Irony in Web Series

In their presentation this past week, Taylor and Franklin included an episode of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries for our perusal (the whole series is pretty great, for those of you that haven’t checked it out). As I watched it, I was reminded of the discussions I’d had about irony in a Jane Austen & Film class I took a few years ago. The conversation around adaptations of Austen is pretty exhaustive, but the main critique most film critics have of is the films’ inability to carry over Austen’s irony, leaving them far more romantic and, well, Romantic, than Austen herself intended her novels to be. The big exception was the 1995 movie Clueless (adapted from Emma), which used voice-over narration to contradict what viewers plainly saw happening on the screen. 

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries uses the same technique, and then some. Unlike most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, LBD is solely from Lizzie’s perspective; the vlog format allows for a heavier bias than your standard focused-gaze of a cinematic production. Add to this the extra level of production—twitter accounts, side-series’ etc. from the POVs of other characters—put Lizzie’s shortsighted perspective front-and-center.

I was struck by the use of critical irony in LBD, both in contrast to (most of) the Austen adaptations of yesteryear and to the type of irony we discussed in Wallace’s essay. The modes of irony seem to be in stark contrast due to the ability for the format to itself be a sort of critique of its characters and its viewer’s prejudice. The critical finger points more to the viewer, I’d argue, than to itself. The comparison is obviously not perfect, since the comparison is to film rather than television, but I am curious about the possibilities of irony in new media. Is it a lost art, the “voice of the trapped who have come to enjoy their cage,” (“Pluram” 183) or does it still have the capacity for valuable social criticism? Does new media production, like the fanfiction I talked about in my own presentation— outside (in theory) the realm of for-profit production and the constraints of mainstream media—give more space to this kind of critique?

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