Americans don’t get irony. That’s the stereotype in Europe. We just love to laugh at the imbecility of our transatlantic cousins, largely because they’re bigger and richer and more powerful than us, and the only real defence we have is to pretend that they’re stupider and more vulgar than we are. No matter that we may have relied on them to dig us out of two World Wars, re-finance a continent bankrupted by battling fascism, and give us a few big guns and bombs to keep those nasty commies from coming all over us in their nasty commie way, we can at least console ourselves with our superior understanding and sophistication.
This, of course, is a large heap of horse manure. Frankly, there is nothing more terrifyingly sophisticated than a high-minded American imbued with a love of refined culture and a faith in the transformative power of learning. I’ve read a lot of books, I’ve listened to a lot of music, I’ve looked at a lot of paintings, I’ve had a lot of education, some of which I even understood, but confronted with a truly erudite American, I always have a compelling urge to run away and hide. And if we’re talking the irony cliché, all I can say is that stupid Americans don’t get irony, like stupid Europeans don’t get irony, and stupid Africans and stupid little green men with wotsists sticking out the top of their heads. I can tell you this because only a little while back, I myself (Yes, MOI!) I failed to get irony.
I was browsing Red Room’s homepage, vaguely wondering why, quite inexplicably, they had once again failed to feature me in any of their Big Time Writer of the Week lists, when I saw a link to an article in which John Grisham explained how he had just discovered this “really neat” literary device called foreshadowing and he was going to use it in all his novels hereon in.
I only glanced at the first paragraph, but even so I was deeply troubled. How had the man ever written a book without foreshadowing? Gobsmacked, I logged off in high dudgeon at the general injustice of life and retired to the evening bottle of wine, half-thinking I really ought to read a John Grisham novel just to see how he had failed to use such a fundamental tool thus far.
I was so disturbed by this that even a bottle of wine didn’t sluice it out of my system, so I went back to the article the next day and read the rest of it, whereupon this ‘Grisham’ character started boasting about other techniques he’d just ‘discovered’, like symbolism (Eh?), and painstakingly explained how some of these startling innovations could be employed. To be fair to myself, I’d never heard of The Onion, or if I had, I’d forgotten it was a satirical publication, and as ‘Grisham’s’ handy hints got increasingly deranged, it did gradually dawn on me that this was not intended to be taken literally. As satire goes, the piece is not actually all that witty, but by god it did a job on me!
Context is everything. As far as I was concerned, I wasn’t reading something from a source dedicated to literary burlesque, I was reading Red Room. Removed from a known satirical context and placed within the confines of a site that is, my own efforts at frivolity notwithstanding, seriously sober, there was a brief but vertiginous moment in which I really thought one of the world’s best-selling novelists was ingenuously fessing up to discovering some of fiction’s most rudimentary techniques.
I find it slightly distressing how expectations can colour interpretation. When Dear Old Donald Rumsfeld made his notorious unknown-knowns speech, for instance, people like me were rocking with mirth, since it seemed to us that the Machiavellian maniac we loved to hate, folksy charm notwithstanding, had made a complete fool of himself. Only he hadn’t. He was actually expressing some relatively complicated ideas in very simple language. The fact that it came over with a faint air of cod-mysticism, à la “Confucius he say”, was neither here nor there. Put the words into Barack Obama's mouth and I'm fairly sure we'd all have been gasping with wonder at such clear speaking and audacious thinking.
None of which excuses the bizarre inability of the rest of the world to recognize my all round fabulousness. I want this blog highlighted pronto or I’ll be coming round there to whup your hides with a few Old World prejudices of my own.
That was intended ironically, by the way.
Causes Charles Davis Supports
Oxfam, Amnesty International, Greenpeace