"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 18 March 1997. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Anemic Analysis



A while back, someone apparently

noticed that irony was going a

bit gray in the flesh - we can

only assume that they were

watching the Fox Network at the

time - and rushed it to the

doctor. There was, fortunately,

a specialist on duty in the ER:

Postie-paragon David Foster

Wallace, author, teacher, and

smart-aleck-in-public, the man

who gave us "!" as an entire

footnote and begins sentences

with "And but so...."


The doctor huddled, performed all

the requisite tests ("Wink

behind Mr. Authority Figure's

back for me, son"), and

pronounced the patient ... dead.



Irony, dead at 2300 or so (Asked

for a date of birth, the patient

simply responded, "Not yesterday,

that's for sure") of multiple

rimshot wounds, bastard son of

seminal smartass Diogenes, who

walked the streets with a

lantern in broad daylight.

Something about looking for an

honest man.


We were surprised to see irony

go. It had, after all, been a

pretty vigorous old fart,

particularly after a


adolescence: There it was,

checking the youngsters for

plumpness with Johnny Swift,

rollicking through hell and back

with Pangloss and his innocent

young friend and smiling the

entire time, even tagging along

with Oedipa Maas the night her

shrink went nuts. All these

celebrities - you kept expecting

it to start dating Kate Moss.



Then, suddenly, death. Wallace

provided both the pronouncement

of death and the results of his

autopsy in the same report,

titled (in what seems, oddly, to

be an ironic turn of language)

"E Unibus Pluram: Television and

US Fiction," first published in

The Review of Contemporary

Fiction in 1993. The

pronouncement went unnoticed by

all but a few irony groupies

(Come on, now ... The Review of

Contemporary Fiction?) until the

recent release of Foster's A

Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never

Do Again, a book so full of

irony our copy has already

rusted. Foster's diagnosis? The

patient had become "dilute and



More specifically, Wallace argued

before the coroner's board of

inquest - seize on a metaphor,

might as well run with it - the

patient had stopped secreting

new bile, instead relying on a

six-hours-a-day ingestion of

junk food. Wallace cited as

evidence trace samples of

Married with Children and Burger

King's "Sometimes You Gotta

Break the Rules" found in the

patient's bitstream.


[Brat Pack]

As the old, tired bile lost its

corrosive strength, the patient

became bloated and congested

with everything it set out to

digest, but, with no stomach

acid, instead simply assimilated

the content. Eventually,

stuffed-to-gagging on its steady

diet, irony became impossible to

distinguish from what it had

consumed for lunch. Several

examples of so-called

Image-Fiction seemed to support

his thesis, where undigested,

intact television and movie

programming was found inside the

belly of the so-called novels.

It was pretty much downhill from



Irony became too easy, too

common, too corrupt. The ironist

became the kid who sits back and

points out, day after day, that

the emperor is naked again -

without lifting a finger to put

any clothes on the man. (Perhaps

we should make that "The Man.")

Irony, the pose of "hip ennui,"

devolved into a way of avoiding

engagement with the potential

agonies of real-life,

honest-to-goodness commitment to

a principle of some kind by

letting everybody know that,

hey, disengagement is much, much

smarter. Believe in something?

What, are you that naive?



Interesting diagnosis, but Dr.

Suck can't help but notice that

the patient is still, you know,

moving. It's certainly sick, but

irony isn't dead. If Alanis

Morisette couldn't do it in with

the cudgel....


Irony is indeed tyrannical, as

Wallace argues, when the user

finds himself unable to shut it

off, when the aforementioned hip

irony comes to be used

unrelentingly against, you know,

grandma and the kids. But, like

crack and malt liquor, it's

still a perfectly useful tool in




Does Wallace really believe that

irony has become the "cultural

norm"? Looks like someone's been

spending too much time in the

faculty lounge - or watching too

much of old Rupe Murdoch's

ghastly little brainchild. Try

mixing with some civilians in a

reality-based setting. It'll



While we've come to abhor cheap

cynicism and disingenuous

distaste as much as the next

smartass (perhaps maybe more

so), we wonder if Wallace would

really prefer the alternative?

David Foster Kevorkian may think

it's time for the cyanide

pills, but just around the

corner there's Dr. Quinn with a

full dose of saccharin. Not

exactly an antidote to irony's

ills, but sure proof that he's

got reason to live.



To anyone who thinks we can live

without irony, we suggest

hanging out with a Party of

Five fan club or maybe Ross

Perot. Want the full treatment?

Suck orders the author to spend

24 therapeutic hours - straight,

no perspective breaks - locked

in a room with a gaggle of PETA

volunteers. Be sure to wear

leather shoes, Dave, you're

gonna want the full experience.


And wipe that goddamn smirk off

your face.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers


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