I have a pet peeve about a song that is old, but has been on the radio often lately–Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic. The peeve: that all but one of the situations she sings about are not ironic at all. Go Ahead and take a listen:
Now, Irony is a tough subject, so I don’t blame her too much. I do, however, blame EVERYONE around her who could have–should have–taken the time to learn “irony” and help her out. She’s a singer/songwriter for pete’s sake, not an English teacher–but doesn’t she know anyone who’s familiar with the term and its definition? Couldn’t she have, maybe, looked it up?
As an English teacher, I can tell you that it’s really difficult for students to learn what Irony is; after all, it’s hard for everyone to really see it when it comes around (especially so for Alanis, apparently, but again, don’t blame her too much; it’s a catchy song and we like it. It’s just not true).
Let’s look at the lyrics, shall we?
An old man turned ninety-eight; He won the lottery and died the next day: Well, that’s bad timing and sad, but not ironic. We would expect a 98 year old man to die from such excitement!
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay: yeah, this is just icky, not ironic.
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late. Isn’t it ironic Don’t you think? No. Bad timing, and a shame, but not ironic.
IRONY: Language device in which the real intent is concealed or contradicted by the literal meaning of words or a situation. Dramatic irony, an incongruity in a theatrical work between what is expected and what occurs: like if you went to a magic show and a rabbit appeared onstage and pulled a magician out of his hat, that would be ironic.
It’s like rain on your weddin’ day: sad. supposedly good luck. a shame. not ironic, happens all the time.
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid: tough luck. bad timing. not ironic.
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take : really not ironic, just too bad. Shoulda listened to your mom.
Alanis, like many of us, wants to say that something’s ironic because she’s taking the general idea that when something happens that’s the opposite of what you would like to happen, it’s ironic. But that’s not really it; it’s when something happens that’s the exact opposite of what you expect to happen. For instance:
This is ironic because you expect a billboard from a school district to be correct. This is also hilarious.
Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly. He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye.
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight.
And as the plane crashed down he thought Well, isn’t this nice?
And isn’t it ironic Don’t you think?
NO! This is exactly what he thought would happen. It’s sad, but it’s not ironic. However, Mr. Play It Safe did remark: “Well, isn’t this nice?” which some consider to be verbal irony. I think it’s sarcasm.
Well life has a funny way of sneakin’ up on you.
When you think everything’s okay and everything’s goin’ right, right.
And life has a funny way nobody helpin’ you out when You think everything’s gone wrong and everything blows up In your face.
Well, now you’ve just given up altogether Alanis. If you think everything’s gone wrong, then you would expect it all to blow up in your face; this is the opposite of irony.
A traffic jam when you’re already late: Usual. Typical. Happens all the time. Sucks. Not ironic.
A no smoking sign on your cigarette break: Too bad for you, but not ironic. Go to the place where you’re allowed to smoke. These signs are everywhere.
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife: This is the only one that’s actually kind of ironic. Would have been perfect if you said, maybe, you had soup and found ten thousand knives but no spoon…but this is close enough.
It’s meetin’ the man of my dreams And then meetin’ his beautiful wife, umm
And isn’t it ironic Don’t you think? A little too ironic And yeah, I really do think…
NO, Alanis, I do NOT think, even if you really do. What would be ironic is if you met the man of your dreams on your wedding day to someone else…that would be the opposite of what you’d expect to happen. A man good enough to be the “man of your dreams” is expected to have a beautiful wife already. This just sucks for you.
Here’s a personal story of irony. We have a glass-topped coffee table, the glass being kind of sucked onto its base, but we can easily lift it off. When my son was learning to stand and walk, we were told several times to remove that table because he could really hurt himself, even though he never had. Wanting to be a good mommy, though, I removed the glass, slid it under a bed or something, and put the base in the upstairs office. One day, while I’m paying bills, my son toddles over, says what’s this, and proceeds to fall over the edge of the base, backwards, into the space left where the glass should be. Not only that, but we had a pediatrician visit the very next day and he looked at me funny as he saw the big bruise on my son’s back. The safety measure causing the bruise: ironic. The fact that I did the right thing and still had a suspicious look from the doctor: ironic.
Life is often ironic, like when a song called “Ironic” is not. 😉