The Problem With Irony

Less irony, more poetry

Frédéric Bagutti

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Irony is generally defined as a figure of speech that consists in saying something different — usually the opposite — of what one thinks, or feels, and wants to be heard. Irony may fuel satire, a type of indirect wit that is meant to mock human vices or faults, with the intention of conveying across society a norm opposed to an unsatisfactory state of affairs, for people to sit up, think, and question the status quo.

Irony is not easily defined, nor spotted — we usually sense it without being able to clearly describe it — and if we’re not careful enough it can quite easily become a vehicle for nihilism, shouting obvious condescending fatalism, overplaying disillusioned negativity, and merely masking some opportunistic cynicism. Irony as a means of confronting reality may well lead to a means of avoiding it, as if the courage to be serious, even with humor, has become too unsettling to be confronted even indirectly.

Irony may often turn into parody, solely intended to provide comic relief, while pretending to some trendy self-mockery, multiplying meta pirouettes, contradictory discourses, and where we finally lose all bearings. Leveraging on its more or less socially acceptable way to express hostility, irony may even become plain sarcasm, mocking others with contempt, and it then feels more like some bitter passive-aggressive expression of defeat than some courageous inspiration for change. And when sarcasm becomes a common lens to look at the world and depict the perceived absurdity of the present, it tends to indulge us in hollow tales that point finger with anger, offering nothing new on what they address, and resemble more and more to what they’re laughing at. As we’re trying to reassure ourselves that we’re on the right side of the fence and not one of those we’re laughing at, the only ambition becomes to make fun of easy targets, to be entertained and flattered under the false guise of subversion, while we bath in the soft comfort of easy indignation.

Instead of persevering ever further with irony, as if it were the only way to survive in the midst of the world’s irrationality, perhaps it’s time to explore other disruptive practices to create meaningful expressions to face the pretensions of a narrow world.

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Frédéric Bagutti

Organizational behavior consultant and executive coach, licensed psychologist, EMCCC INSEAD. You can find me at: www.bagutticonsulting.com