Prev Next

On irony, or lack thereof.

By Alice Bradley

When I wrote this piece about breastfeeding, I thought I was laying on the irony a bit overly thick. I thought I was troweling it on to the point where my readers would be rolling their eyes and begging me to exercise some subtlety, in the name of Not Insulting Eveyone’s Intelligence. I mean, I called nursing women “killers.” I called breastfeeding advocates “perverts.” I did this on a parenting site. Who could possible take me seriously?
Answer: many people! Oh, my coffers, they overflowed with hate mail. The majority of comments on the site clearly got it, but the less-than-convinced sent their anger straight to the source, apparently wishing to berate me one-on-one. I wish I had kept these letters so I could share them with you all, but I just kept deleting and deleting because that kind of loopy, addled vitriol was not good for me to read more than once. Maybe it was contagious? So I chuckled and chucked them into the trash, and all I have now are my memories of the many emails, rife with misspellings, invariably employing ONLY CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE THE SHIFT KEY IS TOO HARD, calling me names.
The reason I am bringing this up today is that I read this essay by Garrison Keillor, and now I’m worried that I’m that person, the one who doesn’t get the joke, who writes to Mr. Keillor to demand WHY YOU GOT HATE TEH GAYS?
If you’re not going to go right now and just read the thing, if you’re just going to sit there and look at me like that, I’ll give you the piece in a nutshell: Mr. Keillor waxes rhapsodic (or as a friend of mine said yesterday, “rhapses waxodic”) about the good old days, when couples came in bi-gendered pairs and stayed together until death, and kids were white, and pizza didn’t exist.
Salon has received many letters regarding this piece, most of them indigant at his apparent bigotry and small-mindedness, but some of them sniffy and indignant at the small-mindedness of the Salon readers who just don’t get the joke.
The thing about this essay is, the voice is all over the place. It’s a remarkably sloppy piece of writing. If you’re going to adopt an ironic voice, you’ve got to stick with it. It’s like acting: you don’t drop out of character midway through a scene to compliment an audience member on her pants. (Actually, if you’re Garrison Keillor, maybe you do.) I sort of get here how Mr. Keillor is sort of going for irony; but then as soon as I think I’m on track with his message, he veers wildly in some other direction, a direction uncomfortably close to sincerity. When he talks about how parents should stay in the background and allow their kids to blossom, that seems like something this author would believe. But when he refers to his parents as “smiling, helpless mannequins” in the same sentence, well, now I think we’re being ironic. So which is it?
Now take a look at this paragraph: “The country has come to accept stereotypical gay men — sardonic fellows with fussy hair who live in over-decorated apartments with a striped sofa and a small weird dog and who worship campy performers and go in for flamboyance now and then themselves. If they want to be accepted as couples and daddies, however, the flamboyance may have to be brought under control. Parents are supposed to stand in back and not wear chartreuse pants and black polka-dot shirts. That’s for the kids. It’s their show.”
Oookay. This is the parapraph that has raised the hackles of the majority of Salon letter writers. To be fair, I don’t think he’s saying what everyone thinks he’s saying in that first sentence. I think he’s targeting the country for accepting the stereotype, not the actual living, breathing human beings walking among us. He’s not (at least not initially) saying that those stereotypes have any basis in reality. We like our gays Will-and-Grace style, in other words, and we’re the worse for it. But then what’s he up to, with admonishing our stereotypes to bring the “fambloyance…under control”? (I know I have a typo back there, but isn’t it great? I sort of hate to lose it. Fambloyance!) Those last two sentences seem like sincere Garrison. At least I think.
I could continue my sentence-by-sentence analysis, but I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say he takes these left turns throughout: in one sentence he’s clearly winking at his readers, and in the next he spouts rhetoric that seems not-crazy for him to believe. I don’t know. I don’t know what to think.
Help me, readers. Help me figure this out. Has Garrison Keillor lost his mind? Or have I lost my sense of humor?
I will confess that I was already mired in Seriously Humorless Emotional Territory, having spent the week fuming with indignation over (awkward segue alert!) the responses of our two front-running Democrat candidates to General Pace’s comments regarding homosexuality.
So, over to that. It was dispiriting, if not surprising, to hear the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff weighing in on the morality of homosexual behavior—especially when so many of those immoral gays he condemns are off fighting a morally questionable war under his command. It’s maddening, if not surprising, that no one in the administration has come forward to demand an apology from General Pace. (And I mean a real apology, not that “sorry I said out loud that thing that’s really true” apology that he handed out.)
But it was completely enraging to hear that both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, when directly asked what they thought of homosexuality, ducked the question. Hillary commented, “That’s for others to conclude.” Barack’s response to the same question?” ‘I think traditionally the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman has restricted his public comments to military matters. That’s probably a good tradition to follow.”
I will translate this for you: Hi. We’re cowards. We can’t take a stand on anything until it’s vetted by our advisory staff. Also, we poop a lot, from our butts, which are poopy.
(My son added that last part.)
(Okay, okay. I use my son as an excuse to use the word “poopy.” I can’t help myself.)
Both Clinton and Obama are courting the gay and lesbian population. Both believe that gays should be allowed to openly serve in the military. Both had their spokespeople confirm, after the fact, that the candidates did in fact oppose Pace’s comment. So why couldn’t they say that in the first place?
Why is it still okay, in this day and age, to hem and haw when directly asked if certain types of human beings are inferior to other human beings? You’d think that these two candidates especially (Minority! Woman! Do I have to point this out!) would welcome an opportunity to take a stand on equal rights.
The Newsday article linked to above cited anonymous “Clinton and Obama supporters” who posited that “both might have been trying to avoid offending socially conservative Democrats, particularly churchgoing African-Americans, who share Pace’s views.”
Uh… yeah. What? See above, re: Obama and Clinton’s stance on gays in the military. Weren’t they going to offend these socially conservative Democrats eventually? Were they hoping they could just skirt that one question and the churchgoing black folks would be on their side? That those same people won’t find out what the two candidates said (via their spokespeople) later on? Are they trying to offend the black population and the gay population, all at once? It boggles the mind. Or maybe just my mind. I’ve been boggled twice today! I think it’s a record.
Elsewhere, there is news…
Save those heart attacks for Monday!: More Heart Attack Deaths On Weekends
No girls going wild, and that’s an order: House Overrides HPV Order
Porn in the news—LITERALLY!: Hard-Core Porn Interrupts News Show
So completely, obscenely horrible I can’t make a joke about it: Dying woman loses marijuana appeal

Published March 16, 2007. Last updated May 10, 2010.
Alice Bradley
About the Author

Alice Bradley

Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.


Alice Bradley was a regular contributor to Alpha Mom, writing about current events as they related to parenting. You can read about her daily life at her personal blog, Finslippy.

icon icon
chat bubble icon