When Alanis Morissette released the single “Ironic”, her biggest hit, I groaned aloud. I continued groaning each year when I started teaching my poetry unit. Why? While the song is certainly catchy, it does not contain a single example of irony. What it does contain is a number of examples of people having Very Bad Days, which is not the same thing.
So what is irony? It’s when the opposite of what is intented occurs, or the intended meaning is the opposite of what is assumed. Just because someone is sarcastic does not mean they are speaking ironically, or that there is any irony in what they say. Just because you are surprised about something does not make it ironic. Just because a bad thing happens, you have not experienced irony, and you can sing about it anyway, but you’re just helping to instill misinformation in the thirsty minds of thousands of people. What else is new?
“Well,” one might argue, “there’s the example of the guy afraid to fly who finally does, and the plane crashes.” Wrong. This isn’t ironic. It’s perhaps tragic, but not ironic. What would be ironic is if just as he is about to get on the airplane, they cancel the flight and the man holding a ticket finds himself frustrated that he can’t get on the plane.
She sang, “It’s like rain on your wedding day.” This isn’t ironic. This is an argument for indoor venues. It rained on my wedding day, and I was just waiting for some idiot to start belting out the song (which came out around the same time) so I could belt him. It would be a him. My girlfriends had all heard my rant by this point. Now, if one of them had started singing about rain on my wedding day being ironic… that would, in fact, be ironic. Why? Go back to the beginning and reread this blog post if you are still confused.
Ah, well. There was that one lesson about irony in her song. Perhaps that was her intention all along — that the song itself contained no irony, and that students all over the world could remember that when working on their literature finals.