The Travails of Irony

The quandary with writing irony is a little like giving to charity. When you channel squillions to deserving causes anonymously you will do an awful lot of good for mankind but no one will share your evident satisfaction in the redistributive largesse you have bestowed upon the unknowing populous. Alternatively, you can set up a foundation and very publicly disgorge your wealth upon the admiring masses and receive plaudits from the great and good and lauding from high and low. The slightly malodorous dilemma is that it can be seen as self-serving and unseemly.

This is also the affliction of great iconic ironic comic writers. Twenty million readers can scan Jane Austen and all they take away with them is the impression of a lot of stuffy people going to house parties or taking picnics up hills overlooking rural England and generally talking rather a lot. On the other hand, twenty thousand irony aficionados can wallow in malapropisms by the hundred weight and multiple misunderstandings. Delight in slights and criticisms that wound or completely by-pass the recipient’s consciousness. Even the smallest faux-par or nuance can have us inwardly smirk as our reading of the text reveals some subtlety we know will be missed by our Kindle kindred. It is the cinematic equivalent of Oliver Hardy staring in to the camera and sharing with the audience that quizzical look of a man who knows he’s living in some ghastly paralleled silver-screen existence, in which indignity upon opprobrium is heaped upon his shoulders. This, in itself, is ironic as we contemplate his presumption of dignity when he clearly does not possess the wherewithal to shin up the pecking order to a position he feels he deserves.  On the other hand, if you inform your reader that you are being ironic you have failed in your mission and you lose all sense of drama and the element of surprise. You might as well let your reader in to the secret that you really don’t advocate eating babies as a solution for Irish famines and consequently lurch in to sarcasm and ad-hominens (More of which later) To sum up the best irony is the kind that is completely lost on whom it is directed and alternatively completed lost on those who utter it.

Well, that's another ironic mess you've gotten me into!

Irony no longer has to live out its life in the dense literary classics of yesteryear. They can also survive in the more febrile social media environment. I would call it micro-irony if I felt presumptuous enough to coin a new literary term. I might also go as far as to say that such writers in this new paradigm would be called micro-ironists. Who is a mirco-ironist? The micro-ironist uses bursts of irony and wit and can emerge from any form of social media using Guerilla type tactics to hit his audience with a volley of irony only to evaporate back in to the general population even before anyone has noticed. I thought I’d give it a go with some ironic comments left on Daily Telegraph blogs to rile the blue blooded bulldogs who inhabit their webpages. Here is my first response to a blog that said we should forget about foreign aid.

I am in full agreement. End foreign aid now! Why should we be funding healthcare initiatives that prevent widespread pandemics across nations due to the hopeless sanitary conditions in sub-Saharan Africa? Let them die, Serves them right! Fund research on new farming techniques that helps prevent blighted and failed crops? Forget it! They should be able to plant their own yams by now. As for one billion people living on less than a dollar a day, while MNC’s repatriate their tax-free profits back to the West to fatten up my portfolio, what’s not to like about that!? For charity begins at home Old Boy, does it not?

The irony being, of course, was that even though I was arguing against Foreign-aid I was extolling all the virtues that foreign aid brings. Amongst all the other comments that were equally dismissive of foreign aid was one who replied to me saying amongst other things “I wish you would die”. Great I thought. He had completely missed the irony. I was even more pleased that 10 other readers had recommended my comment. On closer inspection of all the other comments and recommendations I could not see any, bar my angry correspondent, who was in favor of foreign-aid. I concluded that my recommendations came from those who actually took my comments at face value and had also missed the irony.

I tried again. This time a Telegraph blogger ventured that an alleged comment made behind closed doors and heard third hand via the housemaid, cook and bottle washer that the Tea Party were economic terrorists proved beyond doubt that Obama was presiding over the crassest and nastiest presidency on record. My response was thus:

Nile is right. This is the nastiest presidency on record. Biden’s comments really overshadow Bay of Pigs; Watergate; Agent Orange; Iran-Contra, Guantanamo Bay; Abu Ghraib; rendition; outing CIA agents; non-court sanctioned wire-tapping Ad infinitem. I’m surprised they can sleep at night.

(18 people liked this)

18 people recommended the comment. I am feeling good. Then El_Jungerlo replies with a non-sequitur.

What do you do when times are tight? Cut back on your spending, or go out and buy a new car, or bigger house?
It’s NOT rocket science
.

Feeling over confident I go in for the kill.

El_Jungerlo. Obviously you didn’t graduate in Rocket Science. Taking your analogy further; if times are tight you don’t buy a bigger car or house for sure. Nor do you stop payments on your car and house and go live under a bridge!

John Bunky chimes in.

Talk about rocket scientist! You reached ad hominem speed in nine words. You could do better than that.

Damn! Hoist on my own ironic petard. I sheepishly replied

“Actually I was going for the laconic irony. But I take your point. How does Lifeslittleadhominem sound?”

(1 person liked this)

Well, at least one person liked it! Maybe I will start giving to charity more publicly in future. Was that ironic?

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