Monthly Archives: September 2011

Do They Know It’s Not Christmas?

There’s a whole quarter of the year left until yer man comes down the chimney and empties his sackful of Apple products, video games, and perhaps even the occasional toy, all over your floor. Yet apparently we need a whole three months to plan the incredibly complicated geometrical puzzle of how to arrange the baubles on our tree, or the equally challenging enigma of whether to put the plastic snowman that sings ‘Jingle Bells’ on the windowsill or in the porch, before the thing goes off for the hundredth time that day and you beat it into a pile of circuits and white fluff with a poker in a fit of eggnog-induced festive rage.

Because we need such a long time to coordinate our festive period the nation’s shops have kindly removed anything that doesn’t meet the required level of jolliness, and filled their windows and aisles from floor to ceiling with cheap tat, in order to imbue us with that unmistakeably Christmassy feeling of being surrounded by cheap tat. Every square inch of every shop is full to the brim with useless but confusingly desirable Christmas knick-knacks, while tannoy systems blare the same six or seven famous Christmas songs at you in order to annoy you into purchasing something just so you can leave to regain your sanity. Until the New Year it will be impossible to enter a shop without buying at least seven reindeer-related objects, and leaving in a daze covered in spray snow, tinsel and saccharine yuletide goodness.

Don’t get me wrong, Christmas is undoubtedly the best time of the year. Despite that crazy Nazareth cult trying to hijack the holiday and turn it into a celebration of peace, love and other such boring concepts, the festive period has instead stayed true to its Pagan roots whereby Germanic nomads would agree not to kill each other with sharp rocks for one day every year. Instead they got together to eat turkey and stuffing sandwiches, drink gallons of booze and watch half of The Great Escape before falling asleep. Books of lore also tell us that they gave each other gifts which would seem extremely outdated by today’s standards, such as black-and-white Game Boys and first generation iPods. It’s certainly a much more wholesome origin story than the one about the carpenter, the virgin and the farmyard animals in a barn.

The problem with looking forward to Christmas for such a long time is that it ruins the excitement of the actual holiday. By the time December comes around we’ll be so saturated with all things Christmas that we won’t want to see another Santa hat, Christmas cracker or chestnut roasting on an open fire. Although to be fair I’ve never seen one of those and it sounds more like something a squirrel would do to celebrate Christmas.

The tedium of enduring such a long Christmas season hasn’t been helped in recent years by the constant snowfall that now seems to occur annually for at least a month. Snow used to be a novelty in this country, like a solar eclipse or a sound bus driver. Now we’re bombarded with the stuff every year, and there are only so many giant snow penises to be crafted to offset the annoyance at the complete disintegration of all of the country’s services. It takes us about ten minutes to run out of sand and salt, after which the only way to get around is to hesitantly tiptoe everywhere in the hope that you won’t slip on the compacted ice and become the laughing stock of the country. The odd snow shower is nice and seasonal but there’s nothing festive about not being able to get home from the pub without breaking your tailbone.

As everyone who’s anyone will tell you, the Christmas season officially begins upon the first airing of the Coca-Cola ad on telly, and ends when there’s nothing left in the Roses tin except empty wrappers and partially digested hazelnuts. With blatant disregard for these time-honoured traditions, the shops continue to force Christmas on us earlier each year. It’s bad enough having to actually go Christmas shopping at Christmas, battling your way down Henry Street past stalls of taxi drivers selling stolen packets of razor blades and haggard old women with beards hawking all sorts of cheap shite that you wouldn’t give to your worst enemy.

For the sake of the integrity of Christmas, it’s about time we banned all mention of the holiday until the month of December. Then we can go back to being miserable for all except a tiny portion of the year, which is exactly what makes the excesses of Christmas worth looking forward to. We’d then have eleven whole months completely free of overly commercialised nonsense being shoved in our faces from every direction. Except for Halloween obviously. And Easter. Oh, and Valentine’s Day. And Paddy’s Day. And now Arthur’s Day of course…

You know come to think of it, the older I get the more I find myself empathising with the Grinch. Bah Humbug and a Happy End of September to everyone. Your card’s in the post.


