“So, have you noticed that irony is super trendy now?” I dealt Phase 10 cards to Amy and my two kids. “‘The Ironic Generation.’ I keep hearing that. What does that even mean? That people want to live off the grid, yet they can’t survive without Facebook and Twitter?”
Amy fanned and arranged the cards in her hand. “It’s a hipster thing.”
“Well,” I said, “Every generation – do you know what a generation is?”
“Yeah, it’s like a thousand years or something.”
“Not quite,” Amy and I laughed. “It’s a group of people of a certain age. Like, you and all your friends, and all the kids in elementary school right now are your generation. Daddy and me and Amy and all of our friends are our generation.”
He discarded. “Okaaay.”
“Each generation has a group of, I don’t know,” Rebels? Outsiders? “A subculture that kind of defines the generation. In the 20’s it was flappers.” I played a card and looked across the table at Amy. “When were beatniks?”
“Beatniks were in the 60’s,” she said. “And hippies were the 60’s and 70’s.”
“Punk was the 80’s. And now,” I said, “it’s hipsters.” I peered over my cards at our son to see if he understood. He did not.
“There were tons of hipsters in the Twin Cities,” I told him. “They think they’re really cool. Like, they were cool before cool was cool.” He had no idea what I was talking about. He’s nine.
I played a card and asked my friend, “Do you know how the hipster burned his tongue?”
She raised an eyebrow, waiting for my answer.
“He ate pizza before it was cool.” I giggled hysterically. Our son rolled his eyes.
Amy was more useful to him, describing the hipster look – the skinny jeans, the PBR tee shirts. “And then there are the older hipsters, like Ira Glass and my husband, with the glasses, and the beard, like my husband has.” She moved some cards around in her hand. “Although he had the glasses and the beard before they were a thing.”*
I giggled again, thinking she was making fun of herself, saying that her husband had adopted the hipster look before it was cool. I looked up from my cards to acknowledge her cleverness, but she wasn’t smiling about it. She was laying down her sets, getting ready to go out.
“So, back to irony,” I said. “I’ve always loved irony, but I never know how to explain it. If somebody asked me to define irony, I could give an example, but I couldn’t define it.” I laid down my sets of four and discarded. Amy looked thoughtful, turning her eyes up as if she could look into her brain, rifle through files, and find a definition for ironic.
“But the irony I know is not anything like that Alanis Morissette song,” I said. “ ‘It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.’ What the hell is that? That’s not ironic. That’s just annoying. Ironic has some sort of, I don’t know,” I gestured toward my heart. “Mystical quality.”
Amy’s eyebrows shot up and she grinned. “Let’s look it up!”
I gave her the dictionary, and she riffled pages while I shuffled cards. Her face turned scowly.
“What the hell?” She said. “Listen to this:
“Ironic. 1. Characterized by or constituting irony. 2. Given to the use of irony.
“That doesn’t tell you anything,” she fumed. “It uses irony in the definition!”
My son arranged his new cards. “It’s your turn Amy.”
“Oh, sorry,” she said, then smiled and stroked the book. “I have this dictionary now, you see,” and she played a card.
“Well, look up irony then,” I said.
She followed the words with her long finger.
“Irony. 1.a. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning.”
I had had a couple of whiskey sours at this point. “What? That confuses me,” I said, and took another sip. “This is an example of irony to me. I have this friend whose mom was a super fructavore – she loved fruits and veggies and ate them all the time. They were her snacks, her desserts, always a component in her meals. Tons of fiber, you know? Well, she died from colon cancer.” I laid down a card. “That’s ironic.”
“Okay, listen, though. Here’s the third definition of ironic:
“3. Poignantly contrary to what was expected or intended.”
“Poignant! That’s going in my Lexicon.” I jumped up to get my Moleskine. “Poignant is one of my favorite words. It’s like irony – it has this mystical quality,” and I gestured toward my innards again. “It makes me feel.”
“Mom! It’s your turn!”
“Sorry babe.” I played a card and thought of the example of irony I had just told. “My friend’s mom contracting colon cancer after a lifetime of fruit eating is, well, poignantly contrary to what was expected. That’s a perfect definition! That’s the irony I’m talking about. It’s all about the poignancy.”
“You really need to read the usage examples here,” Amy said, pointing at the entry in the dictionary.
I thought about all the young hipsters in the Twin Cities as play went round the the table. I thought about the sad irony that they try desperately to avoid anything mainstream, yet they have become so mainstream they even have a look. Glasses, skinny jeans, fixed gear bicycles. iProducts.
When it was my turn again, I fingered my cards, then hitched up my skinny jeans so I could start the music back up on my iMac. I smirked, “Well, I’ve loved irony for, like, 20 years. Irony spoke to me before it became a ‘thing’.”
And then I laid down my cards and laughed.
Usage Note: The words ironic, irony, and ironically are sometimes used of events and circumstances that might better be described as simply “coincidental” or “improbable,” in that they suggest no particular lessons about human vanity or folly. Thus 78 percent of the Usage Panel rejects the use of ironically in the sentence In 1969 Susie moved from Ithaca to California where she met her husband-to-be, who, ironically, also came from upstate New York. By contrast, 73 percent accepted the sentence Ironically, even as the government was fulminating against American policy, American jeans and videocassettes were the hottest items in the stalls of the market, where the incongruity can be seen as an example of human inconsistency. (The American Heritage College Dictionary)
When I was researching this post, I came across some pretty hilarious stuff. Like the wikiHow article 9 Ways to Be a Hipster. I also found a fascinating opinion piece in the NY Times: How to Live Without Irony by Christy Wampole. Both great reads if you are curious about hipster counterculture.