Princeton University’s renowned Institute for Advanced Studies revealed yesterday that the middle class, known to French social theorists as the “petit-bourgeoisie,” failed in over 98 percent of measured cases to notice the inherent irony in their lives. Though their very existences are riddled with the exact opposites of intended meanings that define irony as we know it, the middle class roundly failed to notice it in a barrage of tests conducted over the past six months by IAS.
“There are countless examples of irony evident in the lives of suburban consumerism-based nuclear families,” Institute spokesperson Jody Clewes said. “These ironies, however, are totally lost on the fatuous, unthinking middle class.”
The IAS released over 75 sample questions and answers to demonstrate its findings, ranging from irony evident in social and political agendas, all the way to personal lifestyle choices.
Most striking was the middle class’s predominant self-definition as “socially liberal,” with regard to equal civil rights and fair treatment for society’s impoverished. This stood in marked contrast to the middle class’s recent trend toward gated, exclusive communities as well as voting for lower property taxes in high-income areas and higher taxes for those living in low-income communities with racially exclusive public schools. Of those polled, 100 percent saw no irony in this.
Similarly, the suburbanites were asked if the frequently cited justification of “wanting to provide my children with a better life” stood in contrast to working seven days a week to accumulate money. Despite the ever-widening gap between parents and children, and the skyrocketing divorce rate resultant from a lifestyle focused not on family but on careers, all those polled responded, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
As for middle-class suburban lifestyle, there was a similar lack of “irony recognition” among the respondents.
When quizzed about the familiar practice of “saving money” by purchasing retail items “on sale,” when the items are not needed even under non-sale conditions, only one of the 68 housewives polled reported noticing slight irony. It was later confirmed that the woman had recently been “chewed out” by her husband for spending too much on extravagant, fashionable hats.
“What we’re seeing here,” UCLA sociologist T. Hubbard Meyer said, “is that these people sincerely do not see how absurdly comic and borderline pathetic their lives are. Of course, as part of academe, I live on campus and do not have to deal with such societal trifles.”
Middle-class Americans also failed to see the irony in avoiding physical activity by driving everywhere and using elevators instead of stairs, and then joining an expensive health club. The study also queried the logic of drinking diet soda for health reasons, despite the fact that soda is universally defined as a non-healthy “sweet,” with “diet” merely representing a lower-calorie version of soda with no inherent nutritional value.
With regard to pet ownership, the middle class frequently spends hundreds if not thousands of dollars on purebred animals, when healthy, free pets are available at most pounds and humane societies. When approached with this irony, respondents answered with a universal, “Duh?”
Two rare exceptions in the study were a pair of middle-management employees in their 50s who had suffered psychological breakdowns and were hospitalized after bungled suicide attempts. Their answers noted high degrees of irony in all aspects of their lives, though each survey they submitted included a note from their wives asking, “Please, pay no attention to my husband, he is not well.”
One respondent, when interviewed for this story, was more than willing to share his take on the survey.
“Irony... Now let’s see, I seem to recall something about the importance of not mistaking irony for sarcasm in an essay in the NYROB I read recently,” Gus Freen, 51, said. “If you’ll have a seat, I’m sure I can dig it up in the library. Irony, was it? Here, would you like a gin and tonic while you wait? I see you’ve noticed my Civil War Memorial Chess Set. Well, the Franklin Mint is known for its exquisite, hand-crafted workmanship.”
The sample group used for the study, residing within a carefully chosen four-block radius located in residential Wellesley, Massachusetts, was “an excellent representational cross-section,” according to IAS Director H. Kaitlin Blanchard, who added that “under these research conditions, if any of the middle class were aware of the irony, we certainly would have detected it.”