and "Oh, your son has the flu? That's iroinc; my daughter just had the flu."

YouTube features numerous parodies of Alanis Morisette's Isn't It Ironic, a song filled with things that are not ironic at all, about which she sings, "isn't it ironic?" This makes the song itself sort of ironic, but in a way that was probably not intended. If you like, go and search the YouTube, watch a few of these vids, then come back and finish up here...

A few correct examples:

- A character in Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, a novel dripping with irony, returns safe from war to find that his friend was killed in a hunting accident at home. "So it goes."

- Shirley Jackson's wonderful short story The Lottery explores mob mentality and destructive traditions in a fictional small town where all the citizens gather annually to draw slips of paper from a box. At the story's conclusion, readers learn that--SPOLER ALERT!--the one with the winning slip gets stoned to death. There is irony in the town's naming their ritual "the lottery," because this usually refers to a contest for cash or some other desirable prize.

- The title character in Forest Gump somehow always comes out on top, despite his low intelligence and complete lack of planning. Of particular note is the fact that the dimwitted neophyte Gump repeatedly saves the life of his leader and mentor, Lieutenant Dan. He literally saves Dan's life in battle, his naive blunder saves the shrimping business they share, and he eventually saves Dan from a downward spiral of depression and self-destructive behavior, inspiring Dan to find a reason to live. Not bad for a guy once deemed borderline retarded, eh?

If you want some fun, everyday examples set to a catchy tune, I recommend this little number by comedian Bo Burnham: (Warning, this song will get stuck in your head, making you spell out I-R-O-N-I-C continually for the next several days.)

Now I'll let you decide. Is it ironic for me to teach literary concepts using silly online videos? If so, that's okay. I'm happy as long as nobody comments, "How ironic! I was just listening to Alanis Morisette this morning," or "Bo Burnham is my favorite funny guy, and U by C is my favorite blog. That's ironic."

Thank you.


  1. I was going to do a post on this topic, but deleted it.
    How ironic!

    (Does this school have recess?)

    1. You're killing me, buddy! Trying to end up in detention?

      We do have recess, and extra-long lunches. Our P.E. dept. is lacking, because I don't really like sports. I'm trying to get a science program going, but so far I've only made one blog post that qualifies--It was on beginning astronomy, a couple months ago... unless you count the posts in which I freaked out about meteors and stuff falling from the sky. (At least 3 of those.)