Thursday, 27 February 2014

Why do Irish people think being Irish is so funny?

We're fucking gas alright boys

Us Irish are hilarious. Everything we do from our daily mundane tasks to our zany idiosyncrasies is immeasurably funnier than any other nationality. How do we know this? Because we say so. And since, as stated above, we're the funniest fucking race on the planet, we're a pretty good authority on the subject. 

You know what I'm talking about. Those lists, those articles, those videos which seem to have invaded the internet in recent years celebrating the vagaries and the oddities of us Irish. "You know you're Irish when; You say grand stretch in the evening; You have an uncle John and an auntie Mary; You drink flat 7UP when you're sick; bleh bleh fucking bleh. 

What started out as a bit of harmless, self-deprecating-yet-at-the-same-time-vaguely-patriotic humour is now a bona fide industry online. Youtubers have jumped on this bandwagon in their droves. Blogs and Facebook pages are dedicated to this phenomenon. Even apparently respectable publications (*cough*THEJOURNAL.IE*cough*) churn out articles en masse on the subject.

It's all a bit tiresome, no? The popularity of these articles and videos has shown no signs of wavering. Last year, the third most viewed Youtube video in Ireland was Republic of Telly's contribution to this growing library of national self-aggrandisement. The video was, to put it bluntly, cliched and shit. Especially considering very few of the skits were original and a couple were rather blatantly lifted from online (The homework during Glenroe skit has been a like-page on Facebook for years).

We have a bit of an obsession with ourselves, don't we? You may have noticed I referred to these videos as self-aggrandising in the above paragraph which may strike you as odd as most of the videos and articles are ostensibly self-disparaging.. But they're not really. Even if it seems that the videos and articles are bemoaning our backwardness and stupidity, what they're really trying to say, in a broader sense, is "Look at us Irish! So unique! So goofy! And we can laugh at ourselves!". 

What made that Republic of Telly video I mentioned all the more disappointing was that it starred Martin Moloney who shot to fame playing the lovable waster Eddie Durkan in the brilliant online series Hardy Bucks (Yes, the online series, not the sanitised, bastardised version RTE put out). 

You see, Hardy Bucks was a much more subtle and, for my money, accurate depiction of Irish people's mannerisms. Sure, it was a mockumentary series, a medium which allows for much more scope and insight than a 4 minute Youtube clip or a 200 word article, but its depictions of Irish life felt much less contrived and much more natural. Which made it funnier. I mean, I've never actually, genuinely, heard an Irish person use the exact phrase "Grand stretch in the evening" and I don't actually have an uncle John or auntie Mary but some of the scenes in Hardy Bucks left me in awe at their attention to detail. If you want an example, this entire episode is both veracious and hilarious. 

What actually compelled me to write this article was the popularity of Mr. Cian Twomey, a Facebooker whose short videos documenting Irish mother's/grandmother's reactions to things have become wildly popular. I have no beef personally with him and I don't want to be labeled as one of his "haters" as the rappers would say but the popularity of his videos perplexes me. 

It's just the same cliched nonsense we've seen for years. Do people really find jokes about the immersion being left on and Bebo stunnahs hilarious after all these videos and articles? Obviously they do as his popularity is only growing though I think it says more about our obsession with ourselves than does about his comedic ability. I don't want to shit on him as it takes a lot of courage and confidence to post the kind of videos he produces and he does seem like an interesting and affable chap but it confuses me that Irish people still find this type of thing hilarious even though it's been done again and again and again. 

I guess my argument is a futile one. Humour is subjective and I can't say that just because I don't find something funny it isn't. But there is something deeper in this infatuation we have with ourselves. Other countries don't seem to bring it to such a level. I have a half-baked theory that it has something to do with the recession and the fall of the Celtic Tiger as during those years we seemed much less parochial than we do now. I'm not exactly sure why that would happen though. Maybe it's because of our isolation from the rest of Europe? Maybe it's because of the unfettering adulation we receive from other countries? Any sociologists in the room?

Monday, 17 February 2014

Super Serious Analysis: Is there any chance Ireland won't pass the Gay Marriage referendum next year?

Next year the people of Ireland will get to vote on whether or not to legalise gay marriage. In the 77 years since the Irish Constitution was enacted we have had 33 different referendums and, judging by our recent, farcical performances, we're still getting to grips with the whole constitutional amendment thing.

But surely this referendum will be passed? Yes? I mean, we like to think of ourselves as a modern country. A progressive, secular nation accepting of people from all walks of life. We are no longer, as the character of Sir John in The Wind That Shakes The Barley put it, a "priest infested backwater", are we? Are we? There's no chance we'll reject it. Is there? Let's do some quick (desk-based) analysis and try and work it out. 

Generally when a news or media outlet is trying to gauge public opinion in the run-up to an election or a referendum the first medium they use is opinion polls. So what do opinion polls on gay marriage in Ireland say? Well they tell us Irish people like the idea of gay people marrying. They like it a lot. 

