Storytelling is one of the oldest human art forms, and you could argue the most enduring. When we sit down to listen, watch, or read a story, we have certain expectations set. We want to be enveloped in the tale and taken through various emotions. Irony occurs in many different ways.

The twists, turns, laughs, and tragedy all must hit at the right moment for the story to be great. And we love it when the beats keep us guessing and begging for more.

Rooted in the best storytelling is situational irony.

Don't know what that means? Don't worry, we have you covered.

Today we'll define situational irony and look at some examples from entertainment and in pictures. We will learn how it can help you in your storytelling and hopefully see you apply it moving forward.

Ready? Let's go.

Situational irony: The opposite of what you think - Christopher

What Is Situational Irony in Film and TV? (Definition and Examples)

Situational irony definition

Situational irony is a storytelling device that occurs when expectations about something to happen are defined by what actually happens instead. It is the literary device equivalent to the rug being pulled out from under you.

There are four types of irony.

Subtypes of situational irony:

  • Cosmic irony (Irony of Fate or Destiny)
    • This feels like divine intervention, sort of like the concept of It's a Wonderful Life, with Clarence the angel helping George.
  • Poetic irony (commonly called "poetic justice")
    • Think about the end of Breaking Bad, when Jesse is finally freed from drugs and Walter dies alongside his meth lab.
  • Structural irony
    • Think about how the narrator in Arrested Development comments on what happens in the show. That's structural irony.
  • Historical irony
    • Think about The Social Network, where a guy who made a friend-finding app is alone at the end of the movie.

Tarantino lists 'The Social Network' as one of his favorite films'The Social Network'Credit: Sony

Situational irony in all genres

What I love about situational irony is that it can be applied to all genres. One of my favorite short stories is a great example of situational irony in literature. It is an old fable called The Gift of the Magi by O Henry. Where a woman sells her hair to buy her husband a watch chain and, in an unexpected twist, the husband sells his watch to buy combs for her. in the end result, we have various forms of irony.

Since the very essence of storytelling is subverting expectations, you can apply this technique to scare people in horror, to excite them in thrillers, to make them laugh in comedies, and to gather strong emotional responses in drama.

Like William Shakespeare does with Romeo and Juliet, it's meant to keep the audience on their toes, no matter what.

What is a Personification in Literature, Film, and TV? (Definition & Examples)'Romeo+Juliet'Credit: Criterion

Situational irony in pictures

Before we get into movies and TV shows that employ this storytelling technique, I wanted to look at some still photos that involve situational irony, to get you in the mood to dive deeper.

What Is Situational Irony (Definition and Examples)Credit: Funny Art Pictures

Obviously, the joke here is that we expect to see the hours of the store being 24/7, but instead we see that it has closed. Sorry, I have to explain the irony in these pictures. That's probably pretty ironic in itself.

Next up, check out this moving truck.

situational irony definitionCredit: Ironic situations

The juxtaposition here between the words on the truck and the actual unwise move trying to drive it under a low roof is hilarious.

I think we understand the definition now, so let's move into some instances in film and TV.

Situational Irony Examples in Film and TV

We gave specific examples under the four types of situational irony, but I wanted to dig deeper in this section. Maybe the most famous example of situational irony is from the movieThe Sixth Sense. Cole can “see dead people,” and we finally figure out that Bruce Willis's character is dead at the end of the movie.

Another version of this would be in the very premise of Along Came Polly, where Ben Stiller plays a guy who assesses risks for a living and begins to date a woman who engages in all sorts of risky behavior.

Or what about in the TV version of Watchmen, where when you look into the police chief's closet, there's a secret room full of Klan memorabilia? Maybe he wasn't on the right side of the law after all?

The more you dig into situational irony, the more you realize that it is your job to keep the audience hooked and wanting more.

What are some of your favorite examples?

Let us know in the comments!