Just got an email from my college roommate, Jeff Berven, who says he’s stopped telling my “meaning of life” joke, because people just don’t appreciate irony anymore.
That could be a good thing, I suppose, if a decrease in the appreciation of irony leads to an increase in the volume of irony which exists in the universe.
On the other hand, if there’s more irony in the world, would that make it less precious? That would probably depend on whether you accepted the macro point of view—the importance of global irony, or lack thereof—vs. the micro point of view—what irony means to you and me.
I personally don’t take either point of view, because I don’t know what irony is. And I don’t know anyone who knows what irony is, even if they think they know what irony is, which is probably pretty ironic when you think about it. So go ahead and think about it.
My running bud, Bill, because of his love of play on words, would tell you that irony is what life gives you when you “press” too hard. Even though we don’t know what it is, we are in constant pursuit of irony. We do this on our almost-daily goofball runs, where “thick and serious” is the enemy and irony is our friend. We work off a loose combination of Bill’s definition and my meaning-of-life joke.
I say “my” meaning-of-life joke, because it’s hard to imagine that any human being has spent more time telling this tale, the story of a man who (finally) says to the guru, “you mean to tell me that I’ve given up my wife and family, lost my job, trekked through these mountains for 15 years to find you, sat by your side for 10 years waiting for you to discover the meaning of life, and now you tell me that life is a deep well?”
And the guru says, “It isn’t?”
I recently set a record for telling that story—18 minutes on the Kal Haven Trail at Run Camp—taking advantage of the fact that the campers were already in a six-mile stupor with two miles to go and no place to hide from me.
Even Bill—who can run from me but he can’t hide—had to confront the seriousness of Jeff’s concern: “What if people just don’t appreciate irony anymore?” he asked on one of our goofball runs.
“You don’t even know what irony is,” I said to Bill. “How could you possibly care whether people care about it?”
“I think I’d know it if I didn’t see it,” Bill said, displaying his obvious and long-held bias that paradox is possible.
“Wrong!” I immediately countered with authority, not because I had given much thought to his assertion, but as part of our daily tradition. It’s my job then to assemble stray thoughts, throw in casual observations, create new words if necessary, scramble topics and present arguments with little regard for the consequences of logic or reason.
The freedom of not being taken seriously provides some helpful insights into what we sound like when we try to be.
One of the great lines in moviedom is when, in Clueless, Paul Rudd says to Alicia Silverstone, “Do you know what you’re talking about?” and she responds, “No, does it sound like I do?”
Oh, but to have the courage to offer such disclaimers with a straight face in the heat of our daily deliberations. But to do so would erode our credibility.
Is that ironic or what?