Alanis Morissette. Great musician, brings me back to the 90’s. Love her. But her song Ironic has been debated among stoners and scholars alike for quite some time. The real question is, Is the Song Ironic Really Irony?
To really understand irony, we must look to the ultimate source: WEBSTER HIMSELF. Irony is defined:
1 : a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other’s false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning
2 a : the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning b : a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony c : an ironic expression or utterance
3 a (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play —called alsodramatic irony, tragic irony
For all intents and purposes, let’s assume Alanis is referring to definition 3.1 of irony- when the results of a situation are not harmonious with the expected results. (This is often referred to as “situational irony”.)
Let’s take the chorus of the song:
It’s like rain on your wedding day*
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take
Who would’ve thought… it figures
These are all really sad and unfortunate circumstances. Rain on your wedding day– yes, that could be argued as ironic if putting it into the 3.1 definition. You don’t want rain on your wedding day, so the result of your wedding day (rain) is not harmonious with your expected outcome (no rain). But getting a free ride but you have already paid– that just sucks. And getting good advice and not taking it? Yeah, that is just stupid on your own part.
Now that the chorus is out of the way, let’s examine some of the verses:
An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
This is not an ironic situation. It doesn’t fit into any one definition of the word. At all. There is no expected outcome of winning the lottery (unless you argue the outcome of spending all of the money), so the old man dying does not count as a result of winning the lottery. Any sort of expected outcome of winning the lottery would be to spend all of the money. Any result of winning the lottery would be just that- spending money. The man dying has no actual tie to winning the lottery- he didn’t die because he won the lottery; he just keeled over the next day with, I assume, no warning at all. The two events are not related, therefore this fits no definition of irony.
It’s a black fly in your Chardonnay
How is this even considered ironic? I just… I don’t even know. It is gross, yes, but ironic? No.
It’s a death row pardon two minutes too late
This is not ironic either. You can argue that the expected outcome of the death penalty is…death. And this guy was executed. So the result was…death. The result and expected outcome are one in the same- they are harmonious. It really, really, really, REALLY sucks that he was pardoned two minutes after his execution, but this isn’t an ironic situation.
Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids goodbye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
“Well isn’t this nice…”
This verse could possibly be stretched to fit into the situational irony category. The expected outcome of the flight was to live through it, and the result was a plane crash. But what Alanis is going for here, is that he was afraid to fly his whole life, and then when he did, the plane crashed. If you look at it from the first point of view, that you wanted to survive the flight and didn’t, then it could be ironic. If you look at it from Alanis’ point of view- no, I don’t believe this is an ironic situation. Just another really, really unfortunate one.
A traffic jam when you’re already late
A no-smoking sign on your cigarette break
It’s like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife
It’s meeting the man of my dreams
And then meeting his beautiful wife
Again, really unfortunate situations, but none of which that are really ironic. There is no real result/expected result of a traffic jam. You just want to be out of it. So being late for work, then getting caught in a traffic jam isn’t ironic, it is just bad time management on your own part.
No smoking sign on your cigarette break could possibly be stretched if you wanted to say the expected result of your break was to smoke, and the actual result was that you weren’t allowed, but even then it doesn’t really work.
Ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife is a terrible predicament to be in, but not ironic. Unless you lived in/worked in a utensil factory- that would be more ironic.
Meetig the man of my dreams then meeting his beautiful wife- not ironic but really, really sad.
So, as awesome as this song is, I must crown it unironic. Happy BEDA everyone!
*In some cultures, this is considered lucky.