Irony is Not Dead; It Was Only in a Comatose State

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, declared that this attack is “the end of the age of irony.” The general public accepted Carter’s assertion at that time. After all, what loyal citizen can find humor in such a dark and traumatic time in American history? To satirize this episode is not only unpatriotic but also almost inhumane. However, if one were to revisit Carter’s assertion again today, they will notice that his assertion is incorrect. Given the advantage of retrospection, the audience can see that irony is not dead, but still very much alive today; it is abundant in everyday conversations as well as comedy shows that depict political news humorously.

To understand why irony is not dead, the definition of irony must be established. Irony is an umbrella term that generally represents a situation in which there is a sharp discordance between what is expected and what actually occurs. There are many forms of irony. For the purpose of this essay, the focus will remain on verbal irony which is when what a person states is opposite of what that person means.

Following the September 11 attacks, irony was announced to be dead and this may be the case for a short period of time. The nation was mourning and most Americans, even comedians and television’s comical geniuses, knew better than to say anything insensitive. Jon Stewart and David Letterman (two famous comedy talk show hosts), in a rare moment of solemn sincerity, expressed their faith in America. In addition, David Letterman even asked for “patience and indulgence” from his audience. He stated that “If [they] are going to continue doing shows, [he] need[ed] to hear himself talk for a few minutes.”[1] Put simply, he was asking the audience to bear with him for a while because he could not simply fall back into the show without reflecting on the events of September 11.  This supports Carter’s argument that irony was absent for a period of time after the attacks.

However, to conclude that irony is dead is going too far. Rather, a more befitting term for irony’s position is that it was in a coma. Many Americans felt the need to be sincere following the tragedy, but this intense sincerity was short lived. Think about the conversations you had, or the ones you heard this week. How many times have you heard someone say something when they meant the opposite? For example, you might have overheard a little girl exclaiming to her mother, “Of course mom, I would love to go home and do my homework instead of sleeping over at my best friend’s house” or you might have heard a co-worker saying, “Such lovely weather today!” when it was hailing outside. Verbal irony is prevalent in daily speech. It is part of how people communicate and even though the September 11 attacks were life-changing, they cannot permanently alter the way people communicate.  Verbal irony is also frequently used by shows such as The Onion, The Colbert Report, and The Late Show with David Letterman to satirize the current news. For example, at one of his tapings, David Letterman said, “The Republican candidate potentials have been shooting themselves in the foot making huge, horrible gaffes and they just look silly. It’s gotten so bad that President Obama is now worried he may actually be re-elected.”[2] Clearly, Letterman was using verbal irony in this instance. He was stating that Obama must be pleased with all the disadvantageous news circulating around the Republican candidates, since this increases his chances of becoming re-elected.

Irony is not dead, and to think so would be incorrect. Irony (more specifically, verbal irony) is always present in our daily lives and its presence should be celebrated because verbal irony helps us see things in a different and “distanced perspective,” as the poet Joan Didion argues[3]. Fake news media employs verbal irony because it shows the issue being discussed in a truthful but different manner. To reiterate, irony is not dead. It was simply in a comatose state following the events of September 11. It has been revived since then and is currently functioning as a form of communication and as a tool to bring certain issues to light.


[1]           “Looking Back At David Letterman’s First Broadcast After 9/11 « CBS New York.”CBS New York – News, Sports, Weather, Traffic and the Best of NY. 6 Sept. 2011. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/09/06/looking-back-at-david-lettermans-first-broadcast-after-911/&gt;.

[2]           Kurtzman, Daniel. “Barack Obama Jokes – Late-Night Jokes about President Obama.”Political Humor – Jokes Satire and Political Cartoons. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <http://politicalhumor.about.com/od/barackobama/a/obamajokes.htm&gt;.

[3]           Newman, Andy. “Irony Is Dead. Again. Yeah, Right. – NYTimes.com.” The New York Times – Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. 21 Nov. 2008. Web. 26 Jan. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/23/fashion/23irony.html&gt;.

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