Sunday, October 03, 2010

Irony and Facebook

File:Marcel Duchamp Mona Lisa LHOOQ.jpg


This past week poet Alfred Corn asked the question on his Facebook page, "Irony--can it be defined in non-ironic fashion?"  Today, I saw the film Social Network and the ironies in the film spurred even more thought on the subject.

To begin, I'd have to answer Alfred's question by saying no. As soon as I even try to define irony, irony influences my thoughts, making me want to be ironic in my response. That is not to say we cannot talk about irony in a straight-forward manner, but that even when we do, there is an inclination to add a touch of irony. Irony is needed to explain irony.

Irony has unquestionably played a key role in my life. Accepting the label of gay in my 20s was blatantly ironic, I thought. Gay. The least gay thing about me was that I was gay. The very term is fraught with irony, going back to Oscar Wilde, no doubt one of the models used in creating the term for homosexuality. Yes, Wilde was gay, even in the horrors of his life in prison. What could be more linguistically ironic than the oxymoron, gay suicide, filling our newspapers today?

Irony is subtle; defining it ought to be not only difficult, but ongoing. Pin it down and it becomes sarcasm, cynicism, a joke, a witticism, a play on words, a pun, perhaps. Wikipedia breaks the term down into it's many exemplary uses, Socratic, tragic, literary, linguistic, artistic, and the like. Yet, those who use irony might well disagree on what is or isn't irony-- Duchamp's putting a mustache on Mona in L.H.O.O.Q., above, for instance.

The film, Social Network, presents us with a creator of Facebook, a network with half a billion friends, unable to be or keep a friend himself. Irony. And there are many other ironies in the film. If the story  has any truth to it, Facebook as it has evolved today is far more than the original idea as Mark Z. conceived it. If Facebook has become a substitute for making real friends, then that too is ironic. Yet, as I see it, Facebook has provided far more than a place to meet ones potential sex partners; it has become a place to communicate in a genuine way. What started out as a convenient way to stay in touch with friends and acquaintances has become a means of sharing ideas with those who share our interests, as well as a way to renew and maintain ties that we should not have lost. The implications for education using Facebook are just arising.

There is much more to both irony and to Facebook that I'd like to explore this gorgeous October day. But I have dinner plans, so those thoughts must wait.

BTW, there is a brilliant review of the film and its irony in the New Yorker:

Influencing People

David Fincher and “The Social Network.”

by David Denby

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