Pain in the Áras

The presidential election is now just over five weeks away and the past few days have seen a lot of activity from potential candidates. Considering the fact that the country is in such a state of turmoil at the moment, it is disappointing to say the least that we are being provided with such a bland and uninspiring list of contenders.

The office of President is not a particularly challenging role to fill. It consists mostly of shaking hands with people, pretending to care about things and deciding which of your opulent gaff’s drawing rooms you want to retire to for your evening glass of sherry. The one quality the position does call for is diplomacy, and it is in her sensitive, measured and intelligent approach that Mary McAleese has excelled during her two terms. The idea of some of her prospective successors representing our country on the international stage is worrying.

Some of the candidates are inoffensive enough, but aren’t exactly inspirational. Mary Davis has done tireless work for charities, and would probably be better off continuing her hands-on work rather than filling a figurehead role. Dragons’ Den’s Seán Gallagher seems like a nice enough guy, and is an intelligent entrepreneur, but doesn’t really have the credentials to rise to such a prominent position. His Cavan accent would also make presidential speeches a nightmare to listen to.

There are also a few contenders for the Áras whose election would be actively damaging to the country, one of whom is Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell. Despite recently denying membership, he has been strongly linked to both the Dignitatis Humanae Institute and the Iona Institute. These poisonous right-wing groups operate under a pretense of fostering Christian values while pursuing their ultra-conservative, discriminatory agendas. Mitchell has also attracted controversy for a letter he wrote appealing for clemency for an unrepentant anti-abortion fanatic who murdered a doctor and his bodyguard outside an abortion clinic in the US. So aside from being an utterly charmless individual, a mediocre politician and a fairly dull person intellectually speaking, the man is also a throwback to the Ireland of the 1950s and has no place in any position of esteem in a liberal 21st century state.

You would think that a right-wing moron like Mitchell would be the worst candidate, but he pales in comparison to our newest entrant from Sinn Féin, a known terrorist, a despicable human being and best mates with well-known nobleman Baron Gerry Adams. There is no need to go into detail over Martin McGuinness’ past. Anyone with an ounce of common sense knows what he was involved in in this country, and the amount of pain and misery he has caused. Fintan O’Toole wrote an excellent article outlining how ridiculous his candidature is.

On Pat Kenny’s Frontline programme this week, former Tánaiste Michael McDowell also reminded us of the chilling fact that if he were to be elected, the former IRA man would be the Supreme Commander of the Irish Defence Forces. This is one job application where his vast experience in this field counts against him. Let’s hope that if he does win the election, he’ll just refuse to turn up like he has done with his seat in Westminster since 1997. The man, and I use the term loosely, is an embarrassment to this country, and his temerity in attempting to become our first citizen is an insult to his victims and their families.

It is unfortunate we have such a low standard of candidate this year, since there are plenty of Irish people out there who could make a decent run for President. How about President Bono, who could rule by proxy from his tax haven and help Ireland lead the way on the international stage in providing aid to Africa, using the same three chords over and over, and building shit hotels? Or President Tubridy, who is already an expert at making tedious conversation with international luminaries. Although as far as I know Conan O’Brien was never President so Tubs would need to steal someone else’s act before taking the gig. Maybe Dustin the Turkey, latterly preoccupied with his budding musical career, could revive his political ambitions to compete in his third election? If Fianna Fáil nominated him, he’d surely perform better than any human stupid enough to associate themselves with the party.

Assuming none of these possible challengers announce a late charge for the presidency, it looks set to go to either Michael D. Higgins, or, if he manages to obtain the signatures required to get on the ballot, David Norris. Both are intelligent, articulate men who would doubtlessly do a fine job, and I would be happy enough to see either win. I suppose the country just isn’t ready to accept as President a small loudmouth puppet made famous by a pathetic excuse for a singing career, and whose opinions are even more ridiculous than Gay Mitchell’s. I guess Dana will just have to wait another seven years.

Global Informing

Former US vice-president Al Gore is spearheading the 24 Hours of Reality campaign this week, a social networking-based series of presentations aimed at convincing climate change sceptics of the truths of how human activity is affecting our environment. The presentation is also set to attack some of the more virulent deniers of climate change, and examine where they get their funding from. The endeavour is, like all things these days, set to revolve around Facebook and Twitter. Obviously Gore thinks he can save the world in less than 140 characters.

