Taoiseach's 'joke' was no laughing matter :-(
Has the media lost its sense of humour? Have emoticons finally killed irony? Or does Enda Kenny just need to work on his routine?
WARNING! Irony ahead! To help you out it will be flagged with symbols such as :P, (?) or *laughs*. I wouldn’t want you to be caught out. Or to fly into a rage at taking things, well, literally.
I know how it is. You snatch a few opening lines of an article on your smartphone, perhaps on your daily commute – in a bad mood – and before you know it you post an angry response, not realising the author was being “ironic” or maybe even “sarcastic”. Anyway, you have been warned. So here it goes . . .
Enda Kenny is so-o funny. ;) The notoriously macho Taoiseach, like, made a joke at the Fine Gael think-in, in Westport, about how Ministers could face the chop if they didn’t climb Croagh Patrick. But that’s just the half of it. As the political news cycle was taken over – seriously – by questions about a Cabinet reshuffle, Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore said: “The Taoiseach cracks very good jokes – I think that was one of his better ones.” (As if [!]) #sarcasm
Confused? You weren’t the only one this week, as a light-hearted comment by Kenny got out of hand, exposing – depending on your viewpoint – either the humourless nature of the media or the long-trumpeted death of irony.
“One of the essential aspects of irony is that it can always be misunderstood or missed,” says Dr Sam Slote of TCD’s school of English. Citing masters of the form, such as Swift, Nietzsche and Joyce, he says irony is designed to plant questions in the audience’s mind rather than to hammer home conclusions. If the meaning is lost “in some ways you could say it’s the fault of the audience”, he says.
So there you are: proof the media is humourless – that is, if you classify the Taoiseach’s comment as “ironic”. Of course, one of the problems with irony is it’s overattributed. Famously, Slote notes, “just about none of the things” Alanis Morissette listed in her hit single on the subject “could be properly called ironic”.
Another problem is context. Many a celebrity’s light-hearted tweet has been misconstrued, leading to a deluge of misplaced abuse. To avoid being the ultimate butt of the joke, Slote says, it’s important to “know the cues”.
These are of particular interest to Dr Tony Veale, a specialist in computational creativity based at UCD who is – no joke – trying to train computers to be ironic.
A holy grail of computer science is passing “the Turing test” – designing a machine whose exhibited intelligent behaviour is indistinguishable from that of a human being. Computer programs have been written to “babble in a fairly superficial way”, says Veale, and “there has been success in humour generation at pun level”. But this is a long way from the reality of human communication.