The ironic bone in our bodies

In the comments on this post about a Guardian mockery of Mac users, we Americans are accused, once again, of not knowing how to spell irony.

But today, in the Guardian, Simon Pegg says that we do, indeed, have ironic bones:

When it comes to humour, however, there is one cultural myth that just won’t die. You hear it all the time from self-appointed social commentators sat astride high horses, dressed as knights who say, “Ni”. They don’t get it. They never had it. They don’t know what it is and, ironically, they don’t want it anyway. That’s right: “Americans don’t do irony.” This isn’t strictly true. Although it is true that we British do use irony a little more often than our special friends in the US. It’s like the kettle to us: it’s always on, whistling slyly in the corner of our daily interactions. To Americans, however, it’s more like a nice teapot, something to be used when the occasion demands it. This is why an ironic comment will sometimes be met with a perplexed smile by an unwary American. . . .

When Americans use irony, they will often immediately qualify it as being so, with a jovial “just kidding”, even if the statement is outrageous and plainly ironic. For instance…

A: “If you don’t come out tonight, I’m going to have you shot… just kidding.”

Of course, being America, this might be true, because they do all own guns and use them on a regular basis (just kidding). Americans can fully appreciate irony. They just don’t feel entirely comfortable using it on each other, in case it causes damage. A bit like how we feel about guns.

It’s not so much about having a different sense of humour as a different approach to life. More demonstrative than we are, Americans are not embarrassed by their emotions. They clap louder, cheer harder and empathise more unconditionally. It’s an openness that always leaves me feeling slightly guilty and apologetic when American personalities appear on British chat shows and find their jokes and stories met with titters, not guffaws, or their achievements met with silent appreciation, rather than claps and yelps. We don’t like them any less, we just aren’t inclined to give that much of ourselves away. Meanwhile, as a Brit on an American chat show, it’s difficult to endure prolonged whooping without intense, red-faced smirking.

In the end, he says, the smashing success of The Office on both sides of the irony divide proves that we’re more alike than not. We’re American: Let’s hug.

  • Hasan Jafri

    “We don’t like them any less, we just aren’t inclined to give that much of ourselves away.” How very ironic. Or being American, maybe my simple intellect didn’t pick up all the complexity. Was that meant to be tongue in cheek or icould it be it was mplied as true? Yikes, maybe it was both.

    Umm, I better get back to reading the Anna Nicole bio. Just getting to the juicy parts.

  • http://morewhat.com/wordpress/ Stanford Matthews

    Is that the irony in irony?

  • http://blog.syracuse.com/newstracker Brian Cubbison

    Socratic irony: A black fly in your hemlock.