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How is irony used to comment on British-ness or American values?

C&N Part 1
Fig. 1
Recycling placards, 12 Jan 2019

[29Dec19] Irony in its original sense is a literary device (Cambridge dictionary [1]) where, for example, the audience knows more about an event than the character being portrayed. In photography, an example might be a shot of the amount of plastic litter gathered after an environmental street protest. (To be fair, at the only comparable protest I have recently attended to photograph, an anti-Tory protest in Trafalgar Square, I used in EyV Asg. 3 [2], the sticks used to support the official placards, handed out by the organisers and other bodies (trade unions, political parties, etc.) were gathered at the end, presumably for re-use next time, fig. 1.)

Fig. 2
Emily Thornberry
Tweet, 20 Nov 2014

In practice, irony might be more readily found in the eye of the viewer: as was several times during the course, Sue Sontag wrote, ‘photographs do not seem strongly bound by the intention of the photographer’ [3, p.37], so whether or not the artist intends a piece to be ironic, that judgment will be determined by the viewing public. A relatively recent example of this is Emily Thornberry’s Tweeted image of a house in Rochester with English flags and a white van (fig. 2). This was probably meant ironically but was widely interpreted as sneering superiority and resulted in her resignation from the Shadow Cabinet [4]; the fallout from this continues and the tweet was mentioned repeatedly in the recent UK General Election (which Labour lost) and again in the current Labour Party leadership contest for which she has declared her candidacy.

1. Cambridge Dictionary (n.d.) Irony [online]. Dictionary.Cambridge.org. Available from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/irony [Accessed 29 December 2019].

2. Blackburn, N. (i.e. me) (2019) Assignment 3, contact sheets [online]. BAPhot.co.uk. Available from http://baphot.co.uk/contact_sheets/Asg3_12Jan19_CS05_Page_2.jpg [Accessed 29 December 2019].

3. La Grange, A. (2005) Basic critical theory for photographers. Burlington, MA: Focal Press.

4. Walsh, J. (2014) A British politician lost her job over a tweet: how to explain it to someone outside the UK‘ [online]. TheGuardian.com. Available from https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/nov/21/emily-thornberry-resignation-explain-outside-britain? [Accessed 29 December 2019].