Irony says the opposite of what it means.
Irony says “Thanks a lot!” when it means “That’s not what I wanted.”
Irony says “Aren’t you smart?” when it means “You’re pretty stupid.”
Irony says “Go away” when it means “I want you closer.”
Irony says “I don’t know why I put up with you” when it means “I’m so lucky to have you.”
Irony says the nasty thing to mean the nice thing. Which sounds nasty but no one’s allowed to say so, because it’s supposed to be code for nice. Irony also says the nice thing, but it means the nasty thing. Which feels nasty, but no one’s allowed to say so because the nasty thing wasn’t said out loud.
Irony undermines itself. It’s not just self-deprecating. It undermines the people that hear it as much as the person that speaks it. At its worst, irony is bitter and cutting. Schoolteachers use it to dull down the enthusiasm of children, to cut into their enthusiasm and to hammer in the deep dark threat of WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE ANYWAY.
Once the self has been infected with that little worm of self-doubt, the irony meme is nicely entrenched, ready to go about replicating itself furiously, sending out its prickly message again and again. The embittered child practises on his friends, on his parents. Later he will practise it on his lovers, and later still on his children.
It was all very fashionable, when the post-modernists got arty about showing how very clever and self-aware they were, to employ irony in art and literature. Stories suddenly started referring to their own narrative structures. Everything had to have multiple frames, and academics got themselves in a twist distancing themselves from any sincere commentary on anything. Art and literature threw darts at any trace of sincerity – and not surprisingly, seeing as society had been doing the same for decades.
The trouble with irony is that it offers no value. It offers nothing except a sense of loss and distance. It has comic value, for a second. There’s the brief moment where it pretends its clever. But cleverness, of a moment, is worth so little. It leaves little except the echoes of the long chain of hurt that went into this need to cut, cut, cut. And – ironically enough – the neverending cutting is both the triumph and the desperate failure now-dead schoolmaster, the long-gone patriarch.
Let them be, I say. Say what you mean, not what you don’t. Find that little ghost, that casualty of the WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE monster, and coax it out. There’s no need to apologise. There’s no need to make yourself smaller to fit that threat. There’s no need to make others smaller, to cut cut cut. When you put down the small sharp knife, you’ll see how much room there is in your own two hands.