Last November a Red C opinion poll commissioned by Paddy Power showed that a whopping 76% of likely voters would vote Yes to Gay Marriage and, when the "don't knows" are excluded, that figure rises to 81%. This is broadly on par with other opinion polls held in the last 5 years with polls conducted by The Sunday Times, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and The Irish Times showing similar margins. 

But opinion polls are a bit too black and white. These particular opinion polls have not been held in the run-up to the referendum and so they haven't been influenced by external factors like campaigning or televised debates. One would imagine in the run-up to next year's plebiscite that Ireland's conservative lobby and, more pertinently, the Catholic Church will be doing their level best to swing a few heads their way. You can bet your bottom dollar there'll be plenty of oratories from the pulpit proclaiming doomsday in the run-up to the referendum and it's difficult to measure how strong an effect they will have, particularly in rural Ireland. 

A similar issue to gay marriage, in that it divides people along roughly the same lines - religious/non-religious, old/young, urban/rural - is abortion. So it's very valuable what we can learn from public opinion and abortion. It was about this time last year that those lovely chaps over at the Youth Defence started their sabre-rattling and drum-banging when a bill that legalised abortion in the case of a woman's life being in danger came before the Oireachtas. 

Opinion polls in the lead-up to the bill being debated were pretty unanimous - these two here and here will do as examples - and they showed that Irish people were keen for such legislation to be instituted. But Christ almighty didn't Youth Defence and those aul biddies from the Catholic Church put up one hell of a fight. Around 50,000 people marched on Dáil Éireann in protest at the bill in question in July of last year. 50 fucking thousand. Few demonstrations in the last decade have been so well-attended or so passionate and, bearing in mind what's happened in the last ten years - financial armageddon, corrupt politicians, Jedward - that's as astounding as it is sad.

Youth Defence are known for having similarly enlightened views on gay marriage so expect them and the Catholic Church to stage similar demonstrations closer to the referendum date next year. This doesn't mean that they are representative of all of Ireland or all of Rural Ireland or, even, all Catholics. It just demonstrates the clout these organisations have that they can mobilise such a large number of people when, as the surveys from only months earlier seem to suggest, this issue, theoretically, should have little opposition. 

History can help with our guesswork too. Let's take a look at referendums on similar issues which have been held in this country. The most relevant plebiscite is surely 1995's referendum on divorce when, after 58 years and one previous rejected referendum in 1986, divorce was finally legalised in Ireland. Again, like abortion, it divided people along the lines we would expect gay marriage to in next year's referendum.

Divorce is now rather quotidian and it never ceases to amaze me that when I was born divorce was illegal. It seems so quaint in a sort of horrible way. What's even more astounding is the margin that the Divorce Referendum was passed by - in short, it was a bloody close one. Out of 1,633,942 votes cast, the yes side won by just over 9000 votes. 50.28% voted Yes while 49.72% voted No. The voting patterns that emerged from the result were rather easy to spot and the most obvious one is illuminated in the map I have attached below.

Do you see it? Virtually no constituency in Rural Ireland passed the motion. The entire West Coast rejected it and all of the Midlands too. The only reason it passed nationwide was because the margin of victory in Dublin was so emphatic. The only other places it passed were urban centres like Limerick and Cork and three counties in Dublin's commuter belt Kildare, Wicklow and Louth. This illustrates the difference between Rural Ireland and Dublin. While I don't expect Rural Ireland to be so vehement in its rejection of Gay Marriage it has to be expected that there will be plenty of constituencies, particularly in the West of the country, that will reject this referendum. 

You can already see the lines being drawn. The recent Pantigate scandal involving drag queen Panti, the Iona Institute and RTE was big news in Dublin and online, particularly Twitter. But I can say this with certainty, as someone who lives in Rural Ireland, the story did not register as much as a blip on the richter scale here. It wasn't a hot conversation topic nor did Panti engender much sympathy among anyone I spoke to here. For a lot of young voters and urban voters, gay marriage is a hot button issue. If a candidate in Dublin openly expresses opposition to gay marriage, he/she will be roasted alive at the polls. This, however, is not the case for much of the more conservative and more religious Rural Ireland. 

And that brings me on to another point; religion. The Catholic Church's influence on constitutional matters and government policy has been on the wane since the 70s and church attendance has fallen dramatically in the last two decades but it would be churlish to underestimate their influence on certain demographics, namely the old and the rural. 

The best graph for determining their influence is the most basic; mass attendance. Even though Ireland's mass attendance has dropped off by an estimated 50% since 1990, Ireland has one of the highest rates of mass attendance in the Western World. A 2011 survey by the Irish Bishop's conference stated that 42.1% of the people they queried attended mass "once a week" while a survey from a less bias source, The Irish Times, in 2012 found the figure to be around 34%. That is still a healthy chunk of the electorate and, though I haven't got the figures handy, you can be sure the rate is considerably higher among older people. Why is this important? Well, for the same reason that protests by pensioners are much more likely to be effective than protests by students, old people are a lot more likely to vote.  

