Oh, irony. You are everywhere, according to certain people and pop songs, and yet you are so little known. While the strict definitions of irony remain cleanly delineated, popular usage now refers to any experience of bitter recognition as “ironic.” The expansion of the term tells us much about contemporary America, or maybe contemporary Americans. Like its mildly retarded cousin “sarcastic,” “ironic” has become a mode of being, a way of protecting oneself from the absurdity of This Modern World via a general disdain. That’s great for the lady in your office who just discovered Failblog. For those of us who are lifelong, committed ironists, however, the expansion of “ironic” is an infuriating appropriation. It’s like how Chuck D felt about Vanilla Ice. This Friday, we present the thin edge of the wedge: stories and situations that seem almost ironic but not quite, whose categorization as “irony” moves us one step closer to the dream of considering everything ironic and thereby eliminating irony altogether. Won’t you turn human experience into a uniform putty of bland derision with me?
First: actual, uncut irony. With “US Commemorates 9/11 by Toasting Stable Afghan Government Atop Freedom Tower,” the Onion gives us 750 words whose literal meaning is the opposite of the figurative. That the literalism being ironically undercut describes a much, much better America is just a sardonic bonus. This work of fantasy contains a lot of acerbic truth, including the hilarious reminder that, ten years after we swore to build it, our 9/11 memorial has been downgraded from a glittering tower to a hole in the ground. Personally, though, I much prefer indictments of others to indictments of ourselves. That’s why my favorite sentence is “Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who retired quietly from the political scene in 2002, was also on hand, opting as always not to give a speech, saying that such a gesture would be ‘a selfish exploitation of the events of that tragic day.'” Zing!
Maybe it’s just as well that we didn’t build the Freedom Tower, since it would only accumulate a pile of reeking bird corpses. Some say New York is the pinnacle achievement of American urbanism, a monument to this country’s ability to assimilate individuals into a functioning albeit very smelly whole. I say it is a machine for killing 90,000 migratory birds each year, and I cite this very weird article from the New York Times. The proliferation of structural glass has made New York a brightly shining city that just happens to reflect the false image of another brightly shining city fifty feet behind it, and birds can’t wait to get there. It’s kind of surreal when you think about it, which is probably what yields paragraphs like this:
Several years ago, volunteers witnessed a slow-motion slaughter at the Morgan mail processing center in Chelsea, where more than 300 dead birds were discovered in 2006 alone. A row of London plane trees, reflected in the mirror-like, south-facing facade, was luring the birds to their death.
Keep reaching for that London plane tree, you guys. Not ironic, though—it’s just weird.
Edging closer to actual irony is the report that Ron Paul—who recently argued in favor of that liberty which comes from allowing uninsured young people to die—had a former campaign chairman who died in 2008 from catching pneumonia and not having health insurance. Kent Snyder was 49 at the time of his death. He raised $19.5 million for Paul during the 2008 campaign and, upon dying, passed $400,000 in medical debt on to his mother. But hey—extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. If the consequence of Kent Snyder’s individual choice to not have health insurance is that a mother loses her son and acquires nearly half a million dollars in debt in her seventies, it’s worth it to preserve some theoretical sense of what America should be like. Don’t think about how much Ron Paul uses the word “should.” It’ll only distract you from his reasoned arguments against human compassion.
I have carefully analyzed this Gawker story about a Jewish college student who accused her Jewish professor of anti-Semitism on the first day of school, and I have decided that it is not ironic. It’s really close, though. Professor Cameron Johnston was making a point about “acceptable and unacceptable opinions”—this story takes place in Canada, by the way—when he listed “Jews should be sterilized” as an example of the latter. Sarah Grunfeld, a student who had apparently begun listening only at that moment, stormed out of the classroom and filed a complaint with the university. Once she discovered that Johnston was himself Jewish and had the twenty minutes before she took up the sword of righteousness explained to her, she doubled down. “The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth,” Grunfeld told reporters, “so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.” The words “borrow my car” still came out of my mouth, so regardless of whether I said “no you cannot” right before them, I still gave you permission.
What can be done with such people? All you can do is keep asking them to please read a book or something. The problem is that society does not encourage the kind of thoughtful analysis that allows society to, you know, function. We need more beloved celebrities to remind people that the life of the mind is rich and satisfying. You know—like Glenn Danzig:
Even Glenn Danzig thinks that shit is hilarious. Ironic, no?