As with all of Al Gore’s attempts to raise awareness about environmental issues, this idea seems like a noble and laudable venture. Gore’s tireless work deservedly earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, which illustrates the political and societal weight of his influence and his ideas. What’s more, he didn’t even have to attach his name to an abstract noun like ‘Hope’ or give any vague and empty promises about closing illegal detention centres to get one.

Unfortunately, this project is probably destined to do little other than solidify the views of those already firmly in Gore’s camp. The science and logic behind Gore’s claims are plain to see for anyone who cares to look, and it is not due to a careful examination of the facts that most climate change sceptics voice their disagreement. Political influence is undoubtedly the biggest contributing factor to the mass ignorance of these deniers. A healthy mistrust of crackpot leftie scientists and their anti-American views that will restrict progress is now just as much of a prerequisite for members of the American conservative right as revulsion towards homosexuality and a proclivity for hilariously ill-informed statements.

Despite the massive amount of good work done by Gore and his organisations, he is forever fighting a losing battle against extremely powerful interest groups who don’t want to give any credence to claims that would see American industry forced to make concessions because of climate change. The morons that are churned out by the Republicans every four years might genuinely believe the nonsense they talk about the global warming conspiracy, but these simple mouthpieces that have been plucked from backwater towns are just being used by big business to appeal to middle Americans, and to make them think anything that will result in less income for corporations is un-American and is a threat to their way of life.

Unfortunately for those of us capable of independent thought, these corporations have a massive resource of idiots that they can very easily bend to their every whim. Without wanting to sound too much like Jim Corr, in a very general sense it should be obvious to everyone that the world is not run by states or governments, but by the CEOs who control the money that is used to influence governmental policy. In America, the corporations and their lobbyists have realised that tapping into patriotism is by far the easiest way to control people. Add an environment of fear and hostility and you have yourself an army (literally in many cases) of uneducated classes willing to kill and die for the ethereal ‘America’, that is in reality just a collection of very powerful individuals who use the war industry, mainly, to line their own pockets at the expense of young men’s lives.

The capitalist system, and our society’s outlook in general, is marked by two distinguishing features: greed and short-sightedness. An unquenchable thirst for money and power guarantees that men like Gore will always meet with a stubborn refusal to let anything get in the way of procuring more of both. At the same time, our myopic world view ensures that, for the most part, nobody really cares what kind of world our grandchildren grow up in. Our own survival and prosperity is what matters, and everything else is irrelevant conjecture. Sure our descendants can just evolve into a Waterworld-esque race of amphibians, trading dirt and stilted dialogue and avoiding crazy old Dennis Hopper in the horrible dystopia we helped create for them.

The other point that has to be made here, however, is the perceived futility of the ‘green’ movement championed by people like Gore. The damage that has already been done to our atmosphere is practically irreversible, and it is clear that world governments are not going to suddenly unite and take drastic action. So why bother doing your part by recycling and worrying about carbon footprints when our fate has already been sealed? Cycling everywhere will not save the world; it will just ensure that your lungs, as well as our ozone layer, become clogged with the exhaust fumes, fossil fuel smoke and cow farts that are slowly eroding our planet’s defences against extreme weather conditions.

Interestingly, this week also brought news of an Earth-like planet discovered in a nearby solar system. Whether it is in developing a faster form of travel to make it possible to reach somewhere like this, or simply overcoming the difficulties of making somewhere like Mars habitable for humans, surely the science of space exploration is the way forward for the long-term future of our species? Even if it is not possible to leave Earth, chances are we could exhaust other planets of their natural resources to keep us going for another few years, like some sort of cosmic life-support system for that mean old great-uncle who’s always been a bit of an asshole and refuses to just do the decent thing and die.

With NASA’s shuttle program recently being shelved indefinitely, private companies have been given the job of continuing our odyssey into the vastness of space. So let’s hope that whatever the best way forward for humanity is, it also just happens to be the most profitable path to take. Maybe after years of exploitation and manipulation, our corporations can save us from the doom they helped to inflict upon us. If we were to one day leave our sinking ship of a planet, however, I imagine Al Gore would insist on staying behind, defiant to the end about saving the environment and creating a better world. After all, in space no-one can hear you tweet.

