As someone who likes to write, I tend to have a love-hate relationship with irony. Recognizing irony provides a lot of good manuscript material, but it can also veer into the realm of depressing. I guess most of the time irony is like a best friend who makes great jokes and gives needed companionship but is always draining my energy with pessimism or depleting my resources with requests for my hard-earned money. It takes work to be happy in this world, and sometimes it seems like being an observer of irony consistently cheapens that work.
At various points in my life, I’ve wondered if I wouldn’t be better off just ending my toxic tether to ironic observation once and for all. I’ve seen people who appear to operate without irony, and they can look so unencumbered, so peaceful in their own decided or inherent ignorance of the knotty sophistications of every situation. Sometimes when I look at these people I get angry at myself, disgusted at my own worthless penchant to dissect the world for the sake of discovering some contradiction that will probably just bring agitation to me
and, by extension, to those who spend time with me.
Why are other people free to enjoy the rainbows of life while my head feels compelled to decipher the storms behind them?
Maybe it’s time to stop seeing the irony and just take things at face value. Maybe tomorrow I’ll finally wake up too exhausted to do anything but simply take the world as it appears. But I doubt it.
As it turns out, trying to ignore the complexities of life (and I’ve tried) is just as exhausting, and ultimately more damaging, than simply taking a moment to recognize them. Upon further inspection, I’ve concluded that many of the people who appear to have successfully blocked the recognition of irony from their lives are usually operating unhealthily. I’m pretty sure those people might just be peaceful in a lobotomized way. I’m pretty sure they’re actually the most likely candidates to do harm to themselves and others through stubborn narrow-mindedness or the self-serving rearrangement of reality (think of the child-beater who commits his atrocities for someone else’s “own good” or the politician who might consider perpetual war as a path to peace).
So, for the sake unburdening my mind before I wake up tomorrow without the energy necessary to avoid slapping children or becoming the next Dick Cheney, I will now take a moment to recognize a few of the large-scale ironies we are all faced with in twenty-first century America.
Number One: Ironic Political Branding. This refers to the use of using seemingly innocuous and even invitingly altruistic titles to brand large-scale government operations that actually spread aggression and/or rob people of their civil rights. A few examples of this would be the Patriot Act, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Iran Freedom Support Act. (Maybe this was mostly a Bush Administration thing?)
Number Two: Ironic Pharmaceutical Branding. This refers to the casual use of positive-association words to brand “mental health” drugs which are actually known to be detrimental to the health of many. Rather than providing an existential rainbow for the majority of anxious or depressed persons who end up taking these drugs, these “treatments” might actually rob many of their unique personalities or suck away the mental energy and baseline physical health that would have been necessary for the unhappy people to work toward a clearing in their diagnosed neurosis. Examples of this would be the antipsychotic medication Abilify (which sounds like it should give you back your ability to live well), as well as antidepressants like Wellbutrin (which ostensibly brings one to a state of being well), Adapin (which sounds like adapting, which is healthy), and Effexor (which kind of sounds like elixir, which could be a magical potion that eases all of life’s struggles).
Number Three: The Ironic Portrayal of Big Lending Institutions. The bank is your friend. He just wants to help you achieve your dreams of home ownership. This disingenuous portrayal of modern usury suggests that Bank of America and the rest of the Too-Big-to-Fail guys are just doing us little serfs a favor by locking us into thirty years of high interest rates that will make them hundreds of thousands of dollars while keeping us stressed and overworked as we enjoy their “help” with securing the American Dream of suburban shelter for our families.
Number Four: The Ironic Beliefs of the Politically Disenfranchised (i.e., the way all of us little people without private jets often think). This refers to our American tendency to reward and even worship the people who continually harm us—i.e., the politicians. This refers to the still commonly held belief that voting for the faces of a two-party system serving corporations will somehow affect true, beneficial change for the little people without private jets (i.e., most of us). I understand that we all just want to see things improve. We all want badly to believe in something. But by 2015, it’s already been proven that politicians aren’t usually something worth believing in. I know some people, especially those of certain generation, will never agree that voting isn’t truly the power to change, but consider the situation this way: if you had been wrongly convicted of murder and given a life sentence, would you celebrate being able to choose between bars or barbed wire on the front of your cell? Are either of those two choices really improving the situation at the heart of your struggle?
Number Five: The Irony of Social Media. This refers to the idea that Instagram photos and Facebook posts are an accurate reflection of the true levels of excitement and happiness in people’s lives on a daily basis (by the way, I’m a very happy and successful author, please like my Facebook page if you haven’t already).
