Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Isn't It Ironic?

Old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery, died the next day
It’s a black fly in your chardonnay
It’s a death row pardon, two minutes too late

- Alanis Morrissette, Ironic

When did this song come out, like ten years ago? With this song, along with the vengeful "You Oughta Know," Alanis broke through and changed the pop music landscape forever--it made clear that women can not only sell records and concert tickets, they also buy millions of records.

It blew a hole into the 18 to 25 male power demographic, who are believed to be the holy grail of marketing. Who, when they (we) don't have their hands on engaged on their joysticks, literal or anatomical, spend their disposable income quite indiscriminately. Hence, the existence of blow-up sex dolls, Magic the Gathering, tractor lawnmowers.

It also created a discourse on the nature of "irony" because whatever Alanis was singing about, it was not irony. Bad luck maybe. Or, in the case of the guy who couldn’t take a good advice, stupidity, but certainly not irony.

In my case, every time we hear the song on the radio, Brian and I will argue again on the definition of irony. Every time I provide him my definition*, Brian says that it’s not the true definition of irony. He demurs to give his definition but he knows irony "when he sees it."

My dear friend Annie declared to me once that Ethan Hawke's exposition* in the movie Reality Bites on the definition of irony is the one that crystallized the meaning for her, that after she heard it, irony was no longer a mystery. I asked her what Ethan's definition was. She shrugged, "I don’t remember."

You may ask, why don't you just look it up in the dictionary? Aha! I did. Several times in fact, in the past. After the last time, I refused to look it up ever again. In my mind the definition is clear, for about ten minutes. Then as life goes on, the definition starts fading away, like my restraint at an all-you-can-eat buffet. I remembered the plot of Gay Prison Gang Bang 4 longer than that.

I think the confusion is not in the definition of the word, but rather, the use of it. I don’t think many people (including myself) know how to use irony correctly, often confusing it with metaphor, simile or sarcasm. In fact, most of the time, the only time I am aware of irony is when the writer specifically prefaces it by saying "Ironically, it..."

And for the longest time I pronounced it "i-yor-nee" as in to "iron a shirt" or "iron ore" rather than "i-ron-y." I'm still unclear on how to pronounce it. No, I don't want to look it up. I'm sick of irony.

I want things to be what they seem.

I want my Butches to be butch, my Riches to be rich and my Nellys to be nelly.*

But let's have a little fun here. Without looking it up first, put your idea or example of irony in the comments before you look at the others (scroll down quickly). Be as elaborate as you want, some people don't think irony can be easily summed up in a few words. But please don't mock or try to correct others' definition. This is just an experiment, after all.

If you still don't understand irony, you go look it up.

* see my definitions here

Get Alanis' CDs here:

Watch the "Ironic" video
50 Things You Oughta Know about Alanis Morrissette

Once and for all, here's what Irony means!

Too cheap to buy a blow-up sex doll? Make one (and other hand-made sex toys)
Satirical Magic the Gathering Cards 1 2 3
Lawnmower Tattoo

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