Irony is defined as the ability to say one thing while meaning another. It’s a subtle technique that implies the risk of not being immediately grasped by the audience, while providing an immensely powerful tool for communication by tapping into the mutual understanding and interpretation of context. Not surprisingly, the use of irony is an exquisitely human trait: despite increasing degrees of contextual awareness that can be embedded in computer code, artificial intelligence has the structural limit of a literal understanding of natural language.
Context is sometimes an underestimated but extremely important item in the list of the 6 elements of communication: for example, we find JP Sears’ videos (and book) so funny because his skillful use of irony references behaviors and people we know (and because he’s an Ultra Spiritual Guru).
Similarly, lack of contextual awareness can cause major communication pitfalls which range from achieving ridicule (like Pepsi’s infamous Kendall Jenner ad) to outright protest (as in the case of confederate symbols of in the United States).
Context is the element defining the difference between history and celebration: a statue of a controversial figure is historical memory if placed in a museum, celebration when placed in a public space. As artists know very well, location and placement are often an integral part of the artwork: buyers commissioning an artwork, be they individuals or entities, have often used art as a display of power to deliver very specific messages.
In a context where the pillar of civilized society is that all humans are created equal, celebrating individuals and ideologies which undermine this basic concept is out of place. Relocating symbols that would suggest otherwise is not an offense to history – it’s a sign a of progress. At the same time, giving in to iconoclastic violence and destroying or vandalizing symbols of a painful past doesn’t teach any lesson or prevent the repetition of the same mistakes: as George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
Once again, context proves its importance by allowing the surfacing of complex but nonetheless consistent viewpoints; the beauty of irony is that it celebrates our complexity as humans, capable of interpreting reality in a non-binary manner, where messages and events have more than one level of meaning and that meaning can evolve – just like we do.