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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Irony in the News

Surprisingly long article in Friday's NY Times about the possible death of irony.

Do you think its author, Andy Newman, has a working definition of irony, or, more harshly, knows what it means and how to spot it?

Reading it over, I find no firm evidence suggesting he has or does. The closest the article comes to a definition is in a quotation from Roger Rosenblatt, who said, "Irony is a diminishing act — the incongruity between what’s expected and what occurs," but he then goes on to describe irony as basically "clever comparisons." That definition is a diminishing act itself.

Newman also did a Nexis search for "irony," and he interviewed several other columnists, some writers, and a stand-up comic. And he interviewed someone from The Onion and tried to interview someone from SNL.

But the article shows no evidence of having even consulted Wikipedia, which has a pretty good entry on the concept, one that Newman would have benefited from reading.

I feel like this is journalistic hack work at its best. Hear about something semi-controversial that someone semi-famous said (Didion). Do a Nexis search (in this case, one with methodological flaws the author recognizes but is too inept to do anything about). Interview some people (in this case, journalists and humorists). Report what they say, regardless of whether what they say makes sense or is on topic. Done. No thinking required.

  • At 11/29/2008 03:31:00 AM, Blogger Bardolph wrote…

    this is a very silly article. as you say, Simplicius, the man has a methodology as slack as a wet haddock, and does the thing which all bad articles do which is slide silently between different terms which are not in fact the same (ie irony is not the same as disillusionment is not the same as simply funny). but the real question is why do people keep on writing this article? why do people feel the need, repeatedly, to proclaim that irony is dead? what's that about?


  • At 12/01/2008 10:52:00 PM, Blogger S. Li wrote…

    Well wouldn't it be wonderful to say that one had discovered irony to be dead? The author's dead, the critic's dead, yes, but IRONY, that unconquerable higher ground. That's one step closer to Donne trying to say Death dies.


  • At 12/10/2008 02:44:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    I don't know, Bardolph, which is why I haven't responded sooner (kept hoping a good answer would pop into my head).

    My two theories:
    The Racist Uncle theory: irony equals humor, so the death-of-irony means no racist jokes by your uncle about Obama.

    The Importance of Being Earnest theory: this was popular after 9/11, when everything seemed so scary and was therefore thought to mean no satirical humor. "How could anyone make a joke about Bush at a time like this?"

    Neither of these has much to do with saying one thing and meaning another, of course.


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