An appreciation and recognition for the opposite of the expected, or the alternative meaning to what is expressed. The virtues of truthfulness are incorporated by the ability to reveal and disclose reality, often that which is guarded by figures of power. As a result freedom of speech is promoted to individuals and groups.
Truths need to be exposed to society as a whole, and we need ways to communicate which are indirect. We also need avenues in which we can express light-hearted situations and aspects of life.
There are several types of irony which we see in society today. Tragic irony, or dramatic irony, refers to a character in a story or play, and their ignorance to a fate which the audience already knows (For example in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet). Cosmic irony is more belonging in a play or story, and is when a higher power interferes with a character’s life creating ironic situations for them. Both cosmic irony and tragic irony are not seen directly in society, the irony we most often see is called Socratic irony. This refers to a person of a higher stature, usually a teacher, pretends to be ignorant in order to expose another person’s foolishness or ignorance, often while the ‘victim’ remains unaware. On the other hand it can be used as a teaching tool where said teacher works his way around the material for the student to come upon the required knowledge. This is the type of irony we most see today, and yet it still comes in many different forms, which is partly the reason why some people find it hard to recognize and understand.
Irony and sarcasm are very often confused with each other, but in fact sarcasm is simply a form of irony in and of itself. The distinction between the two can be made by looking at the end which is aimed for. Sarcasm by definition is stating the opposite of an intended meaning in order to sneeringly, slyly, jest or mock a person, situation or thing. If wit, or humor is pursued it can be in the form of written or verbal ironic statements or scenarios, or as a response to a previous remark. While sarcasm strives for a more personal effect, irony is used to expose or emphasize something which it is not directly referring to. Along with sarcasm come many other literary devices which are often labeled as irony. Coincidence, while not a literary device, is perhaps the most difficult to distinguish from irony. While many instances and examples of irony may be shown and described by television, radio, and stand up comedians alike, they are only ironic if the result is the exact opposite of what was intended. Coincidental situations are often seen as ironic because they have some kind of humorous or unlikely twists, but this does not make them an example of irony itself. From this, I would suggest that this is often why irony itself is seen as unimportant and is not valued in our society today, because it is mistaken for undesirable happenings and therefore is seen as something which we do not wish to have.
Irony is important within society, despite being overlooked by many as a value which we do not hope to have. Perhaps the most important function of irony to people today, is its use to expose the truth. It is the only way things can be expressed without using direct speech or direct action. It is a form of sending a message without saying the message, something which can be very powerful. Politicians and political writers often use irony in their work; however it is mainly writers who use ironic statements in attempt to speak to power. Powerful people and organizations are often the subjects of this indirect but effective attempt, with writers using ‘read between the lines’ publications which are picked up for their irony by those who are able to see their intended claims. Politicians are less likely to be seen using irony, although it has proved to be an effective way to emphasize claims they are making. By comparing an ironic event to something which they are truly referring to, they hope that people will see the irony in an example they produce, and their audience is able to relate this to the real issue the politicians are trying to emphasize.
There is a sense of understanding which is needed in order for irony to exist, let alone for it to be effective. Irony is put out into society for people to recognize and appreciate, and is a yes or no phenomenon; you either get it, or you don’t. Because of this, a target audience is created. It is understood and appreciated by the well educated, quick thinking people within our society. However, this does not mean to say that the less educated among us are unable to be ironic or have an appreciation for irony itself, but they have little value or need for irony in their lives, generally speaking. These people will perhaps appreciate more direct forms of action and humor, rather than unclear attempts at ‘beating around the bush’. It has been said that irony has a double audience, one audience who see and value what is literally said or written by a speaker, and another audience who sees and understands what is not said. It is this which also contributes to the undervaluing of irony, as it is not seen by the entire population. It is fully understood by a minority within society and so it is not pursued, as many other values are such as honor, trust, and happiness.
It is most common to see ironic articles written by educated writers or in performances by comedians who use irony for its comical value. These are two typical activities in which irony can be fully appreciated, situations in which there can be a gap between what is spoken or written, and what is meant. In a society without irony we would lose a sense of light-heartedness, and our lives would become dull and predictable. Conversations, written articles and entertainment would all be very direct, to the point and participants would mean exactly what they say. This would dramatically change the way we talk to people in power, as there would be no subtleness about the exposure of how these people govern our daily lives. In this case, that subtleness makes the act acceptable, and without it there would be a lack of freedom surrounding those who wish to write about or talk about the truths in our lives. To prevent this we must,
Ensure that there are adequate avenues for irony to be expressed in. Comedians have designated opportunities to use ironic humor in their performances, and writers are able to express their views in an environment protected by the rights of the public.
Formal education is fundamental to the understanding and recognition of irony and its other forms such as sarcasm. With this, comes the product of humor and the light-heartedness of ironic situations and consequences. The practice of irony restricts the use and application of direct speech as a form of communication.