Remember when the word “freedom” described the power to act without restraint and not, you know, whatever else the speaker might like? Me neither. I know I said I’d never forget, but I said that all the time back then. Anyway, “freedom” now refers to what we get for being American, plus aspects of American culture such as commerce, religious devotion, muscle cars, whatever. It’s a rhetorical trope. In the 21st-century United States, saying “freedom” will hypnotize a small percentage of your audience, much as you could manipulate people during the occupation of Paris by humming La Marseillaise.
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?