Irony

Irony is a label that we gravitate to with ease but one that most would be hard-pressed to define. Because it involves complex linguistic and conceptual contortions, it is simplest to just assume that we will recognize it when we need to. It is that know-it-when-we-see-it quality, though, that has left irony open to opportunistic usage, defined by a given speaker based on his or her purpose at hand, used alternately as a convenient scapegoat, defensive shield, or badge of hipness.

One of the most common mistaken assumptions about irony is that because of its indirectness, it signals a smug detachment or lack of commitment to any viewpoint or cause. This conception of irony makes a perfect straw man for all that is wrong with media culture, political debate, or “kids these days.” It was also this conception of irony that commentators had in mind when they famously declared the …

This essay may be found on page 114 of the printed volume.

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