First, if you have not read Christy Wampole's New York Times op-ed piece "How to Live Without Irony", it is here, and worth your time.
The piece elicited the counterargument that young adults are in fact sincere, altruistic, empathic contributors to a gentler, more inclusive culture. ("What age group were mostly in those Occupy Wall St. camps?", they ask, reasonably.)
defines verbal irony as "The expression of one's meaning by using
language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or
A more thorough dissection of the term, including irony in clothing, is here.
I don't see the ubiquity of verbal irony as the purview of the Millenials, as Walpole does, but they do rock some amusing inside-joke tees, like the one at left, from Busted Tees.
The ironic elder exists as well; she forged her sarcasm, sharp observations and sardonic wit on the anvil of superior verbal skills and often has achieved a notable career.
She can be witty, provocative and stimulating. If you knew her since your school days, however, you might sense a growing brittleness, and think, "Has her humour changed, or do I just not find it funny anymore?"
I ask myself what's happening when I opt for verbal irony.
Recently, a former colleague exited an abusive marriage (her term), then abruptly returned, completely reversing her decision. "Congratulations", I said, "I hope you're very happy."
My sarcasm was a screen for my fear. I eventually expressed my worry and dismay, but, as Walpole notes, that took more effort, attention and risk than firing off a zinger. I reach for sarcasm in frustration and pique, and expression rooted there cannot build bridges.
Facta Non Verba: Deeds, not words
I believe it's what we do that counts.
Sometimes the sarcastic friend is the very woman who shows up your house with a box of cookies and bottle of wine when you didn't get that job, mops up your kid's bloody nose while wearing her new white wool jacket (and refuses money for drycleaning) or takes your keys if that's your fourth Amaretto Sour. There can be a big heart beneath that wisecracking shield.
Another woman might send sentimental cards on your birthday, writing of how much you mean to her, but when the chips are down, she's busy elsewhere. You just don't know until you see some behaviour.
So, though I consider irony and it's snarky little sister, sarcasm, to be an easy way out of truly speaking one's mind and heart, I will indulge it and even indulge in it from time to time, knowing it's often a veneer.
Irony is the Red Bull of communication, a satisfying initial blast but no staying power. I can do better, and strive to be straightforward and sincere– most of the time. A complete absence of irony courts earnest, humourless certitude, which is another real drag to be around, or to live with in one's self.
As far as the desire to wear clothing ironically, I'm out of it. Why would I haul a stuffed animal as a purse, wear a 1975 baseball jersey with a ball skirt, or appliqué my nails with lightening bolts even if you and I are in on the joke?
That's why this Balenciaga "Egyptofunk" Glitter Girl tee baffles me even before checking the price, $285.
I neither understand its stance nor does it summon desire. It's outside my ken; I feel like Dr. Who contemplating a hula hoop.
Would the buyer be a fully-feathered ironist or a victim? Is it possible to be both?
This is the last post for a few weeks, as the season to be merry is here.
I wish you– with absolutely no irony–a restorative and warm holiday, and hope you'll return to the Passage on January 3, 2013. Thank you for stopping by.
PS. In case the world really does end on Dec 21: OK, Marilyn, you were right.