What is Irony?

What is Irony?

Note: Please read the Addendum on the bottom of this page first.

Every once in while this life presents a perfect moment and that moment defines something. Today on YouTube I witnessed just such a moment. It was at the unveiling of the Kulluk and Noble Discoverer oil rigs at the Seattle Space Needle by Shell Oil. I can’t tell you how deeply this video touched my soul, for rarely is a moment of situational irony so perfectly captured in time. It was as if the the stars and sun and moon had aligned and the heavens breathed a sigh that said you are here, and we fortunately are not.

But don’t let me interpret the experience for you just watch and consider the many layers that makes this video my personal favorite as the all time most ironic moment any of us will ever see.

Also for those of you who no longer recognize irony here is a helpful little refresher courtesy of Wikipedia:

  • Verbal irony is a disparity of expression and intention: when a speaker says one thing but means another, or when a literal meaning is contrary to its intended effect. An example of this is when someone says “Oh, that’s beautiful”, when what they mean (probably conveyed by their tone) is they find “that” quite ugly.
  • Dramatic irony is a disparity of awareness between actor and observer: when words and actions possess significance that the listener or audience understands, but the speaker or character does not, for example when a character says to another “I’ll see you tomorrow!” when the audience (but not the character) knows that the character will die before morning.
  • Situational irony is the disparity of intention and result: when the result of an action is contrary to the desired or expected effect. Being “shot with one’s own gun”, or “hoisted with one’s own petard” are popular formulations of the basic idea of situational irony.
  • Cosmic irony is disparity between human desires and the harsh realities of the outside world. By some definitions, situational irony and cosmic irony are not irony at all.

I think that a valuable lesson can be learned from this one is that life’s little moments of beauty happen around us all the time don’t miss them. And two, if your in upper level management at Shell and you are in anyway responsible for putting together this beautiful little fiasco. I just want to say thank you, and best of luck finding a new job.

Addendum: It appears that this “event” was in fact staged and is the work/prank of the “Yes Men” who have been doing these sorts of performance pieces poking fun at corporate behavior. I’m sorry I feel a mild sense of loss, and no small amount of chagrin over believing this, as a realist with a sense of humor I found this video so beautiful, that I wanted it to be true and perhaps that’s part of the reason why I didn’t notice some of the more glaring elements that denied what I wanted to see. In example,  the giant iceberg towering over the rig, the plushy seal, the use of a wine fountain as the center piece all of these were out of place at an event of this sort and just plain silly too. But hey, you have to give them credit for a brilliantly funny viral message that suckered me right in. The low quality of the video, the random cuts and the efforts to recover the phone itself,  just brilliant social satire. Congratulations Yes Men, I have been humbled, but I will be more vigilant in the future.


  1. Armand

    Wow, they spoofed Cory Doctorow with a follow up hoax legal threat from shell’s PR Department regarding posting the potentially defaming material. Gotta say the “Yes Men” have seriously upped their game. They are couple of layers deep on this one. Brilliant work.

  2. Armand

    Here is a running commentary from Gawker in which Adrian Chen Dissects this master piece of hilarious agitprop.

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