Rather worrying, really.
Archive for April 11th, 2005
OK last Sunday Times post for a while. After this one I’ll be purged. Liam Fay (article here) bemoans the fact that two second-generation Irish professors of cultural studies in British universities have taken it upon themselves to organise a symposium in Manchester on the Smiths. Apparently one of them is writing a
‘treatise on the influence of second-generation Irish artists on English music, with reference to the Smiths, John Lydon, Elvis Costello, Shane MacGowan etc.’
I have always thought that this would be an interesting enough topic for a second-generation Irish person in England to analyse – not forgetting Dusty Springfield and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. And criticising a cultural studies professor for studying apparently whimsical aspects of popular culture is a bit like railing against binmen for collecting your rubbish. But Liam Fay is not impressed.
Ignoring that these are second-generation Irishmen living and working in England, and may be somewhat English as well, he wonders:
’However, a more useful academic study should be undertaken into why so many Irish scholars are so eager to attribute bogus nationalistic depth to stylish cultural surfaces. In the wise words of a Smiths classic, what difference does it make?
The answer in both the song, and in reality is, of course, that it makes none. Or at least precious little to those outside of Cultural Studies departments. However, I’m not too sure where the ‘bogus nationalistic depth’ bit is. Hogwash such as ‘The Irish Mind’ or ‘Wherever Green Is Worn’ or whatever is definitely worth ignoring, but the success of second-generation Irish musicians in England is an easily identifiable instance of where British and Irish cultures overlap and inform each other. Hardly deserving of the disdain assigned here.
The PJP2 greatness snowball careens unstoppably into our view of the past. Once his greatness reaches a certain point, the question no longer involves whether he was great or not, but just rather how incredibly great he actually was. And then we end up mulling over other questions, like what does it mean to be great anyway, and what would you need to do these days in order to be great? Who are the obvious candidates for greatness now that PJP2 has hung up his, er, stole?
Anyway, Michael Ross, commentator for The Sunday Times Culture magazine (as that is the only thing I know about him) told us that he is rather uneasy with the media attention being given to the Pope’s (GOD BLESS HIM) death:
‘The way in which the media has come to feast on public emotion, exploiting and even manipulating it, ultimately for commercial ends, is rivalled only by the way in which the public demands to ventilate its feelings, all the more so as its responses have become disconnected from reality.’
Which is a reasonable and considered comment, but as with ‘we Irish’ in Brenda Power’s piece in the same edition, I found myself wondering who this ‘public’ is, and why I have no interaction with it. It appears his idea of ‘the public’ is based on the media representation of the same, and he draws his conclusions accordingly. Rather than the borderline indifference expressed by most, (it hasn’t caused us to forget about Jamie Oliver’s school dinners for example) the public reaction, and by extension the public itself, is defined, framed and captured by the exuberant reactions of the few.
So on to Mr Ross’s two cents on PJP2’s greatness:
‘Even those who did not share his beliefs would surely acknowledge that the greatness of John Paul II consisted [i.e. his greatness is now beyond question, all that remains is to define it], above all else, in his refusal to bend to this relativist culture of unearned feeling. ‘
Ugh. So that was why he wanted to canonise Mother Theresa, then. I glanced upwards to AA Gill’s television column on the same page for a little relief, and it arrived, at last:
‘He started off as a good man, then a good pope, then a great pope, pope of the century, one of the greatest popes ever and ended up on Fox News as the greatest human being in the history of human beings and an uber-pontiff for all mankind. You could almost hear the Hollywood producers saying: “Hey, do you think there’s a movie in this Pope guy? See what Bruce Willis’s availability is. Maybe Mel will direct”’
Maybe there is a God after all.
I still buy it. It’s my dirty little secret. I could (although the need has never arisen) stride right up to the counter of a packed newsagent’s full of people returning from mass or worship, and kick off a raucous argument with the newsagent about the extortionate price of his top shelf and what the hell the world is coming to when you can’t get any reasonably priced porno these days, but I feel sheepish buying a copy of the Sunday Times.
