Sunday, February 21, 2010

Leap Year's negative stereotyping should anger nobody

Donald Clarke writes in Friday's Irish Times about an American romantic comedy based in Ireland called Leap Year that, he says, is "offensive, reactionary, patronising filth".

Clarke's concern is that Leap Year depicts the Irish as generations of Hollywood films have - as "IRA men or twinkly rural imbeciles" - a depiction he suggests descends from 19th century British imperialist propaganda. I haven't seen the film, but if the trailer is anything to go by, it is indeed an abomination.

But Clarke is still wrong about one thing.

He writes:

In decades past, a certain cultural cringe still infected Ireland’s attitude to the United States. While such a vast economic and technological gulf existed between the nations, it seemed discourteous to object strongly to the rampaging distortions in depictions of Irish society.... Now that the lifestyle of the average Irishman seems so much closer to that of the average Californian, it appears all the more indecent that the US continues to peddle this garbage. We should now speak up.

Over the last few years a number of nationalities and religions have indeed spoken up against alleged insults and slights.

Italian-Americans demanded that MTV cancel a new show supposedly depicting negative stereotypes of Italian-Americans. Israeli right-wingers protested a Swedish journalist who claimed Israeli soldiers had harvested organs from Palestinians. Indian demonstrators burned effigies of Richard Gere for insulting Indian culture by kissing Shilpa Shetty. Danish embassies were attacked by Muslims protesting the Muhammad cartoons in 2005.

So has all this noisy outrage led to greater respect among outsiders for Israelis, Italian-Americans, Indians and Muslims? Probably not. On the contrary, this outrage looks silly and insecure.

It is also often counterproductive, so that the fatwa put on Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses left Rushdie alive and the book an international best-seller. Google searches for Jyllands-Posten, the Danish newspaper responsible for the Muhammad cartoons controversy, were never higher than immediately after the controvery broke. And Irish readers should need no reminding of the Passion of St Tibulus incident...

I presume Donald Clarke's suggestion to "speak up" does not mean effigy-burning or embassy-bombing, but even speaking up is too much. If Leap Year peddles dull Irish stereotypes we should respond with indifference - just don't go to the cinema. Getting all worked up about it will make Ireland look ridiculous, and boost the number of people going to the cinema to see what the fuss is.

In any case, the Irish with their stereotype of quaint, childish, drunken violence are still depicted more sympathetically by Hollywood than many other groups, like the Italians (criminals), Germans (Nazis), Arabs (suicide-bombing babarians), English (posh snobs) and Australians (drunken, violent, irreverant - oh, wait, that's the Irish again). So let's not get too peeved just yet.

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