What a bizarre article in the New York Times about an alleged crisis of irony, to be blamed in large part on Obama.
As you may recall from my previous thoughts on irony, I’ve never been tempted to consider irony thriving in American life to begin with. But now to mourn its decline because of an outbreak of naive and gushing earnestness about the prospects of imminent world-saving by the new savior?
I briefly suspected that the article was being retro-ironic when it proposed to prove the irony crisis by counting the appearances of the word irony in newspapers, before, several laborious paragraphs later, conceding that this was just plain silly.
Now I suspect that it comes back to that widespread American confusion over what irony is (not). Towards the end of the article, somebody finally attempts to define irony as “the incongruity between what’s expected and what occurs” which “makes us smile at the distance.” How could that be in decline?
Last time, I defined irony as “the non-aggressive savoring of contradictions in life and people (others and yourself) and of turns of phrase that are slightly and adroitly off-key and thus meaningfully surprising. Irony is not merely saying the opposite of what you mean.”
So irony is worlds apart from:
- Sarcasm: This really is simply saying the opposite of what you mean. Hence: the lowest form of humor.
- Wit: quick, sharp and probably biting associations between dissimilar things.
- Humor: an ability find things funny.
- Satire: the art of ridiculing somebody in power (possibly using irony, sarcasm, wit or humor as weapons).
My hunch: Irony is alive and well, inherently in situations and naturally in Britons. The rest of us can keep practicing. 😉