Thursday, July 9, 2009

Irony and Humor

I read a book a few years ago, or, I should say that I think I read the first few chapters of a book a few years ago. Unfortunately, I can't remember the name of the book nor the author's name; that he was a young man, in his early 20s, I think, is all I remember. In the book he was writing about humor and how what our culture perceives as funny has changed. He used the TV show Seinfeld as the example for current humor. Seinfeld humor is based on irony. It's an insider humor. It's about US, our club, our clique and how we see the outside world-THEM-as not like us, therefore, potential objects of ridicule. The author went on to say that popular culture humor in the past was based on the main character being an outsider and being the underdog and ultimately triumphing, through his own wit, over the buffoon, bully establishment: Think Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp or The Honeymooners.

I just finished reading a novel called Rock Bottom by Michael Shilling. There's a very small genre of popular lit right now based in rock-n-roll. When I picked this up at the library, I figured a little light reading; nothing really challenging, just escapism pure and simple. I'm not going to say that this book will enter the tome of classics, but it was surprisingly good: The characters were well-developed, the plot was consistent and believable, the story was good. Mainly, the story is about irony; about a band that is created ironically and the people in it. Not to give the plot away too badly but through the story, the characters are forced to face how their ironic posturing and cynicism protected them for a while but ultimately harmed them and most everyone around them. The novel was about the painful peeling of the onion skin until the heart of the person is revealed (and the author did a good job of making the process not seem contrived or manipulative for any of the characters).

I think irony is a protective tool people learn to use to keep themselves from feeling vulnerable. I know that's true for me. Sheesh, I was such a nerdgirl in 5th, 6th, and 7th grade. I got made fun of all the time. By high school, I'd learned irony and gathered around me a group of misfits and fellow-nerds. We were the outsiders (proto-wannabe-post-punks) who were picked on and made fun of by the dominate culture but we had each other (and music) and we got through with the help of a jaded outlook and irony.

I love the movie Ghostworld which perfectly describes the cynicism and insecurity I felt when I graduated from high school. I hated the culture I lived in but didn't have the skills, knowledge or self-awareness to be anything different from what I was familiar with.

Anyway, as I get older and am able to let go of bits and pieces of that armor I've carried for all the years and accept myself as I am and not try to hide my "true face" from the world, I see that irony, while occasionally helpful, is really very harmful when it's societally endemic.

I think that the ultimate loss that comes from irony is that of compassion. When were busy defining US versus THEM and laughing at Them, we're not feeling for Them and we're not aware of our connections to Them or realizing that, ultimately, We ARE Them and They are Us--we're all one. Irony makes us think that we are all we need, which is so wrong and so sad.

1 comment:

david myers said...

that would be 'for common things' (or a similar title) by jedediah purdy.