Imma be ironic

Magdalena Waz

To prepare for my return to writing Reading Rights, I reread my first piece. Vague and unsupported, it essentially dwelled on the idea that reading is not what I imagined it was before I was born, that we read less because people in generations past had changed and were now affecting us. Now, I realize that I’m not in much of a position to make that claim, but older people are.
Over our extended winter break, I read Chuck Klosterman’s most recent collection of essays, “Eating the Dinosaur.” In an essay about Weezer, Werner Herzog, Ralph Nader and irony, Klosterman quotes author David Foster Wallace: “And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us.” I’m not sure that I know what he meant, and that’s because Klosterman thinks that now people like me always believe that the true meaning of all art is hidden.
I can’t read a book and think that it is most likely a literal version of that writer’s ideas. I had trouble doing that in elementary school where my main goal was to get under J.K. Rowling’s words to find what she was actually trying to tell me about Sirius and Lupin.
I can’t imagine a world in which I don’t have to do this with anything I read or watch or listen to, and maybe that’s why I’m not too interested in lamenting the fact that irony took over sometime in the early ’90s, according to Wallace. But even thinking about the ways in which I am removed from simply experiencing art is tiring. I am exhausted by my own description of what I do to figure out whether or not I can figure out what I’m reading is.
In the recent Will Ferrell comedy “The Other Guys,” the two main characters find themselves in an odd montage set to the song “Imma Be” by The Black Eyed Peas – possibly the worst song of the year. In these photos, they are in a bar, biting priests and urinating into cups. Some contend that this scene, like parts of the film, spoofs the traditional male bonding that must happen in a buddy comedy.
A spoof – a subset of irony – has to be obvious to some in order to be successful. Klosterman writes that about 65 percent of people have to be oblivious to it and only about 35 percent can know what is actually going on. It would be comforting to find myself one of those who “get” the humor. But I just don’t find this scene funny. I am embarrassed for the actors.
My options, then, are either to assume that the irony doesn’t exist or to declare myself ignorant. I’m trying to lean toward the former, but it’s difficult because I can’t believe how a scene so bad could exist in a generally funny movie. There must be a reason for the lapse in judgment on Adam McKay’s part. I’d rather say that irony failed because it sounds so much better than declaring the scene to simply be literal.
Maybe – and now I’m getting back to my original point – we don’t want to read because it is tiring to continue looking for that irony, for the real meaning. If reading is no longer a matter of looking at words, understanding them and then finding them either pleasant or unpleasant, it must not be fun in the same way that it used to be. And, of course, if it isn’t fun, there’s kind of no saving it.