Irony as pointer

I was listening to the Smashmouth song, Walking on the Sun, on my MP3 player on my way back from BART this afternoon. A former acquaintance of mine once dissed the song to me by pointing out that the initial lyrics were ripping off the Coke ad “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony”. I was at a loss as to how to explain to him that the imitation was completely intentional, with the idea of casting a ironic look at the ridiculousness of that Coke advertising campaign. So every time I hear that song, I think of that acquaintance.

And today, I made a weird connection between that song and this post about conservatives where I claim that conservatives are “are decidedly grounded in the literal. To them, there is no difference between the signifier and the signified”.

My thought of the day, in decidedly nerdy terms – I wonder if there are people who fundamentally don’t get the idea of a pointer, that ideas can point to other ideas. I wonder if, to them, things mean what they say and that’s it, that they don’t get the rich web of relationships among ideas. That my acquaintance saw the surface connection made between the Smashmouth lyrics and the Coke ad, but missed the ironic intent. For irony, at least of the non-Alanis Morrisette variety, is all about making connections between ideas. It’s imagining alternative scenarios. It’s about having the expectation of one thing, and getting something else.

There’s a meta-level. And being open to that meta-level opens up all sorts of interesting discussion possibilities, from irony to sarcasm to philosophy. Heck, most of this blog functions at a meta-level. And I wonder if that meta-level is dependent on the ability of people to comprehend ideas pointing to other ideas.

I don’t really have a good answer. So I’m just going to throw this out there and see if anybody else is cleverer than me.

P.S. I checked out way too many books from the library today, so expect some book reviews in your future. Plus I played frisbee this afternoon with some kids from Dartmouth who are driving a big green bus fuelled by vegetable oil around the country. And last night, I went to a MoveOn movie night at a friend’s house, where we watched Norma Rae, which was interesting mostly because it was so clearly of its time, and Wag the Dog, a movie I adore. Busy busy busy.

3 thoughts on “Irony as pointer

  1. As a child of the 70s who was not allowed to watch TV (or eat refined sugar!), I always thought “I’d like to teach the world to sing” was originally written as a folk song, reflecting the hippy, love-everyone ideology of the time, and then co-opted (stolen? purchased…) by the Coke corporation. While this would have worked nicely with the “irony” of the Smashmouth song lyrics, a quick google search proved me wrong. The song was, in fact, written for Coke about how Coke creates community (the premise of the ad campaign), by a popular folk band, and then re-released later with changed lyrics to be a top-40 hit. I consider this a sort of “Wag the Dog”-like story, bringing your post full-circle in a way, since Beattles songs now sell cars, etc.

  2. My experience with tutoring math tells me that sometimes, people just cannot think in particular ways. Their brains just will not run that piece of software properly.

    Sometimes, that’s a handicap or disability; sometimes it’s just a quirk; and sometimes it’s totally normal and the people who can run the software are strange and alien (e.g., Ramanujan).

    But it makes me think that it would be really, really useful if we had a big long list of all the different kinds of thinking the human brain can do, and if people knew what they were good and what they weren’t good at on that list.

    Of course, it might also be a terrible idea that would lead to all kinds of nasty discrimination. And it might be impossible to partition modes of thought from one another and from the knowledge bases underneat them. But it’s an idea that intrigues me.

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