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The concept of irony is often seen when a person is conveying a train of thought that is the complete opposite of its literal definition. David Brooks, in his essay conveying his personal thoughts on the apparent disinclination of Americans to the distribution of wealth, uses prodigious use of irony in explaining the actions of political parties, social classes and even individuals within the U.S. Through the use of ironic statements and arguments Brooks helps readers to conceptualize how the current American culture of abundance has in effect prevented people from realizing the necessity of changes to the current social system.
Brooks’ Use of Irony
One of the first uses of irony utilized by Brooks is seen early on in the essay through the following excerpt:
“The most telling polling result from the 2000 election was from a Time magazine survey that asked people if they are in the top 1 percent of earners. Nineteen percent of Americans say they are in the richest 1 percent and a further 20 percent expect to be someday. So right away you have 39 percent of Americans who thought that when Mr. Gore savaged a plan that favored the top 1 percent, he was taking a direct shot at them” (Brooks, N.I.).
When first trying to grasp the irony in a statement one must remember the very definition of irony itself in that it is an attempt to convey a train of thought that is the complete opposite of its literal definition. In this particular excerpt it can be seen that its literal definition is that the failure of Gore’s election campaign was the belief of a large percentage of Americans that it would negatively impact them and positively benefit an entirely different social class. What must first be understood in this particular excerpt in order to understand the irony behind it is the categorization of the participants. 19% of the participants indicate that they are in the top 1% while 20% expect to be part of the top 1% in the future.
The inherent problem with this concept is that the top 1% of earners are composed if people like Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Warren Buffet and other individuals who earn literally billions of dollars. Since surveys are used as an estimate for the entire population interpreting the results of the survey would indicate that 19% of the population are billionaires with 20% well on their way to becoming billionaires themselves. It is from this that the ridiculousness of the statement is immediately obvious and the irony is evident as well. It would be impossible for that large of a percentage to actually belong to or will belong to the upper 1% of the population.
As such the irony in this statement is that people believe that they are part or will be part of the upper 1% when in fact they probably aren’t and never will be. Unfortunately though, it is due to this propagated belief that is inherently false and ridiculous that Al Gore lost his election campaign which ran on a platform of the redistribution of wealth. A lot of people at the time thought it was their wealth that would be affected but in fact Gore was referring to the billionaires or multi-millionaires which further emphasizes the irony of the situation due to the fact that people who would have benefited the most from the proposals of Gore wound up voting against the.
Another passage showing the use of irony by Brooks is the following excerpt:
“It’s not hard to see why they think this way. Americans live in a culture of abundance. They have always had a sense that great opportunities lie just over the horizon, in the next valley, with the next job or the next big thing. None of us is really poor; we’re just pre-rich” (Brooks, N.I.).
Brooks explains that this apparent propagated belief is due to the American culture of abundance where people believe that opportunities are just over the horizon. Ironically, nothing could be farther from the truth, various social studies show that only a slim percentage of people from lower classes actually do become wealthy enough to join the upper 1% of the population. In fact it is rare for particular members of the lower of middle class to break through particular income threshold barriers to even be considered “rich”. Wealth it seems has become increasingly isolated to particular social classes due to various social and economic factors which further adds to the irony of the belief.
A literal interpretation of the passage is that people believe that opportunities to join the upper class will come in the future either through a different job or sudden opportunity. Brooks indicates that this belief creates the concept of people believing that they are pre-rich or that they will become rich in the future. The inherent problem with this is connected to the continuing belief that America is a land of endless opportunity. The irony in this situation is that America is not a place of endless opportunity rather it is getting increasingly harder to maintain a decent standard of living let alone become wealthy.
The recent financial crisis and the continuing problems the country has had in terms of the rate of unemployment and the fall of the real estate market is an indication that the country is not capable of supplying everyone with the hope of wealth and prosperity. It is due to this that the belief of various segments of the population that they are pre-rich or rather that opportunity lies right around the next corner is in fact rather ironic since based on various studies and basic common sense they will likely never encounter such opportunities and remain poor.
In this particular passage Brooks utilizes both irony and sarcasm to make his point:
“As the sociologist Jennifer Lopez has observed: “Don’t be fooled by the rocks that I got, I’m just, I’m just Jenny from the block.” As long as rich people “stay real,” in Ms. Lopez’s formulation, they are admired. Meanwhile, middle-class journalists and academics who seem to look down on megachurches, suburbia and hunters are resented. If Americans see the tax debate as being waged between the economic elite, led by President Bush, and the cultural elite, led by Barbra Streisand, they are going to side with Mr. Bush, who could come to any suburban barbershop and fit right in” (Brooks, N.I.).
First and foremost Jennifer Lopez is not a sociologist; this is merely a bit of sarcasm on the part of Brooks to place emphasis on the statement of Lopez regarding her “supposed” predilection in remaining “average”. This is particularly important to take note of since in this particular excerpt Brooks explains how Americans tend to side with economic elite instead of the cultural elite on the basis of the ability of the economic elite to appear more “average” as compared to the cultural elite. The irony in this particular passage is the fact that the American people are in effect allying themselves against the very taxes that would benefit them the most. They side with the economic elite on the basis of looks and likability while they scorn the cultural elite who are doing all of this for the benefit of the American people who apparently want to remain in a state where wealth will increasingly be isolated to the rich.
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Use of Tone
Overall Brooks utilizes a slightly sarcastic tone throughout the essay however it is used in such a way that the irony of situations are immediately apparent and makes them that much more easily understood. In fact it is this very combination of sarcasm and irony that truly helps to bring the essay together and brings to light the ridiculousness of the situation in the U.S. It can be seen that the goal of Brooks in this essay was to enable people to understand the sheer ridiculousness of the situation and as such the use of sarcasm and irony creates a flow that increases one’s awareness of the irony of the situation making it more effective as a method getting his point through.
Brooks, David. (N.I.). Reference Essay. The Weekly Standard.