punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

Isn't It Ironic

Irony is defined by Websters as "Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs." So I have always felt that Alanis Morrisette's song, "Ironic," is ironic because nothing in the song is ironic: it's all poor planning or bad luck. Sadly, I think it's ironic because she doesn't know that.

I can't really define what I consider ironic. Technically, all humor is a form of irony, but when literary people think "ironic," usually they think of it as a narrative; something that is ironic has to have a subjective vs. objective view. Here's my example:

In 1987, I was living with some sci-fi fans, and had access in the house to a huge (and I mean huge, 100") projection television. In fact, we all had friends over, and saw Star Trek: The Next Generation on it. One of the friends brought a tape of the famous Saturday Night Live skit where Bill Shatner makes fun of Star Trek conventions by uttering to assembled fans, "Get a life, will ya? I mean, for Christ's sake, it's just a TV show! [...] You've turned an enjoyable little job I did as a lark for a few years and turned it into a colossal waste of time!" That was pretty funny. It poked fun of Star Trek fans, and was meant as a ribbing comment by Shatner.

What followed was ironic. There were three sets of Trek fans that I saw who reacted to that skit. The vast majority thought it was funny, and took it in the spirit it was meant. Then there were a few that got mad, and started making up fantasies about how "Shatner was threatened if he didn't do the skit," or something. Then there were the ironic fans.

Whenever I think of irony, I think of one girl, who analyzed the skit with the depth and detail of the CIA on the Zapruder film of the Kennedy Assassination. We'll call her Esther. Esther was like a lot of fen I knew, and still know. She was an awkward Jewish girl, with thick curly hair, thick-framed, glasses, and walked with the speed and precision of a suicide bomber on the way to a target. She wore nothing more than sneakers, tee-shirts, and jeans... adding only an old beat-up sweater in the winter. It's like she wanted to obfuscate any feminine quality she might have had. Many female fen do this for two reasons: they view femininity like a weakness... or they don't think of themselves at all because their brain is so focused on intellect (so they dress very practical, whatever has minimal fuss). She carried books in her hands all the time, and wore an oversized backpack with more weight than what would be considered "terrible abuse" if put on a pack animal. The backpack was very much like mine: full of items that would be great in a crisis, but hardly ever used. It also contained more medication than a standard first aid kit. She never said much, but when she did, her voice was loud and clumsy, like someone unused to social interaction. I don't say this to be mean; she was a very nice person. I have always had a soft spot for intellectual people, and she was no exception. Her laugh was very geeky and loud, but refreshingly honest. I doubt her kind laughs at anything other than what they consider funny or in some cases, to break the binding links of nervousness when talking to someone.

The nervous laugh punctuated how she analyzed the skit, as she wrestled the remote control into her hands, and rewound certain scenes. She replayed them over and over, proving minute points she had noticed. "See," she'd say, then added a nervous laugh, "Dana Carvey here was waiting for Bill to interrupt his line. See how his voice goes down. He was supposed to ask about the combination to the safe, but he didn't. He got lost because Bill was late on his cue. His voice goes down, and he tries improv." Her voice became quick: the voice of revelation and enlightenment. All for a skit. Rewind. "See? Here he asks about the feeling and the mood of the character. It's like he's saying, 'Bill! Your line! Bill???' He has to cover. Then Bill says his line, asks about episode 27. Then Dana says his line, and it's about the combination to the safe! Dana...? You should have done improv related to your next line! (nervous laugh)" Esther was delighted. She analyzed the film like a good little Trekkie. She felt a moment of superiority.

And that's ironic. Terribly ironic... yes, I really do think. She was acting just like what the SNL sketch writers were spoofing, and she had no idea.

I like Esther. I can't really make fun of her, because if I had been a woman, I would have definitely been a lot like her. I haven't seen her in so long, but I see her make and model at sci-fi cons and protest rallies everywhere. Somewhere, there's a mate for her that will see past what the media tells us is pretty, and this mate will be as precise as she was at analysis. The mate will hone in to the gold in the center of that brain. It will happen at such a moment, when Esther will be analyzing a sci-fi book she read, or some sub-political nuance invisible to the average person. This will be invisible to most people, who would have written off Esther as totally geeky. And yet she'd be the best companion ever.

Now that's ironic, too. The very thing that repels her from normal society... will be her salvation in it. All she has to be is herself. And the irony in that is everyone says to be yourself, but few actually believe and practice that, and actually ostracize those who do. And that's hypocrisy.

So is irony hypocrisy? Humor is the art of the unexpected: a non sequitur. Irony and hypocrisy also share non sequitur. But the subjective view is that they are not often funny. Humor is the art of making the non sequitur into an acceptable resolved conflict. It's part of a spectrum of reactions. Humor is part of the happy laughter end, where conflict is resolved. Irony in near the middle. Hypocrisy in near the negative or the crying end. Tragedy is at the very crying end. All are part of the spectrum of reaction to conflict. And all use the same expressions. Crying, laughing, and reaction to puns.

And that's ironic to me.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000106.html
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