Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Is Alanis Morissette an Idiot? Irony vs. Coincidence

Alanis played the character of god in Dogma.  A woman
playing god: is that ironic? or a coincidence? Don't ask the
woman pictured.

“Isn’t it ironic how Michael Phelps, my favorite athlete, got caught ripping a bong at a college party and then two weeks later I got busted in the dorms for smoking weed because I tried to use a Doritos bag to block the smoke detector.”
            No. It is not ironic.  It is a coincidence—and a minor one at that.  Seattle columnist Dan Savage successfully altered the history of the word Santorum, much in the same way that Alanis Morissette obliterated the meaning of irony.  Her song “Isn’t it Ironic?” does not come close to exemplifying a sliver of irony, which confused a mass amount of people, thus resulting in 15 years of statements similar to the one above.  The events that Morissette describes in her song are mostly coincidences.
            A coincidence is when two independent occurrences collide to form a unique, and often-hilarious outcome.  Situational irony (the type Morissette aims to convey) exists when actions have an effect that is contrary to the expectation.  The expectation needs to either be universally understood by being implied or explicitly stated.  When the result of something is contrary to the expectation, irony exists.  The lyric, for example, “10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife” by itself is just a coincidence.  If Alanis found herself in the same situation at, say a Steakhouse, then it would be ironic because one would expect a steakhouse to have a breadth of knives.   Nevertheless, forget abstraction—let us get concrete.

Examples of Irony (Some of these are hypothetical so please do not take offense)
Lets start simple:
-You are a dentist who has a serious case of gingivitis.
-You are a child who only prays to God for two things:
1) That Santa will bring you an iPad 3 this Christmas.
2) That your parents over sleep their alarm every Sunday morning.
-A bully on the playground constantly berates and harasses you.  As a means of retaliation, you retort to the bully with a cocky and clever sing-along “thas alright, thas okay, urrrr gunna pump my gas someday.”  Twenty years later, you find yourself working at a 711 outside your hometown pumping gas for the bully who is now the owner of said 711.
-You pull up to a stop light and look to your right. In the lane next to you, there is a Chevy 4x4 with a Jimmy Johns delivery topper perched on the roof of the vehicle.  Disgusted, you turn your attention to the car in front of you only to see an equally repulsive Toyota Prius with a “Drill Baby Drill” bumper sticker. 
-You are the head of CIA.  Your job is to protect and secure our borders by providing the government with top-secret information about our enemies. However, you begin to worry about how the recession will affect your career.  Fearing job security, you decide to sell some weapons to our enemies.  Over the next 15 years, you work on locating the weapons and suggest to the government that we wage a couple of wars in order to keep our borders safe.  Years later, you write a tell all book in which you state “The decision made absolute sense from my standpoint.  A temporary breach in national security led to a generation of job security for my division and the defense department as a whole.”
-You smoke Camel Crush cigarettes and puncture the mentholated bead in the filter before lighting
-You used to think that ESPN’s NFL pregame was paramount in terms of insight, humor, and opinion.  Then the other day you watched the telecast for a whole hour after accidently hitting the close captioning button. You realize just how obtuse and humorless the show really is when all of the on-air personas are boiled down to pure text.  As you sit on the couch reading the transcript of the show, you cannot help but notice the excessive use of the word “man” and how often everybody refers to themselves in the third person.  Suddenly, you begin to feel bad for the person sitting in a cube somewhere typing word for word what these guys are saying. 
Keyshawn: Boom where’d you get that haircut? You look like Danny Devito in Taxi
Boomer: I’ll tell you what Key, this cuts looking a lot better than your ability to predict games this year.
Keyshawn: hahahahahaha ahhh man Boom you sure know how to zing me (slaps the table)
Ditka: (raspy tone) God I love football you guys crack me up.
All: (Unison laugh)…….
Boomer: (Out of breath) Alright folks--we are having a lot of fun here this morning but lets take a commercial break.  Up next the Mayne Event!  Kenny finds out what type of shampoo Tom Brady is using on his luscious locks and how it’s the Key to his success.
-The state of Wisconsin is livid about people who drink and drive.  Legislation and smear campaigns have raised the collective consciousness to the consensus that it is in fact a bad thing.  However, many bars in Wisconsin prohibit people from parking in their lots over night.  Not sure if you are too drunk to drive? Don’t worry there is a breathalyzer at the door for a nominal $1.00 fee (buy one blow, get one free!).  But hell--its much easier to criminalize and lock people up than it is to provide the means for a solution.
-John Cougar Meloncamp makes millions of dollars singing about how rewarding it is to grow up in blue-collar Middle America, thus ensuring that he will never have to drive a tractor, fix his own vehicle, or live in a little pink house ever again. 

-Barack Obama is the leader of a country where he could not even vote for himself 150 years ago. 45 years ago, he could not enjoy a Coca-Cola at the same establishment as a white person in any state below the mason Dixon line.   Now he is arguably the most recognizable and powerful man on the planet—how’s that for situational irony? Sometimes irony can be poetically just.  

Part 2: Examples of Coincidence Coming soon