Number Six: Ironic Corporate Clichés Regarding Self-Expression. This refers to the idea that corporate-sanctioned acts like wearing jeans on Fridays can be substituted for true individualism in one’s life. This category recognizes the perversion of a milieu that puts forth things like the permission to wear home-team jerseys once a week and the permission to go through the motions of forced participation in infantilizing team-building activities as proof that the heads of large companies and institutions really care about the day-to-day happiness and fulfillment of the thousands of peon employees under their thumbs.
Number Seven: More Ironic Political Terms. This refers to the silliness of terms like “reform candidate.” How could such a term accurately describe someone who was politically savvy and well-connected enough to rise to a position of any power in today’s two-party system, a system which is promoted by a homogenized and corporate-owned mainstream media that stupidly uses terms like “reform” when there really isn’t any happening? Obviously, a person can’t be “reform” if he is or she is entrenched in the status quo, which anyone elected as a modern-day Republican or Democrat kind of is. This category also includes the insulting use of terms like “Job Creator” as a substitute for descriptors more accurate, like “Baron” or “Beneficiary and Distributor of Tax Dollars Collected from Everyone Else.”
Number Eight: The Irony of Retirement as a Goal. We’ve all heard about or seen the sad, real-life satire of someone who wears themselves down working for a magical retirement that turns out to be not-so-magical at all when it arrives. We’ve all heard about or seen someone who puts their head down and heads toward the finish line only to find out that they didn’t develop any true passions during the race. Upon actual retirement, some people don’t remember how to get interested in life without a memo from the boss, and they are too tired to try. They can’t relax, they can’t sit still, or worse yet, they find that they’ve ignored their spiritual or physical health for too long and they get sick, depressed, or dead shortly after retirement. Who is really promoting this idea of severely delayed gratification for the masses? Could it be the ones who need more workers and more people paying into empty Social Security coffers? Could it be the Job Creators?
Phew. That’s a lot of irony to deal with. The world is complicated. I’m tired from writing that list … but I’m also a little less burdened.
Now, some people might say that my above list was a little depressing (it could also be seen as a little cynical and heavy on politics, but election/debate season is upon us again), so I will state the obvious: There is also positive irony in this world; there is also the silver-lining-in-the-cloud kind. A lot of times in this world, pain causes profound growth, flowers and phoenixes rise up from the ashes, and people travel full circle in life’s journeys to fulfill dreams, recognize true beauty, and reach true potential.
For example, it’s ironic that we often don’t fully appreciate our parents until we get older and become them, but is there really any quicker or more substantial way? Isn’t it kind of beautiful when we catch ourselves at age thirty or fifty getting worked up about some household complication just the way our mom or dad used to—and then we shake our heads because we understand why they were concerned or stressed, and then we understand their lives better and appreciate their contributions to our lives all the more.
It’s ironic that it often takes periods of dark, unhealthy living to find the path to true peace and wellbeing, but would the enlightenment shine as bright if we didn’t have to walk through a thorny tunnel to get there? It’s also ironic that we have often have to get our own scarlet letters before becoming true practitioners of non-judgement, but aren’t our convictions truer when they’ve been forged in that sort of fire?
You get the idea. Irony exists in many forms, not all of them bad or depressing. I realize and respect the positive irony in life too. That’s important. I also realize that the identification of irony is somewhat subjective, and I recognize that we all have very few options to operate without some irony in this world. We are all sometimes guilty of uttering the “do as I say, not as I do” sort of thing to friends and family. We all falsely brand ourselves at times and paint over past mistakes or true intentions. We are all guilty of living as hypocrites sometimes in the course of our daily lives in order to make money, get dates, or discipline our kids. I recognize that it’s all too easy to point out the irony in others while ignoring your own, so I’ll say right now that I’m just as full of feces at times as any politician or corrupt corporate manager—but I’m trying not to be. I’m currently trying to recognize and mitigate the negative (BS) sorts of irony in my own living, and I’m trying not to do harm to myself or others while saying or pretending that I’m just trying to do good.
And laughing is important. I’m currently trying my best to laugh a little at the endless train of irony that is steaming down the tracks of everyone’s life—including mine—most every day. I now recognize that even the most infuriating and currently disingenuous among us might be in the center of a full-circle travel headed to the realization of personal truth and redemption. I just turned 38—I’m probably about halfway done with life’s journey—so I hope I’m at least halfway to that truth and redemption thing … but probably not. Now that’s kind of ironic.