Let’s say you can discern two subtexts to Sunday Times Irish edition commentary and stories. The first one would be like a first draft of a Progressive Democrat conference keynote speech, and the second is like a homily from a stern and admonishing bishop. The first stresses how modern, innovative and forward-thinking ‘we’ are, and the second laments ‘our’ loss of innocence, ‘our’ venality, self-interestedness and rampant consumerism. I reckon most Sunday Times buyers are suckers (and I include myself) for how the tension between the two is resolved. Call it a little light S&M reading for a Sunday afternoon.
The death of The Pope (GOD BLESS HIM) gave columnist Brenda Power the perfect opportunity to break out the dog collar and whiplash. Starting off with the dilapidated (old, rugged?) cross at Phoenix Park as metaphor for ‘our’ attitude to the events of the last week, she uses the rest of her column to administer us all a good thrashing:
‘Polishing up the cross, however, [much in the same way as one would polish up an old metaphor?]
won’t revive the innocence we shared then, and for which, if there is any undercurrent to this astonishing outpouring of national grief, we are now mourning’
but of course, in mourning ‘our’ innocence, ‘we’ poor banished children of Eve chose to apply the salve of a nice day off at our employers’ expense, naturally enough:
‘(The government’s response to the Pope’s death…) was not cynical enough. It failed to take account of the national readiness to be on the make at all times and in all circumstances, and to seize with alacrity the prospect of a day off, indeed a long weekend.’
and she concludes:
‘Heaven knows why, but the government underestimated our eagerness for a day off at our employers’ expense.
And those of us who had taken to looking back, a little sheepishly, at the ease with which a vigororous 59-year-old with star quality charmed us in 1979, well we were caught unawares by a yearning for the lost innocence of those times, and all the things we didn’t know back then’
As I read it, the underlying message of the article is this: you lazy, venal swine, wallowing in your crass consumerism with nary a care for matters spiritual. Yes, we are all in thrall to Mammon, and we’d all love to be the way we were back in 1979, all D-I-S-C-O dancing and boy’s sodalities, but it’s high time you dealt with it, got your self pitying asses back to work and stopped engaging in the ultimate modern sin of daring to consider ripping off your employers. In the end, it’s better that way.
I was 3 in 1979. My only memory of PJP2 coming to Ireland was of me falling down the stairs. I have no idea what proportion of Ireland’s working population is younger than me, or how many people here were growing up in other countries around the world at that time. Most people I spoke to last week expressed no interest in a national day of mourning whatsoever. But we all cop the admonishment equally. It reminds me of the priest in a neighbouring parish to my own, who a few years ago found a used condom in the grounds of his church. He was so enraged that the following morning, a Monday, he declared to the 10 or so elderly women in attendance at morning mass that all the women in the parish were little more than sinful hoors.
The Sunday newspaper as replacement for mass- or church-going is hardly a new idea. But like a lot of afflictions, you see the symptoms in other people before you see them in yourself. So when PJPII died last week I started to think: when was the last time I went to mass regularly? I figured it was some time after I stopped believing in a god, but round about the time I started reading the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, some 10 or 11 years ago.
Perhaps the correct thing to do now, for a weblog entry, is to ask myself: are the two things linked? But rather than ruminate over the possibility that they may be linked, though let’s just assume for convenience’s sake that they are. This is a weblog for fuck’s sakes not an inaugural lecture. And besides, to do so pays a nice tribute to the Sunday Times’ style of journalism.
Why are they linked then? Well, only a self-flagellating mad albino monk lifted straight out of the Da Vinci Code could endure two doses of sanctimonious preaching about morality, public life, the country we live in and HOW BAD WE ALL ARE (ach, but sure we’re all great too, at the same time) in the same day. So I must have given in to the printed option, as it got brought back from mass by others in the house.
As it’s trendy to be a Catholic these days (at least until the conclave appoints another pope who begins droning on about injustice, poverty and chastity at which point most people will take the condom off and go back to painting the garden shed, or exploiting the workers, or whatever it is that a la carte Catholics generally do these days), my vanity compels me to post further stuff about PJP2 and Catholics.
Normal non-religious services will resume tomorrow.