It’s been twenty-five years since Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill. For each and every one of the years between then and now, she has had to suffer the scorn of English 101 students everywhere, because they are experts in recognizing and using irony as a device that can be verbal, dramatic, or situational, but is always “the use of language that signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.”
A black fly in your chardonnay? Really Alanis, a cup of coffee falling in your chardonnay is ironic, not a fruit fly. Fruit flies are always found in wine when you are outside. Believe me, I know. Rain on your wedding day? Really Alanis, getting married by a minister who’s your ex-husband is ironic. Weather is definitely not. Ever. Unless you operate a ski resort in Las Vegas. Wait, I think that’s actually a thing. A free ride when you’ve already paid? Really Alanis, it’s not free if you’ve already paid. I can’t even imagine a way in which this could be fashioned into irony. Regardless, the hoopla about the anniversary of the record has prompted me to challenge myself to be more observant about irony in day-to-day life, observations I would be delighted to share with you.
Just north of Barrie, right after the highway splits off and the 400 continues north, there is a billboard. It’s right where you would turn, if you wanted to go to Hempola Hemp farm, which is a suitably granola-crunchy, sustainable place where fine hemp products are sold. Or I guess that’s what it is. I’ve never been there. But I have seen the billboard. It says, “Reduce the use of Plastic!” And indeed, I think we can all agree reducing the use of plastic is not just a noble cause, but an essential one. Except the message on the billboard is printed on large a piece of vinyl, attached via grommets. Last time I checked, I think vinyl falls into the category of plastic. Ironic, no?
At the cottage, where I have been hunkered down since mid-May, there is no internet aside from the precious gigabytes delivered through my phone, so Netflix or Prime or Crave or any other conveyance of video content over the airwaves is out of the question. So, if one wants to watch something, one must resort to the stash of DVDs gathering dust on the shelf in the bedroom.
One of the best tactics, in this off-grid situation, is to stock up on entire series, especially the long-lived ones. The Sopranos. The West Wing. Madmen. Downton Abbey. And, of course, 24. I’m working on season three right now, snuggly in the familiar groove of Jack Bauer’s ebb (look angry) and flow (aim your gun at somebody), lulled by the comfort of knowing there’s another terrorist right around the corner. In case you were not aware, each season of 24 plays out, in real time, over the course of twenty-four hours. It may start at noon one day and end at noon the next, or start at nine at night, or some other time. Each episode takes place during a particular hour of the day, over sixty minutes, and the clock ticks down every time there’s a pause that would have been for a commercial break.
And here is what I finally noticed: they never, nada, niente, use a twenty-four-hour clock in these countdowns. Eleven o’clock is eleven o’clock, whether morning or night, never 23:00. I think this is because Americans are known for their aversion to European things, like putting the day before the month in date formats, or a system of weights and measures that works on base ten as opposed to base eight, and, indeed, the subversive, communist notion of the twenty-four-hour clock (Every hour gets its own number? What’s next? Universal healthcare?). Even in a series called 24. That, Alanis, is irony.