Again, there is quite a broad rural/urban divide in mass attendance. A 2011 survey found that a mere 18% of Dubs attend mass on a weekly basis. Now when we consider that Dublin makes up 1/4 of our population and that the national average is hovering around the 40% mark, it shows that rural Ireland is quite keen on mass. It's important to clarify that just because someone is a church-going catholic, it doesn't necessarily mean they will definitely vote No to the referendum. In fact, The Irish Times survey I linked in the first paragraph stated that 66% of the catholics they surveyed would vote Yes to Gay Marriage. One would venture to guess, however, that the Catholic Church will do their level best to swing the heads of that 66%.  

The referendum should pass next year. Indeed, at the moment, it wouldn't be unreasonable to conclude that it could pass by a double digit percentage margin. But we shouldn't underestimate the power of the lobby that will be opposed to it and the numbers they can mobilise, both population wise and monetary. It could be closer than we think. In Rural Ireland it's going to be very close, especially since the ratio between old people and young people has widened considerably in the last 5 years thanks to emigration.

To answer the question I ask in the title; There shouldn't be. I predict that this referendum will have an inordinately high turnout among young voters and this, and Dublin's inevitable passing of the bill will mean it should sail through. But this is no time for complacency and the lessons of the past tell us that the other side aren't going to go down without a fight.  

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

In praise of: the Paparazzi

The Paps. Ruining celebrities' lives since 1826.

Paedophiles. Ear wax. Nazi sympathisers. Dictators. Rapists. Cockroaches. Limescale. These are just some of the things our society holds in a higher regard than paparazzi. They are the pits. They are the lowest of the low, no strand of journalism (and this is saying fucking something) engenders as much contempt as they do. But can we just for a moment step back and reevaluate their role in society and perhaps add a little bit of balance to the debate on their function and the merit of their work? Because I love paparazzi. I truly, truly do.

I know. Don't act like I don't. I do. I know. Making the above admission is akin to admitting to being a member of the BNP or occasionally farting in an elevator. But when I see them on their miniature scooter in Downtown LA, clutching their camera in one hand, a copy of Heat in the other with the handlebars of the bike between their knees, chasing after Miley Cyrus or whatever equally loathsome celebrity they've spotted nipping into Starbucks to buy a skinny latte, I can't help but feel the kind of respect that a general has for his troops after winning a decisive military victory. "Gawd bless you martyrs", I say, "For King and Country, chaps."

Because celebrities are bastards. Real, major-league, full-time bastards. I should know, I presented a radio show on ULFM last year dealing with celebrity gossip so I encountered their idiocy and conceitedness on a weekly basis. Most people are incredibly sycophantic when they meet a celeb. Chat-show hosts fawn over them as if they were celestial beings bequeathed to us by the Gods and fans worship them as if they were Gods. Only paparazzi have the balls to treat celebrities like they really ought to be taught; as well-paid pieces of meat invented solely for our amusement and pleasure. 

Do they go too far? Nope. In fact, I don't think they go far enough. Hacking phones is amateur. They teach you that in Journalism 101. Camping outside a celebrity's property? Not good enough. Most celebrities' houses are better fortified than the Maginot Line was. They can't see you on the footpath in your makeshift tent. 

Trespass! Hop a wall, buy a pizza delivery boy costume, burrow underground like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape; there's a plethora of options. Then you can start really messing with the celebrities' heads. Rearrange their furniture, take pictures of their dirty linen, browse through their internet history. Just use your imagination.

Society on the whole is very vitriolic towards paparazzi but it is the fans of individual celebrities who hold paparazzi in the most contempt. Beliebers, Directioners and other "fandoms" purport to despise the paparazzi as they apparently invade the privacy and security of their chosen idol. Indeed, they often use their twitter accounts to vent their outrage towards their paps. Examples of said outrage can be found here, here, here and ooh, here

What's hilarious about the indignation that these fans express towards the paps is that their accounts and fan pages are peppered with photos of their idols that have clearly been snapped by the paps. They love sausage, they just don't love how it's made. Now, I don't mean to sound like a dick, most of these fans are kids so I shouldn't hold them to the same standards I would an adult but this dichotomy is nonetheless very amusing. 

Then there's the celebrities themselves. Apparently, they absolutely deplore the paparazzi. They are the bane of their otherwise perfect lives. But whenever they decide to wed one of their fellow vacuous celebs and exchange vows in some exotic place like the Seychelles, they like nothing more than to bring along a handful of paps to photograph the ceremony. For a rather large fee, of course. 

It's not surprising that they like being snapped in their most elegant, most beautiful for a handsome price and that they're not particularly fond of being caught in the glow of a thousand flashes for not so much as a tuppence as they're making the school run but, hey, you've made your bed now you gotta lie in it, celebs. 

So the next time you think about castigating the paps for their crass disregard for privacy or security and how they can ruin the lives of so many bright young things, just remember, these are the same people who elicited this response from Justin Bieber. Gawd bless 'em. The few. The brave.