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Someone forgot the irony alerts

October 29th, 2004

As I’ve observed before, irony is always dangerous. In my recent post about good and bad news from Iraq, I referred to impossibly cute kitten stories. This is Belle Waring’s ironic description of the kind of good news story that relies on the fact that even in the midst of war, and even under oppressive dictatorships, life goes on. Farmers plant their crops, children (and kittens) are born and play, and so on. It’s worth remembering this when we get too gloomy about the bad things that are happening but, since it’s true always and everywhere, it isn’t news. So, anyone who makes a big play out of this kind of ‘good news’ is liable to appear dishonest, or at least misleading. A good example is the scene in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 with Iraqi children flying kites and having fun, just before the US invasion. Moore was severely crticised for this and rightly so – the fact that children played games like children everywhere did not tell us anything about Saddam’s regime. The good news stories listed by Arthur Chrenkoff provided another example, with a story[1] which referred to “farmers tilling fields and women walking on roads. Freight trains and major highways.”

I thought that the analogy was obvious enough, and went on to the main point, which was that the election rules presented as good news by Chrenkoff seemed designed to put obstacles in the path of independents and non-government parties. But Tim Blair picked it up and solemnly advised his readers that having searched Chrenkoff’s site carefully, he’d found no mention of kittens at all – I’d made them up!. Even when I spelt out the point in detail in the comments thread, he persisted in observing that the Sweeney story was about farmers tilling fields, and had nothing to do with kittens.

But irony is a double-edged sword. Just as I wrote this the thought struck me that, rather than obtusely missing the point, Blair is ironically playing dumb to provoke controversy. If so, he has obviously managed to fool most of the residents of his comments thread, but that wouldn’t be hard.

fn1. The full story by Annie Sweeney cached here is less absurdly upbeat than Chrenkoff’s extract makes it sound.

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  1. October 29th, 2004 at 15:07 | #1

    John,

    I feel that Moore was not trying to portray life under Saddam as being a happy, carefree existence. I have noted before (on my blog) that there seems to be an underlying racist attitude to the Iraqis by some war proponents. And Moore understands this. The rationale for these scenes is to show that the Iraqis that are being bombed in the name of George Bush are human. They have lives and dreams among the harshness of Iraq pre and post Saddam.

    It seems that some view the only purpose of the Iraqis to shed blood for the cause and they should just grin and bear it.

  2. October 29th, 2004 at 15:34 | #2

    Blair is ironically playing dumb

    Must admit, tim does this masterfully.

  3. Jason Soon
    October 29th, 2004 at 15:53 | #3

    “Blair is ironically playing dumb”

    He is? could have fooled me

  4. October 29th, 2004 at 16:19 | #4

    I don’t think it would have mattered whether you used irony or not.

    “All the untold good news in Iraq” is part of the RWDB credo, so tim b was idelogically obliged to attack your post in any way he could. Besides, it keeps his ad-clicking, paypal-donating troll army happy and well fed.

  5. October 29th, 2004 at 17:02 | #5

    Philip Adams is in on Irony- go to the Australian website and check his latest column.

    Apparently Labor needs Paul Keating back (couldn’t see anything about holes in the head) because the electorate has clearly forgiven him for his smug, italian clothed sydneycentric arrogance. I really liked Keating’s vision, but his arrogance did the party so much harm. Adams goes further and suggests Labor needs to win back all the voters it has lost to the Greens.

    Hilarious! I’ll shut up, full rant on my own blog. But here’s a post for you: Does Murdoch hand pick his token left columnists in order to damage the left?

  6. October 29th, 2004 at 18:01 | #6

    Here, puss, puss, puss! (taps Whiskas lid with spoon) Here, kitty, kitty, kitty!

    Damn. I’ve been calling that cat for hours. How come all these Iraqi farmers keep turning up?

  7. Razor
    October 29th, 2004 at 18:06 | #7

    The fact is that the main stream media in the vast majority of cases only report the bad news story (although killing terrorists and criminals isn’t always bad news). They refuse to report the good news that is really happening – massive spending on health, infrastructure, energy production, etc.

    They also fail the public by calling the terrorists and criminals the more neutral label insurgents. This is crap. If they want the Coalition troops to leave all they have to do is stop the violence. The Coalition will leave when the security situation improves. But the terrorists don’t want that because the continuing violence is a speed hump to the imposition of democracy. And democracy is a threat to those who want either e return of the Baathists or a Theocracy. So they continue the violence. If the terrorists weren’t attempting to kill coalition troops they would be trying to kill other Iraqis – oh, they are already doing that aren’t they?

  8. John Quiggin
    October 29th, 2004 at 18:32 | #8

    Razor, what happens when the occupation forces decide to cut a deal, as they did with Sadr for example? Are they dealing with terrorists or insurgents?

  9. James Farrell
    October 29th, 2004 at 19:08 | #9

    Surely the point is that in making his kitten comment John linked to Waring, not to Chrenkoff. So if Blair wants to miss the point, pretend to miss the point, pretend to pretend to miss the point, or wahtever, he should be playing his kitten games with her, not with John.

  10. October 29th, 2004 at 19:16 | #10

    Razor, have you ever heard the expression “no news is good news?” It refers to the fact that you are pointing out; the vast majority of news is bad news. This is not a new phenomena, nor is it, regardless of what imbeciles like Tim Blair would have you think, some evidence of bias in the mainstream media.

    Channel 7 Nightly News (Tim Blair style) -
    NEWSANCHOR: Our top story tonight is that everything in Australia today is just fine. The sun rose this morning in a stunning display of solidarity with the Australian people, and, throughout the day, everything worked out just peachy. People went to work and did ther jobs, birds sang in the trees and… um… everything is great.
    (Crickets chirping)
    NEWSANCHOR: Well, we still have about 23 minutes until the weather guy with the funny ties comes in, so here are some words from our sponsors.

  11. John Quiggin
    October 29th, 2004 at 20:47 | #11

    Reading Tim’s last, I think it’s clear that irony is the right explanation. No one could be that obtuse.

  12. snuh
    October 29th, 2004 at 23:25 | #12

    i think you’re far too generous, john. indeed, i suspect you’re simply making an ironic point about just how obtuse blair is willing to be.

  13. Bill O’Slatter
    October 30th, 2004 at 11:03 | #13

    let’s not get fixated in the hall of irony mirrors. The main oint is that there are good news stories coming out of Iraq. By any objective measure the place is improving dramatically. What is left now in Iraq is a minor querilla insurgency which is very unpleasant to all involved but don’t overplay the size of it.

  14. gordon
    October 30th, 2004 at 13:41 | #14

    One hundred thousand dead Iraqis, plus all the victims of the pre-war sanctions, are equally beyond irony and good news. We need to think about them when we fill up our cars.

  15. Hannibal Lecturer
    October 30th, 2004 at 20:32 | #15

    Tim

    If you see Iraqi farmers showing up when you are expecting a cat, you are probably taking a moderately psychotropic drug.

    If you find you are eating the Whiskas because you couldn’t be bothered going to the 7-11, you almost certainly are.

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