Unfortunate, Not Ironic

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"In expressing an idea ironically, writers pay the greatest compliment to their audience, for they assume that readers have sufficient intelligence and skill to discover the real meaning of quizzical or ambiguous statements and situations" (167).
                -Edgar V. Roberts, Writing About Literature

It's even more of an ego-booster to the reader if she realizes the writer incorrectly labeled something as being ironic.  This is the case with Alanis Morissette's song "Ironic," which is only ironic in the sense that it's called "Ironic" but few of the lyrics are actually contradictory.

"It's a black fly in your chardonnay / ... And isn't it ironic, don't you think?" (3, 5).

Having a black fly in your chardonnay is not ironic.  I suppose it would be unfortunate, but there is nothing contradictory about that line.

However, the line "It's a death row pardon two minutes too late" (4) does show irony - cosmic irony, to be exact.  It shows "the chasm between what we hope for or expect and what actually happens" (Roberts, 168), as situational irony is supposed to do.  To go beyond that, it implies the idea that "the universe is indifferent to the [individual]" (169).

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6 Comments

Josie Rush said:

See, I overthought this, because now I think *everything* is ironic. Because, technically, having a black fly in your chardonnay is showing a chasm between what we hope for and what actually happens. It also shows that the universe is indifferent to the individual. Yet, I've heard this song be debunked before, so I'm really confident I'm wrong here. Realizing you do not get paid to cope with my ignorance, do you think you could explain this again and help me over my mental wall?

Jessica Orlowski said:

I didn't get it at first, either. Could you delve further into it? I see the irony in the "death row" part, but not in the fly in the Chardonnay. Yeah- maybe the only irony is that there's a lack of irony in a song called "Irony."

Kayla Lesko said:

You know, I hear everyone talk about that song. I think I listened to it once and that was enough for me.

I sort of wrestled with it, too, actually. I first heard about this song indirectly in an episode of Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (yes, I watch too much TV). They were critiquing the irony in the lyrics, and I suppose I just had their opinions stuck in my head ever since then, which was when the song came out in the mid/late-90s.

Josie, while having a black fly in your chardonnay does show a chasm between what we hope for and what actually happens, it's not ironic because you aren't necessarily hoping there won't be a fly in your chardonnay. You're just drinking it. If you got the glass and went "oh, I wish there won't be a fly in here," and you look inside to see it there, then it would be ironic... I think.

Josie Rush said:

I just assumed that the irony is that there's a fly in your expensive drink, so the sophistication you were shooting for is negated by something very base. I see what you mean, though.

Honestly, I think it can be interpreted both ways. Perhaps I should have used a different line to make my case, such as:

"It's the good advice that you just didn't take" (8).

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Karyssa Blair on Unfortunate, Not Ironic: Honestly, I think it can be in
Josie Rush on Unfortunate, Not Ironic: I just assumed that the irony
Karyssa Blair on Unfortunate, Not Ironic: I sort of wrestled with it, to
Kayla Lesko on Unfortunate, Not Ironic: You know, I hear everyone talk
Jessica Orlowski on Unfortunate, Not Ironic: I didn't get it at first, eith
Josie Rush on Unfortunate, Not Ironic: See, I overthought this, becau