Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Irony will be the death of us all

The irony debate over at Wordplayer has gotten a bit out of hand.

Here's the scenario, which I first referenced a few days ago. Terry Rossio posted an inspiring article about how to play with expectations of both audience and character within a script.

Great article. Nobody here is arguing anything else.

However, Terry make the mistake of calling these references "dramatic irony."

"Dramatic irony" is when the audience knows something a character does not know. That's the definition, the universally accepted definition. I even looked it up in several places just to make absolutely sure I didn't have it wrong all these years, and the general literary world seems to agree with me.

The real mistake I made was in trying to describe irony. Just basic irony, when expectations conflict with reality.

Stupid Emily.

The problem is, irony is such a complex concept and I was trying to boil it down to its simplest roots, without realizing that everybody who's ever taken an English class has their own interpretation of what irony is and will stick to that interpretation even in the midst of battling a pack of wild dingos.

The audacity of me, disagreeing with people. I mean, really.

The real IRONY here - suckers! - is that the very people who were accusing me of forcing them to accept some societal definition advocated by cookie-cutter English teachers (and isn't that kind of what a definition is?), were also the very people who were demanding that I be burned at the stake for disagreeing with the majority.

But whatever. I gave up on that discussion. Irony is just too complex and I didn't take that into account when I tried to explain it. And some people who haven't been calling for my execution made some very good points that I've been turning over in my head for the past couple of days.

Still, Terry hasn't changed the references in his post to correct his mistake. So I thought I'd go back to the beginning and help to clarify the original problem, one that is much easier to solve.

"Dramatic Irony". It's not the same thing as "irony in drama". Terry's problem in this article is that he refers to every example as dramatic irony when in fact most of them are intended to represent simple irony.

I really hate the person who named these devices.

What's really driving me insane is that even that is causing a ruckus. Even though dramatic irony has one meaning, a meaning I've been teaching for ages, a meaning you can find in almost all literature books across the land, people are still disagreeing with me, and for some reasons so silly I just tried to type up five different sentences trying to explain why and none of them made any sense.

And then the truth came out. Terry doesn't like the definitions of dramatic irony so he came up with a better definition. Well no wonder. If this whole argument is over how to define dramatic irony and Terry makes up his own definition, we're never going to stop arguing because he's never going to acknowledge the real definition and I'm never going to acknowledge his fake one.

I met this guy once who hated Pulp Fiction because he claimed that nobody changed throughout the film - there were no character arcs. So I brought up Marcellus Wallace. Nope, he said, Marcellus didn't change at all. I knew at that point there was no point in continuing the discussion because if this guy wasn't going to agree on what I believe to be a pretty obvious plot point, then we were never going to be on the same level in the discussion.

That's kind of what I feel like now. If I tell you that your feet are on the ground and you keep telling me that you float, we can't really have a logical conversation.

So great. I may have made the writer of Shrek and the Pirates movies my enemy for life. Yeah that's a typical Emily maneuver.


  1. The big problem is the use of "specific terminology." Pretty much most of the things mentioned ar enot irony, dramatic irony or anything other irony.

    The correct term would be foreshadowing. Whenever you "foretell" an event with or without the character knowing, it would be foreshadowing.

    Like if you have a person telling another that their ways will ">insert something<" and that happens in a later scene either comparatively or in contrast; that's foreshadowing.

    Or if two people on a subway converse about someone taking over the train, it would be foreshadowing if it happens.

    You could perhaps call the use of it to constitute the appearance of dramatic irony, but it's still foreshadowing, a very powerful cinematic concept.

    You hav ethe choice of showing\telling the protag, showing\telling a minor or major character, or having a peripheral character introduce it.

    Foreshadowing, I love it.

  2. Although I do generally agree that most people like to call things ironic when they don't know what the hell they're talking about, I also really don't want to bring the argument over here. So I'm not going to argue about semantics because I've made enough enemies this week.

    Actually "cage match" kind of fits where we are.

  3. Awwww, buck up, li'l camper...

    The lesson to learn comes courtesy of one of the most sagacious figures in all moviedom: "Let the wookie win." Ask yourself: did you really think a man who has written forty eight columns illuminating his own brilliance would step back and go "Ya know what? You're right. I better change the title since I'm not using the term according to convention?"

    So... regardless of your chess-playing prowess, wasn't getting your arms torn off somewhat of an inevitability?

    I myself tend to use words incorrectly and often with deliberate intent; I usually find the results hilarious and as an egocentrist the fact that it amuses/annoys others is secondary. As such I've felt no compulsion whatsoever (for once) to joust with your particular windmill. I do, however, have sympathy for your skirmish (next time, mention that you hated NETWORK while you're at it).

    Take this to heart - Terry feels that he's won because you lost your cool and he didn't. As such, I doubt he's experiencing any emotions much stronger than bemusement. Better, he prefers the company of those brave enough to express opinions not his own. The trick is simply in knowing when to say when. A cessation of conflict at this point would be prudent.

    Good luck with your zombie script - now *that's* irony ("or...IS IT?" Said Stephen Colbert)


  4. The thing is, in normal every day activities I never correct people. But this is a man putting himself out there as an expert on literary criticism so I thought he'd appreciate having someone logically explain in an appreciative tone - because I never, ever insulted him personally - that he needed to adjust his vocabulary so that he could be more accurate.

    I tried to bow out of the conversation but people kept referring to me in my absence, some with personal insults, so I foolishly hopped back in.

    And actually if you knew me, I in no way lost my cool.

    I still say Terry's wrong. But you're right. It's his website, if he wants to be wrong he can be as wrong as he likes. It just bugs me that the column will continue to be read by people who will then go off and think they understand the concept as a result. Kind of like people who use apostrophes incorrectly.

    I am indeed tired of caring.

  5. Fudge em. You know you're right, hell I know you're right. If know one else wants to acknowledge it that's there problem.

    "Fighting on the Internet is like competing in the Special Olympics. Even if you win you're still retarded."

  6. I just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents. Ironic though it may be. The best way to learn is to discuss, not always agree.

    In this case, I think it doesn't matter as some people call the Act 2 twist a "moment of clarity" ( that would be Blake - Save the Cat over at

    People should just be comfortable with the concept not as much agree on the terminology.

  7. Joe Unidos7:16 AM

    Keep your chin up.

  8. "Enemy for life"?

    TR likes arguing and debating. I find it next to impossible to believe that he carries any anger from the dust-up.

    Inhale, exhale, continue.


  9. I suppose you haven't figured out yet that I am the queen of hyberbole.

    Welcome to my quirky land of exaggeration. Enjoy. I mock freak out daily.

    People are always like, "calm down" and I'm like - I am calm. This is me calm. And they never believe me....


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.