You think it can’t get any worse tomorrow, and then it does. Morning after morning the death toll in Turkey and Syria exceeds our imagination. Ironically, big insurance calls a quake of this magnitude “an act of God,” and speaks of “Biblical proportions.” Will we ever smile again?
1. In praise of Irony.
Irony is our humor-of-choice this painful week. We didn’t laugh but we nodded knowingly to each other after reading Canadian author Margret Atwood’s words to all in the U.S. who are banning her prophetic book The Handmaid’s Tale: “Go ahead and ban my book, To those who seek to stop people from reading [it]: Good luck with that. It’ll only make them want to read it more.” The novel is among the most frequently banned books in the United States, but not because it is risqué, it is risky! It suggests that authoritarian fundamentalism is a threat to us all, and those tending toward fundamentalist authoritarianism are demanding that it be a tale untold. Oh the irony of it all.
2. Ironic, not sardonic.
Do you know the difference? This week the State of the Union address and the vocal or assigned opposition gave us a painful education. Protests meant to be sardonic were often unself-consciously self accusatory, and thus darkly ironic. “Liar, liar, liar” is sardonic. “So we are at the same table, (on the same page),” is ironic. Surprisingly the President was master of the ironic ad lib and not surprisingly the interruptions from the back row humorless sarcasm. The difference between the two? When ironic, one thing is said and its opposite recognized or intended; sardonic speech is bitterly critical, cynical, caustic, mocking. Irony can be loving, sardonic quips are rarely so. Irony invites us to see contradiction and smile ruefully; sardonic thrusts in assault and attack. One throws humor, the other humus.
3. For the Love of Fiction.
A fictional account of a tragic human story may be more true than the most precise reporting of facts and events. Women Talking, the novel and now in theaters movie by Canadian Miriam Toews is layered truth on truth, reality on reality, inhuman abuse upon dehumanization and we recommend seeing the movie, then reading the book, then returning to see the film version again. Or choose your order, but do not miss this epic story of an interruption of silence over the plague of male desecration and damage to the women of the Manitoba Colony in Bolivia. It is surgically true on social, psychological, theological and relational levels dealing on ancient strata of domination covered by recent deposits of debris in the fractured lives of a closed community. And she tweaks it with blessed irony.
4. You can’t make this up!
How proud the press was of the matching Black quarterbacks on opposing teams at the Super Bowl. An undeniable sign of Black progress (Who are we kidding except ourselves? This was white progress.) and new justice in athletics (what are we thinking? That we can deny decades of white supremacy on the gridiron and pretend it was not white folks imposing it?). As comedian Chris Rock commented back in 2014, “So to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first Black person to be qualified to be president. That’s not Black progress. That’s white progress.” So the same voices that forbade now congratulate. The prejudiced finally say “we knew it all along.”
5. The ironies of everyday life.
After 30 years we have to replace our washer. We followed the clerk to the register and stood close behind seated customers who scrambled to their feet to move across the table.
“Thank you,” I said, “we were moving inside appropriate safe distance.”
“Don’t believe everything you hear about COVID,” the man said through his teeth.
“We take it seriously after having friends who died from it,” Leann said gently. The clerk nodded in agreement,
“My father died from COVID,” she said. Our eyes made personal contact with her, our nod said we understand. No words seemed to fit at that moment. No words were needed.
Have a comment on this story? Write to the editors. Include your full name, city and state. Selected comments will be edited for publication in print or online.