Of Black Flies and Spoons: An Analysis of the song Ironic

Alanis does get some lines right…

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In 1995, Canadian singer Alanis Morissette released her album, Jagged Little Pill, which had such memorable songs as Hand in My Pocket, You Ought to Know, and Head Over Feet. What caught the attention of listeners-from the academic or scholastic field, to the free thinking philosophers of that time, to the non-intellectual laymen-was the song Ironic. The first-time listener of the song will be caught by the short tales and situations that are tragic by varying degrees (poignant, one could say, was “An old man, turned 98/He won the lottery/And died the next day”). Over the course of hearing the song, however, the pointed question, “Isn’t it ironic” will eventually be challenged, as the first assumption one would have is that, yes, it was ironic.

The core of the controversy, of course, is the challenged ironies of the situations within the song’s verse. At one side, her critics would say that none of the situations are ironic at all; the other side would rush to her defense and plead cosmic irony. There is also the defense that Alanis must have meant to ask the question, as a way of making people assume it’s ironic, and their discovery that the song has no ounce of irony would in itself be ironic. If such was the case, then Alanis failed in execution…

It’s like rain/On your wedding day
Consider: While rain does not affect the tangible existence of the wedding itself, and may not even disrupt the ceremony (unless the celebration occurs outside). It may, however, affect the mood of the wedding. Rain, after all, is associated with somber and dampened.
Irony? No. While it may be indirectly ironic ( i.e. Effects on the mood), the object of rain does not contradict the object of wedding. Nor do their effects intersect in all cases. As for mood, rain can also be interpreted as part of the carefree, celebratory nature. (Picture: a countryside of hills, two free spirits united by vows, and the words of the priest and the rain giving sign of the sanctioning of the marriage).
It’s a free ride/When you’ve already paid
Irony? No, While the contradictions are obvious, there is the impossibility of the set-up. There is an implied third element: the person who is the target of payment, whose existence implies the possibly negation of the set-up. His existence, in fact, is enough to disrupt the possibility of irony.
It’s a good advice/That you just didn’t take/And who would’ve thought it figured?
Consider: A good advice is a suggestion to an action. The fact that you chose not to act on it does not immediately mean its contradiction. The two first statements, would not be ironic at all, as there is the implied question of how good the advice is. The good advice, of course, assumes a statement, your refusing to take it assumes another statement. It is simply saying x and y. They have not intersected. However, the third statement defines the first as having been right, after all.
Irony? Yes, The common misconception (because of the way it is strategically placed in the song) is that the thought is actually comprised only in the first two statements, and the third statement encloses the whole verse (from the rainy wedding day, to the ignored advice). If that is the case, then the situation of the advice is not ironic. However, take the three together, and we have the perfect ironic set-up: it was assumed that the good advice was wrong, when the third statement supported was right…

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