Thursday, May 19, 2011

Isn't It Ironic? Well, Some Of It, YES

Time to discuss this stupid, now dated argument.
Irony is one of the most misused and misunderstood words in the English language, despite its fairly simple dictionary definition. defines it as “the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.”  Easy, right?  Well anyone with a basic understanding of the English language knows that irony is usually saved for humor (not necessarily a jokey joke!) or exaggerative purposes, thus confusing a person when they are questioning whether to call something ironic or not.
And, of course, this includes Alanis Morrissette.
Thanks for setting the record straight, Brett!
Since the song was released in 1995, the general meme about Morrissette’s “Ironic” is that, well, nothing in it is ironic.  I might be 16 years late on this post, but since it is a claim I STILL hear, I figured it was time to set the record straight, stand on my pedestal, and claim that, though not EVERYTHING in the song is ironic, it does actually contain some ironic situations, with the potential for more.  Sorry, but it’s not simply black and white, even though I know people love it when things are. 
Let’s go through line by line (lyrics in italics, thoughts in bold) and analyze.
An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day

Without knowing background on said old man, it’s really hard to say.  Now, had the old man played the lottery every single day of his life while claiming “I CANNOT LIVE MY LIFE PROPERLY WITHOUT THE COMFORT OF LOTTERY WINNINGS.  UNTIL THEN I WILL BE A SHELL OF MY POTENTIAL.  AND ONCE I WIN THE JACKPOT, I SHALL BE THE GREATEST LIVING HUMAN THIS WORLD HAS SEEN,” and then died the day after he won the prize, then that would be ironic.  But since it’s a three minute song, we cannot go into the history of the old man’s finances, therefore Alanis probably shouldn’t have used this example. 

It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
Is this even a horrible thing?  I assume whatever disease the bug is potentially carrying would probably die in the alcohol.  Plus, the fly may have protein making it a nice accessory.  Regardless, it’s NOT ironic, maybe a tad unpleasant at worst?

It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
In my opinion, this is the first thing in the song that is ironic.  Assuming the criminal was on death row, he probably engaged in years of appeals to clear his name to no avail.  The fact that someone would give him a pardon, proving innocence two minutes after he was actually killed…hmmm, I’d consider this ironic.  Again, it involves assumption, but well, it’s a short song.    

And isn't it ironic... don't you think?   Well, so far one thing is clearly not ironic, one seems to be ironic, and the third has high potential for irony.  So while this is probably not what she was going for when creating the song, at least she’s not the complete idiot some make her out to be.    

It's like rain on your wedding dayProbably sucks, but not ironic
It's a free ride when you've already paidIf you’d be searching for the free ride for a while and then finally decided to pay only to find out the free ride just presented itself, it miiiiight be ironic.  But it’s a stretch, it could just be coincidence, but it depends on the situation. 
It's the good advice that you just didn't takeDefinitely has the potential for irony.  Though I’d like to know what this good advice that she cannot take is.  The content of said advice probably would help decide whether or not it’s ironic. 
Who would've thought... it figures – I dunno what the fuck this even means.

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

OK, this verse can be completely ironic or not, pending on the tone of the “well, isn’t this nice...”  Here we have old Joe Play It Safe (is that Dutch?), who essentially waited his entire life to take a flight, simply because he was afraid of crashing.  It’s implied that he was so fearful of grim death that he avoided this safe, convenient way of traveling for his entire existence. 
Now, here comes the tricky part.  If Alanis is saying “Well, isn’t this nice” in a SARCASTIC tone, it’s not ironic.  It’s actually the expected outcome considering he always figured he’d crash if he flew.  If the “well, isn’t this nice” is NOT SARCASTIC, and he is actually enjoying the plane’s death spiral towards the Earth, then it’s a very ironic story.  
Anyone know the tone? 

Well life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face
True, I suppose?  We can swirl irony into this little life theory of hers. 

A traffic jam when you're already lateNah, this just sucks.  Leave earlier next time.  I live in Los Angeles, I always expect traffic. Not ironic. 
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break Not ironic unless said sign is next to a similar sign that states DESIGNATED SMOKING AREA.  More info, Alanis!
It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife – I’d say this is pretty f’n ironic considering I’ve never been around 10,000 spoons before. 
It's meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
  -- That’s just unfortunate.  Though I question how well she knew this “man of her dreams” if she didn’t even know he was married.  Perhaps Alanis is too much of a romantic, or maybe the “man of her dreams” is a douchbag that hid the fact that he was married for years, therefore questioning Alanis’s moral code when choosing mates if he’s still the man of her dreams.  Perhaps he ceased to be the dream man upon discovering his relationship status.   Never fear, Alanis, Dave Coulier is probably still single.  Either way, not ironic. 
And isn't it ironic...don't you think - Nope
A little too ironic...and, yeah, I really do think...  In this case, I really don’t.

So, as you can see, yes, much of the song doesn’t involve irony, though a good portion of it actually holds the potential for irony if she’d only elaborate on the proposed situations.  Perhaps for the 20th anniversary of Jagged Little Pill, Alanis will channel her inner Arlo Guthrie and pound out a 25 minute version of the song filled with detailed stories about her subject’s lives.  Until then, it remains a mystery.
But, regardless, there is SOME irony in the song, so can we quit saying NOTHING in it is ironic? 
(and I look forward to someone writing about how it’s ironic that I’m writing about irony, yet don’t understand what irony truly is.  I’m sure you’re out there, bring it on).   

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