The One Where They Stop Showing Repeats

E4 has this week finally brought to an end its constant airing of the beloved sitcom Friends, which has been a mainstay of the channel since the series ended seven years ago. Despite being shown on a daily basis, the repeats often drew audiences of hundreds of thousands, outperforming many of the channel’s newer programmes. The show will now be put out to pasture in the sitcom retirement village that is Comedy Central, where it can live out its last years attending arts and crafts classes with the Cheers gang, listening to the Sex and the City girls moan about their osteoporosis and trying to avoid bumping into anyone from Everybody Loves Raymond at Friday night bingo.

Although the quality dipped slightly towards the end of its ten season run, Friends remains one of the best of its kind to date. The characters were well rounded and believable, the scripts incredibly witty and well-written, and the show had as much heart and pathos as it did slapstick humour and sharp one-liners. Its influence on an entire generation’s views on everything from life, love and friendship to poultry ownership, being on a break and divorce (again) is immeasurable.

One of the reasons for its enduring popularity was the variety of characters that people could relate to. Cynical, sarcastic types could appreciate Chandler’s acerbic wit, Jewish palaeontologists could aspire to be like Ross, and extremely irritating people could enjoy Phoebe’s quirkiness. The early seasons, especially, had some classic moments (which anyone who recognises the name ‘Ms. Chanandler Bong’ can attest to), but the quality of the last few series fluctuated from episode to episode. Ross seemed to have cracked completely to the point where he should have been committed, Joey had gone from being a bit dim to displaying cartoonish levels of stupidity, and Rachel stopped wearing short, tight skirts. The finale, however, was a suitably funny, heartwarming and satisfactory ending for the gang, a rarity among long-running TV shows.

In recent years the bewilderingly popular How I Met Your Mother seems to have become the successor to Friends. It deals with a group of friends living in New York, is hugely commercially successful and is endlessly quotable. It is also, however, a far inferior product. The acting is fairly hammy, the writing lacks subtlety and Bob Saget’s narration is overly sentimental. The characters, aside from not being very interesting, are very one-dimensional and therefore more difficult to relate to. They exist simply to say their lines, as opposed to their dialogue existing to tell us more about them. It is a show that has adopted all the elements of the sitcom but has failed to become more than the sum of its parts. It is also quite clear that the writers have let the original conceit for the show become more of a hindrance than anything, resulting in a lot of unnecessary exposition, as well as some unexplained loose ends.

This sitcom-by-numbers approach is not rare these days. The most popular sitcom of recent years is Two and a Half Men, a programme consisting entirely of silicone-enhanced morons sitting in bed with Charlie, feeding him poorly written lines that he can spin into unfunny and woodenly delivered innuendo, with the odd bumbling interjection from the fat kid, the joke apparently being that he has severe learning difficulties. Maybe the only reason for the show’s popularity was the likeability of its star, Charlie Sheen, a veritable hero among much of the college generation in the US. And what could be more heroic than a crack-smoking, anti-Semitic wife-beater who has lost custody of his children and seems to permanently reside in the full grip of a psychotic break? What a card.

The good news is that there are still plenty of brilliant sitcoms being made. The likes of 30 Rock, Modern Family and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are very successful examples. The less mainstream comedies still suffer though, as evidenced by the fact that Arrested Development, probably the funniest and cleverest television show of all time, was cancelled due to lack of viewers. It is no coincidence that more intelligently written shows, or the ones that exhibit a bit of dry humour as opposed to people being slapped with fish or shouting tired catchphrases at each other, are less popular with viewers.

Unfortunately there are only a handful of people willing to put in the effort to make a Frasier or a Curb Your Enthusiasm when they know that the high-brow humour will alienate much of their prospective audience. Hopefully the sitcom will continue to thrive so that for every sub-par, derivative new series that becomes the next big thing, there are a dozen other small, intelligently funny shows that don’t just appeal to the lowest common denominator. As for E4 taking a break from Friends, we’ll just have to learn to cope without it. Look on the bright side, at least they’re not showing Joey.