But Is It Really Ironic?

When I was a freshman in high school in the year 2000, my hip English teacher Deborah Shaul had the assignment of a lifetime for our class. We were studying various literary devices, and one of the more complex devices we covered was irony. For our assignment, we were to explicate the song lyrics to Alanis Morissette's classic single "Ironic", and see if we could determine if these claims were in fact true examples of irony. 

 "Ironic" is the third single from Morissette's 1995 album,  Jagged Little Pill

"Ironic" is the third single from Morissette's 1995 album, Jagged Little Pill

In celebration of recently watching Alanis perform live at the 2017 KAABOO Del Mar music festival, I am now revisiting this classic assignment to catch you up to speed on what actually classifies as irony.

First, a definition.

Ironic: happening in the opposite way to what is expected, and typically causing wry amusement because of this.

Irony is a rhetorical device, literary technique, or event, in which what appears, on the surface, to be the case, differs radically from what is actually the case. Irony may be divided into categories such as verbal, dramatic, and situational.

The discrepancy between expectation and reality is what truly defines the ironic moment.

Irony can be a very powerful tool when it is cleverly used as a literary technique, literary device, or fictional device, and as Alanis Morissette has shown us, it can even be effectively understood and appreciated through the most universal language: music.

“Ironic” is the 1996 hit song from Alanis Morissette’s third studio album, “Jagged Little Pill”. Written by Morissette, this song is recognized by it’s catchy tunes and lyrics that instantly engage your mind and make you ponder the implications…but is the song really showcasing legitimate examples of irony?

The short answer, ironically enough, is no.

Basically, for a large majority of the song, there isn’t sufficient context to properly conclude that the various song lyrics are examples of irony. And this pretty much happens throughout the entire song (which I absolutely love, for the record).

The only complete and concrete example of irony in this song is featured in the second verse, when she uses the entire portion to set up one frightful story:

Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
"Well, isn't this nice."

The irony found here is that this man, who is referred to as “Mr. Play It Safe” (implying a lifelong habit of perpetual fear and dread), is afraid to fly on airplanes. Deciding to face his fears head on, he finally gets on a plane, which has taken him his entire life to muster the courage. The plane crashes—confirming his deepest, darkest fear, and it is in that single tragic moment that full-scale irony is being displayed.

A lot of these verses could be cases of irony if there were a little more context added. Obviously Morisette was facing significant creative restrictions in regards to the music and melodies that are comprised in a song. As a result, the outcome is a tongue-in-cheek song riddled with inconveniences, and half-ironies or “almost ironies”.

Now isn’t that ironic? ;)

Enjoy this live performance of Alanis Morissette performing her hit song “Ironic” at KAABOO Del Mar 2017

Fun Challenge/Mental Exercise: Try to go through each line of the song and see if you can think of clever ways to fill in the gaps of each part to make all of the statements ironic. 

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
It's a black fly in your Chardonnay
It's a death row pardon two minutes too late
Isn't it ironic, don't you think
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
Mr. Play It Safe was afraid to fly
He packed his suitcase and kissed his kids good-bye
He waited his whole damn life to take that flight
And as the plane crashed down he thought
"Well, isn't this nice."
And isn't it ironic, l don't you think
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
Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
When you think everything's okay and everything's going right
And life has a funny way of helping you out when
You think everything's gone wrong and everything blows up
In your face
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
And isn't it ironic, don't you think
A little too ironic, and yeah I really do think
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
Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
And life has a funny way of helping you out
Helping you out.

Four time All-American, WNBA Champion, Edutainer and Coach