Every day between Christmas and New Year’s Day, Cory Alan and Mr. Furious are posting to the MFR [blog], publishing year-end thoughts and post that slipped out of the regular rotation. Mr. Furious Records – Giving You Music.
For the sake of a shared definition; ironic statements are statements which communicate a message opposite of the plain meaning of the words used. For example, Cory tells me that he believes “My Humps” is the best song of 2005; I say “Cory! You are 100% right! ‘My Humps’ is an unparalleled work of aesthetic genius!” The effective use of irony requires a shared cultural context and set of understandings between parties (i.e., BEP sucks Elephunk and after); without it, the listener is likely to miss the messages’ ironic subtext, and recieve the opposite message which is found in the plain meaning of the words. Cory feels validated, instead of contradicted.
Irony is often used when talking about meaningful, important subjects; war, love, and right/wrong (or good/bad, if you’re of a different ethical bent). There are situations where statements are made about these things using irony, which raises the question; is a message-sender morally responsible for listeners who take ironic statements at face value?
On the howie&scott record signs.comets, we have a song called “Midnights & Tape Delays” that is about more than high school football:
Rocking back to think about our celebration, I see you
And what it means to occupy another nation
Saddle up our horses
We’re throwing down with everything we’re worth
It’s all about the pitch and roll, and up the field
Toe the line
Texans raised on turf war aren’t about to yield behind schools
Or ocean’s divide
And I can’t help but feel sincerely misaligned
Since I found the heaven and the hell
The devil and the angel
The night and day within your eyes
In your eyes
Midnights and tape delays
Crawled into you too late
Three in the morning and leaving at 8:00
Stuck in the snow today
Looked from the road – away
Echo effects in the cold instead
Lines four and seven-eight are the dangerous ones. On the surface, a listener might easily hear a message of encouragement, of “stay-the-course!”, of toughness on the gridiron and in battle half a world away. But the song is intended to send up those positions, revealing their tribalist roots and illustrating that strategies learned in Texas football are not an effective basis for international relations. It’s a subtle irony, not easily caught.
If a listener hears “Midnights & Tape Delays” and is encouraged to become or stay a war-of-choice-starting, torture-explaining, jingoistic advocator of unjust violence*, then I would feel like I’d done something wrong; an early indicator of moral responsibility. Can we find a means by which to explain how I am culpable for unintended consequences of my statements?
Jody thinks that message-senders are obligated to make their ironic expressions clearly ironic. She talks about a shared responsibility; for the senders to make their statements broad enough to be seen, and the listeners to be reasonably attuned to the cultural context of the art and artist, alert for irony. It seems like a solid approach to me, and I worry a bit that “Midnights & Tape Delays” may not satisfy its requirements. It probably does if you know me personally; it may not be OK if you don’t.
The stance of “critical realism” towards the universe in general, and art in particular, that I have argued in other posts here is reflected in Jody’s thinking. Her position recognizes the impact of art on the rest of the world; both aesthetic statements and attendance are meaningful and significant in relationship to our physical, mental, spiritual, and moral universes. I think it captures the essence of the moral use of irony, without going overborad on dishing out responsibility for consequences an artist couldn’t forsee or control.
*Note; I am not advocating a position of complete pacificim or demonizing every military action in American history (see: Kosovo, Afghanistan) so Republicans don’t freak out!