|Irony is like a bloodthirsty bunny.|
You'll understand later, why.
|What's with the 2000s |
and these artsy book covers?
Reality Bites (1994) literally says that irony is when the actual meaning is the complete opposite of the literal meaning. Which as the Nostalgia Chick points out isn't quite correct. I mean, if you open the dictionary, sure that's part of it, but if that were all that irony was--calling something its opposite--then calling the sky "ground" and the ground "sky" would count as irony--but it wouldn't. No, there's some other "hidden element" to irony that has to be there in order for the "opposite label/definition" definition works, and that element I have to say is the humor that exists as the same as "inside jokes".
No where is this made clearer than in Con Air (1997) by giving an example of a "bunch of idiots" partying on a plane to a song written by a band which died in a plane crash. The irony is lost on anyone who does not have the prior knowledge of the song and the band that recorded it, thus requiring our character to point out the irony of the situation. However, like every inside joke the humor evaporates once explained so that we're left at the end of the scene thinking our character who defined irony is a bit too intelligent in almost a proto-Hipster way. Hipsters, I should note love and revel in irony, thinking they invented it.
|The irony... it burns... it burns!|
Becoming Jane (2007) offers two competing views on irony--one that it is the merger of two opposites to reach a greater truth, and the other that it is an insult with a smile. Irony can be used to insult with someone as a smile--but usually that is sarcasm that does that, not irony. And while sarcasm is a complementary tool of irony, it is not I believe the end all and be all of irony. However the view offered by the character of Jane Austen (I am unsure whether she actually held the view touted in this film) I think arrives at probably the best truth. Definition and classification can only bring us so far that it can't quantify the unquantifiable, which is the realm from which irony comes from. In this sense irony is a paradox intentionally created to try and capture some larger truth that can't be reached through "normal" methods. It's not really so ironic to say that my friend's bunny named Ares is ironic itself, but if Ares himself is a bloodthirsty rabbit (thus living up to the reputation of the name), then the rabbit itself is ironic as two opposite notions are joined together in paradox. It isn't just enough there to have opposites clashing together, but clashing together in an act of paradox.
And there we have arrived at it, irony is at once an inside joke, a paradox, the unfathomable, the unquantifiable, and the opposite. And that is what it is as a literary device. However is irony a literary device or is there something more to it? Northrop Frye in his essay on mythos argues that irony along with satire makes up the "fourth mythos" of "winter" to comedy's spring, romance's summer, and tragedy's autumn. The first three stages he describes as satire, while the last three stages of the mythos he clearly ascribes to irony.
|This is our king?|
Along with freedom, dreams, and meaning, we lose any and all sense of the heroic. We can have characters, but they aren't the messianic heroes of Romance, or the heroic martyrs of Tragedy. Our characters fight for no causes, nor strive for anything greater--because there is nothing to do but exist, and if they try for something more it'd have no meaning and only bring suffering anyway. Pain and suffering occurs to our characters without any real cause or any true meaning--it simply occurs and our characters either succumb or endure it--and that's about as far from the sense of the heroic as you can get. Nowhere is this made anymore clear than in the film Brazil (1985), where our protagonist dreams of being a hero, but clearly can never be what he dreams--and that contrast creates a particular irony, especially considering the end where he imagines your stereotypical happy ending hero-triumphs scenario, but then is brought back to the harsh reality of being executed. We long for a hero in irony, but irony is the complete absence of such figures as "we're all in it together" and no one stands apart.
|Vladimir and Estragon wait and wait and wait...|
|Just when you thought things couldn't get worse...|
|The other side of evolution|
The world view of irony could be said to be extremely negative and pessimistic--reality becomes so "real" it becomes a torture cell, any meaning is lost and we're left with an utter wasteland to wander for the rest of our days, with the realization that this is all there is, all there ever was, and all there ever shall be. When one stops to truly think about the implications of irony, one gets caught in its force--and like a whirlpool is sucked to the murky bottom. Our one way out of such a hellhole is to see the absurdity of it all and laugh, as comic irony hints at.
While satire rules the day currently, irony has been trying many times to establish itself--which is why there have been many attempts to define it in literature and film lately. Personally I fear for when it does establish itself as the zeitgeist of the time--for if dystopian literature is irony in its purest expression... do I even have to finish that sentence? Just remember that when it does finally take over, your ticket out of hell on earth is to laugh. Laughter will set you free.