As has been noted before in this space, irony (as a literary device, not as a lifestyle) is a tricky business to handle. Its point is to induce the reader to agree with, or at least see, the point you’re really trying to make by forcing his reason to revolt against the point you seem to be making. If you make the absurdity of the position you’re pretending to adopt too obvious, the irony falls flat, like a badly-timed joke. If you make it too subtle, the reader will understand you as actually holding your “gambit” position.
Since different readers read with different critical intensities and different senses of what might possibly be true, or what you as a writer might possibly mean in earnest, any ironic expression will probably be too coarse for some readers and too subtle for others.
I thought my ironic pseudo-attack on Chris of Interesting Times and Atrios over the Bush hair-dyeing story was safely on the broad side of the spectrum, but a letter from a reader disabuses me of that notion; she defends Atrios against my ironic charge of passing along doctored photos.
Just in case, then, let me unpack the irony.
1. Chris published, and Atrios linked to, photos showing that Bush was dyeing the gray out of his hair.
2. Chris pointed out that Bush had made fun of Gore for dyeing his hair, saying that it proved Gore “doesn’t know who he is.”
3. Therefore, if Bush dyes his hair, he’s guilty not only of a pardonable petty vanity but also of crass hypocrisy.
4. If so, contrary to the established belief, he’s just as capable of dishonesty in his private life as he is in his statements on public issues.
5. But the conventional wisdom as expressed through the mainstream media continues to paint Bush as personally sane and decent, by contrast with Clinton. We keep hearing that “He knows who he is” and “He’s comfortable in his own skin.”
6. So if Bush dyes his hair, and if the mainstream media outlets and pundits bury the story and continue to repeat those lines, we have one more piece of evidence that “liberal media bias” is a figment of the right-wing imagination.
7. But Chris and Atrios are known to be reliable, and Chris gives sources for his photos.
8. Ergo, BUSH DYES HIS HAIR.
9. Ergo, Bush is a lying hypocrite in private as well as in public.
10. Ergo, the media account of him as fundamentally sane and honest is eyewash, and you should remember that the next time you hear or read something good about him you can’t see with your own eyes.
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