It’s that time of year when we’re flooded by the ubiquitous Best-Of lists as everyone tries to recap the year’s highlights: best soccer goals, r&b albums, new restaurants, sci-fi films—you name it, it gets measured and ranked. In that spirit I offer what stands out to me as the year’s most significant, moving and ultimately disturbing example of irony I saw all year.
Irony’s a term that gets bandied about quite a bit, and I suppose it’s worth pausing and clarifying my intended meaning. Loosely speaking, irony is the dissonance between what someone says or does and what is meant or understood by that action or words. For a classic example of tragic or dramatic irony think of Oedipus unknowingly killing his father and marrying his mother; more playful versions of a very verbal irony can be found in pretty much anything ever written by Oscar Wilde.1
For a very simple and easily accessible understanding I think it’s helpful to contrast two songs recorded by Alanis Morissette. Recall her big mid-90’s hit, (Isn’t It) Ironic, which lists a litany of situations that are completely not-ironic. A black fly in your Chardonnay or Rain on your wedding day is unfortunate, perhaps even ominous if you’re the sign-reading type, but certainly nothing nearing irony.
On the other hand, think of her later cover of The Black Eyed Peas My Humps: a spot-on spoof of a song that is sung in a manner—slowly, mournfully, over long piano arpeggios and little musical accompaniment—that forces the listener to focus on the lyrics, and injects irony into the situation by pointing out the absurdity and self-degradation of the original (an original that, sadly, seems to have been made without the faintest conception of irony, or for that matter self-respect or musical quality).
Now, back to business. My nomination for the year’s most significant ironic moment comes from a video recorded by the NY Times on September 10, 2012, in Times Square. The video follows Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center, who had arrived in New York to preach his very… unique take on the gospel of Jesus. I’ve written about Terry several times previously on this site and most will know him as the mustachioed preacher from Florida who has burned copies of the Quran and hung an effigy of President Obama on the front lawn of his church.
The video can be watched here. I fear I’d be insulting the intelligence of anyone who’s ever read a word of Jesus’ teachings by over-explaining the irony of the situation. Please know that despite the playful and light tone I’ve employed up to this point that this video simultaneously enrages me and breaks my heart.
- There are, of course, plenty of other options to choose from: irony abounds in our day-to-day and it has become, especially for us younger generations, a required currency. Hipsterism is the simplest example, from the mustaches to the leg-warmers to the cans of cheap beer. The other great domain is politics, which is so often lacking in irony (viz: Mitt Romney) that it provides a contrasting study all its own. [↩]