Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Random Thoughts: Isn't it Ironic...or is it?
A while ago I heard that the instances Alanis Morissette sings about in her song "Ironic" from her album Jagged Little Pill were not actually ironic, but mere coincidences. After hearing the song again and listening more closely, I tended to agree. However, after recently mentioning this to my friend he desagreed saying that, by definition, these events are, in fact, ironic. So I have decided to delve into this issue further.
According to dictionary.com Irony is defined as " the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning... an outcome of events that is contrary to what was, or might have been expected."
As this is the literal definition it seems much simpler than describing irony or coming up with an example. I feel as though the definition is the best it could be in plain words, but in practice is not quite as simple. For instance, the New England Patriots came into the 2007 Super Bowl at 18-0 and were facing the 13-6 Giants, everyone expected the Patriots to win and they were by many accounts, the greatest team ever assembled. However, they ended up losing, which was unexpected, does this mean the event was ironic in nature? I do not think so. Although they may not have been "expected" to lose by the masses, conventional wisdom tells us that is why you play the game and everyone knew they COULD lose.
As such, I have decided to go over each event Alanis mentions in her song and discuss whether or not the event is ironic in the conventional sense or merely coincidence.
Events are detailed after the jump.
-Old man turned 98, won the lottery, died the next day - I feel as though this event is mere coincidence. Even by the completely literal definition of "something unexpected" it still does not fit. It is not as though, at 98 years old everyone would assume that he was going to live a lot longer to enjoy his lottery winnings.
Irony scale: .-/ (one half sardonic ironc face out of a possible five)
-Black fly in your chardonnay - I don't even know why this is in the song. I have often caught myself at a restaurant noticing something in my drink and before asking for another one, stopped to reflect on the sheer irony of the situation. Yeah, that happens to me all the time. I suppose by the literal definition you could say this is an "unexpected" event, but I'm not buying it. This is as ironic as hitting a stop light on the way to the supermarket. Pure happenstance.
Irony scale: 0 (zero sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
-Death row pardon, two minutes too late - So this is the first one that I could possibly see as a little ironic. In the literal sense this is something that is unexpected, they would not have put this man to death if they expected a pardon. However, more irony would be inserted if this man was normally the person who pulls the switch for all the other executions. This is something that I feel fits the daily connotation of irony a little more.
Irony scale: :-/ .-/ (one and a half sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
-Rain on your wedding day - This another instance that I feel speaks more to mere coincidence than anything else. Nobody wants rain on their wedding day, this is fact, but no matter when you have a wedding you know that inclement weather is a possibility, so in the literal sense this is not even that unexpected. Now, if Alanis had explained that the people getting married were both danicing rainmakers as a profession, or perhaps meterologists, then there would be a great level of irony. That did not occur in the song.
Irony Scale: 0 (zero sardonic ironic faces of a possible five)
-Free ride when you've already paid - Hmmm....this one is a conundrum. Again, I feel as though it is mere coincidence, or stupidity for not asking how much the ride would be, depending on how you look at it. However, it does have a slight sense of irony, since you have in fact already paid. Is it something that is "unexpected?" Slightly, unexpected enough to be considered ironic, not unless it is included in this song.
Irony Scale: .-/ (one half sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
-The good advice you just didn't take - Really? Really Alanis? You're reaching at this point. Irony? Not at all. Stupidity? Yes. This makes me curious who exactly Alanis learned the definition of irony from. If somebody gives you advice on something, you don't take it, and that happens, then the resulting event is not necessarily "unexpected." I suppose if something happens to someone after they are told to watch out for that event you could spin it as ironic, but I am just not buying this. This belongs in Alanis' future hit single "Ignorance."
Irony Scale: 0 (0 sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
-Mr. play it safe was afraid to fly, packed his suitcase kissed his kids goodbye, waited his whole damn life to take this flight, as the plane crashed down he thought 'well isn't this nice' - Alright, this restores some of my faith in Alanis' ability to find irony in every day life. This is pretty close to exactly what you would think irony is. This reaches Ritchie Valens level of irony, dying as a result of the biggest fear of his life. Well done Alanis.
Irony Scale: :-/ :-/ :-/ :-/ :-/ (5 sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
-Traffic jam when you're already late - I feel like I shouldn't even dignify this with a response. This is just bad planning, everyone knows traffic is a possibility and I don't even know a way to change this situation to make it ironic. Traffic if a part of everyday life...bad Alanis.
Irony scale: - :-/ (negative one sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five for lack of effort on this one)
-No smoking sign on your cigarette break - I suppose I could see the irony in this situation, but only if the no smoking sign is in the break room or the break area outside. However, these details are not provided in the song so it is unclear. The prevalance of non-smoking areas could hardly lead one to believe this is "unexpected" although I will give a little more leeway due to the timeframe this song was released.
Irony scale: .-/ (one half sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
-It's like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife - Again, this is disappointing. Mere coincidence is this incident. Given more details about the situation it could be ironic, and come to think of it, perhaps this could solve a lot of the problems with the song. Alanis needs a directors cut of this song in which it is 17:38 long so she can adequately explain each scenario so we know just how ironic the situation is.
Irony Scale: 0 (zero sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
-It's meeting the man of my dreams and then meeting his beautiful wife - Again, I don't see how this is ironic. This happens to people every day, I have met many a girl who I would consider to be "dream girl" worthy and yet they end up having a boyfriend. Sad story? Perhaps. Ironic? Don't think so. Poor Alanis, couldn't even finish the song on a good note...
Irony Scale: 0 (zero sardonic ironic faces out of a possible five)
Final thoughts: Despite her best efforts Ms. Morissette falls short of capturing irony with more than a fleeting glimpse in this song. Perhaps the aforementioned directors cut that comes out after Alanis runs out of money and needs more will help explain things. Perhaps not. While it is true that some examples of irony do exist in this song, most of the scenarios mentioned are only slightly ironic at best, if at all. All things considered the song is a pretty good song and I can only imagine how many moody teenage girls considered this their anthem and this album the diary of their lives in the 1990's. The best things I can say about Alanis is that she has stuck around, made decent music, and she and Jewel are two singers from the '90's that have somehow gotten more and more attractive as the years go on (see picture above). Good for them.