Irony: For Realsies

Only a few people in the world get ‘irony’, the rest think they do, and for the most part that’s ironic. According to Cracked “irony is the clash of opposites. It is the juxtaposition of what is expected against what happens; what you know and what you think you know”. Irony is almost perfectly summed in the British comedy Life of Brian:

However what does this means in terms of Television transference across borders. What is at a loss in TV comedy translations is a sense of irony, which according to Sue Turnball in her 2008 article ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught it in Embroidery: Television Comedy in Translation’ is “the gap between how the character imagines themselves and how the audience sees them” (p. 112)

It seems this ‘comedy of translation via irony’ is only acceptable on the basis of “inflection, timing, nuance, gesture and the balance of sound and silence” (Turnbull 2008, p. 112). Take for example, the award winning British series The Office and it’s American counterpart. A re-imagination had to occur in order for the American version to match the British following. Although it’s British counterpart is “sexually charged, lewd, threatening and uncomfortable” the Americanisation to which has occurred allows many allusions to American products and experiences, unique to the nation itself.

In the case of the British vs American Office, a distinct loss of irony has occurred through the ‘improvements’ made to the main character or Boss, Michael Scott. In comparison to David Brent, the British counterpart, Scott plays an all round nicer and more upbeat character. Could this mean that American’s don’t understand comedic insults as irony? Rather taking them seriously? Or perhaps American’s simply rally for the “up front, on-your-sleeve niceness”?


And yet, is there anything wrong with this perceived glocalisation? I mean, doesn’t that follow that we, as the audience not only receive more choice and comparisons when it comes to transnational television.

Turnbull, S (2008) ‘It’s Like They Threw a Panther in the Air and Caught It in Embroidery’: Television Comedy in Translation’ Metro Magazine Issue 159