Everyone knows that Americans don't understand irony. Soon after moving to England from the US I discovered that my country was universally assumed to be an irony-free zone. I was at a dinner party when irony came up, and another guest launched into a diatribe against Alanis Morisette's song "Isn't it Ironic?" as an example of my compatriots' presumptive misunderstanding: "Rain on your wedding day is not ironic!" he railed. "Serving utensils are not ironic! What's ironic is that she doesn't understand what irony means!" "No," I replied. "What's ironic is that she's Canadian."
Situational irony is distinct from, but analogous to, verbal irony: both rely on the tension between a false or misleading appearance, and an underlying, contradictory reality. Alanis and I were both employing situational irony, when reality doesn't conform to expectation. Verbal irony is when reality doesn't conform to your statement. For the record, Americans are capable of employing both. Exhibit A for the defence: the first sentence of this piece. You may not find it ironic, although I will find it ironic if you don't, because I trusted you not to need me to spell it out for you.
Irony depends upon context, and the extra-verbal cues by which we ascertain intended meaning. In this case, the context includes my being American, which until a few days ago I would have considered reason enough to doubt that I could hold such views. Thanks to the recent uproar over the New Yorker Obama cartoon, however, I have learned my mistake. The reason why the cover, depicting Barack and Michelle Obama as flag-burning-Osama-loving-Afro-sporting-Muslim- militant-terrorist-fist-jabbers, has created such a hullabaloo has everything to do with America's understanding of irony. It turns out, ironically, that Americans also think America doesn't understand irony - or rather that the rest of America doesn't understand irony.
Apparently, my fellow-Americans are under the impression that only people from New York are ironic. Everyone else will think that the cover means what it says, because they are too stupid, crass and literal to understand context, nuance, or implication. A pundit on a CBS news programme differentiated herself emphatically from the rest of the literal-minded, simplistic nation, explaining: "I get that [it is satire] - I get that. But I think that there may be people who just look at the cover and see it for what it is."
The New Republic agreed, arguing that the magazine "claimed not to support the …