Examples Of Popular Culture Irony That People Don't Seem To 'Get'

I think Americans have a tough time with the concept of ‘irony’ when it comes to popular culture.

Two examples off the top of my head:

“Short People” Randy Newman
“Born In The USA” Bruce Springsteen

Any others?


Oops! Sorry. This should have been posted to Cafe Society! Please feel free to move this thread.

Ironic, no? :smack:

Yeah. It’s kind of like rain on your wedding day. Or a fly in your chardonnay.

I know about “Born in the U.S.A.,” but what is “Short People” about?

Americans, not Canadians.

Point taken. :smiley:

So … am I the only one who thinks it’s ironic that Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” doesn’t list anything that’s actually ironic? All of that stuff is a bummer, but it’s not ironic.

A fly in your chardonnay? That sucks. Ironic? Maybe if you’re an exterminator or something…

Rain on your wedding day? That sucks. Ironic? Perhaps if you live in the Sahara (but then maybe it’s a blessing…), or if your dad is a weatherman or something.

“You’re So Vain.”

“Short People” is meant as satire, not irony.

It’s about how “Short People” are an annoyance and a pain in the ass and generally don’t have any reason to live.

of course, all of the dwarfs/midgets/short people in the US were Shocked, SHOCKED!!! and outraged and wanted to Burn Randy Neuman at the stake, never seeing that Randy Neuman is himself, one of said “short people” and that the song was meant as satire.

I may be vain, but I THINK that song was about ME!

“Short People” had Randy Newman singing as a character so close-minded and bigoted that he even hated short people. If you couldn’t get past the fact that he was singing as a character and NOT as Randy Newman, you assumed (as many, many short people still do) that he actually thinks they “have no reason to live.”

It seems I have a problem with the concept of “irony” generally, and I am glad to have this opportunity to confess it.

People use the word “ironic” to mean practically anything; often it is merely used as a pleasant way to fill up a gap in a sentence, and has become a handy way of saying one has nothing much to say. I recall hearing a news report years ago in with the reporter said that “ironically” the only building on the block to catch fire was the only one which was occupied at the time. More recently I read that “ironically” several Playboy Bunnies went on to have careers as actresses. I’m still working on both of those.

“Irony”, so near as I can understand, is supposed to involve the expression of two conflicting shades of meaning simultaneouosly. If so, where is the irony in “Born in the USA”? The song seems to be pretty straight forward and consistent in projecting but one meaning: that a lot of things in American culture suck.

As for “Short People”, this was Randy Newman’s ironic take on prejudice. He goes on a rant inventing reasons to dislike short people: “they got little tiny voices that go 'peep, peep, peep… little tiny cars that go beep, beep, beep…” In the last stanza he observes that “short people are just the same as you or I/ they’re our little brothers till the day we die/It’s a wonderful world.”

Some people objected to this appeal to life without bigotry, or (more likely), they didn’t have the attention span to listen all the way through a song than ran a couple of minutes. In either event, he received death threats, was pelted with eggs, etc., after his song became a pop hit back in the mid-70s.

As for an example of irony in popular culture which eludes people, the old Peter, Paul and Mary hit “I Dig the Mamas and the Papas” comes to mind as an example. Countless rock fans, I expect, have enjoyed this song (with lyrics such as "And when the Beatles tell you/They have love to sell you/They mean just what they say…) without considering for a moment that the song is essentially telling them that their taste isn’t worth a bucket of warm spit.

Isn’t Bruce Springsteen from Canada? A Canadian singing a song about how glad he is to be “Born in the USA” is ironic.

I would propose that Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” falls into the “ironic” category in that in each verse the singer is lamenting how horrible a veteran’s post-Vietnam life is and then launching into a VERY patriotic-sounding chorus. A list of complaints during an “anthem” IS ironic, in my humble opinion.

LOTS of people, including Ronald Reagan, had a problem with this concept.

Man, a Randy Newman song featuring irony?

Talk about coming out of left field!


No he’s from New Jersey.

toadspittle: No you’re not the only one, Irish standup Ed Byrne used to do a good routine about that song. He pointed out that being stuck in traffic isn’t ironic, it’s just annoying. Being the head of your city’s transport commission on your way to an important meeting to discuss reducing road congestion and getting stuck in traffic – that’s ironic. Writing a song called Ironic when you’ve evidently no idea what the word means is pretty bloody ironic too.

Another good example is Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing”, which Knopfler claims was a conversation he overheard between a couple of tradesmen and set to music almost verbatim, obviously as a satirical comment on the public perception of musicians and MTV.

Lyrics like:

The little faggot with the earring and the make-up
Yeah buddy that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot he’s a millionaire

Intended tongue in cheek caught him some flack.

Well, Stephe96, if you could convince me that most, or even a lot, of people really took “Short People” to be about how Randy Newman hates short people, I might start to be convinced.

But having been around when that song was a hit, I’d wager to say that for every person who took the song to be literally about hating short people, nine others took it as a joke, and did hear and understand the exculpatory lines at the end of the song. But those people don’t make the news, do they?

It’s not even irony that American people have a problem with - it’s the ability to see anything beyond the title of a song.

Thus the Cure’s “Killing an Arab” got pulled off the radio waves.
“Born in the USA” is used at political rallies.
“Electric Avenue” is used to sell shampoo and conditioner (“Can’t get food for the kid! Good God!”).

Not a song, but the whole “Obey your Thirst” ads which try to get people to ignore mass-market advertising.


I was around when the song was a hit, too, and I remember footage of short people protesting at radio stations that were playing the song. I’d submit that these people missed the song’s point. You DO remember the controversy over song, don’t you?

I know a lot of people DID get the irony of the song…but there were plenty who didn’t.