Finding an Irish Voice: Reflections upon Celtic Consumer Society and Social Change.
Weds. Oct 17th in Leather Room Albert College Dublin.
Consuming Indentity Research Group International Workshop Pat Brereton. [Pat.Brereton@dcu.ie] School of Communications DCU National Identity and the Commercial Imperative in New Irish Cinema.
Is there a crisis of representation in Irish cinema?
In this apparently postmodernist era, with notions of history and national identity producing much less consensus for new generations of Irish audiences and film makers - much to the chagrin of nationalist and other critics - new aesthetic strategies are being posited and tested. Some critics claim that the only truly authentic aspect of Irish film production is our ‘accent’. Certainly, it would appear that less currency is given to the polemical and political agendas of the past, which regard film as an important medium to educate and initiate a radical agenda for a New Ireland, following on from the Literary Revivalist project in a previous age. As an Irish film academic, I believe new tools and methodologies for research and engagement are needed to understand and explain the more prolific and commercially driven second wave of film production, which is frequently dismissed as lacking in creative much less nationalist appeal.
One wonders, now that the economy has been transformed through a ‘Celtic Tiger’ renaissance, continuing the erosion of population from rural areas and the decimation of erstwhile indigenous occupations like farming, has there been a rejection of such values, together with a form of amnesia towards the traumas of the past, as signalled by the current preoccupation with contemporary urban-based generic cinema. Such homegrown narratives appear less interested in valorising a touristic landscape and remain preoccupied with emulating an urban-based generic Hollywood product in their attempts to achieve commercial success. Contemporary filmmakers from the initiation of the second film board ‘emulate a universal and materially wealthy, post-colonial, urban environment, which frequently ignores the past and re-purposes landscape for younger audiences rather than nostalgic, diasporic ones.’ I continue in this vein by suggesting; ‘[W]e need to excavate and discover new discursive images of Ireland, that go beyond the violent historical political “Troubles” and the more recent religious and sexual traumas of the past, which have preoccupied the postcolonial cultural mindset’.
Mindful of the dangers of repeating existing forms of national amnesia, there are nonetheless numerous diasporic touristic and other ‘universal’ stories that can hopefully represent and embody the Ireland of the future. This striving for commercial success – usually the preserve of industrial capitalist enterprise rather than artistic endeavour - essentially calls upon universalising mythic tropes of Hollywood. But critics will quibble; at what cost, citing their multiple reductionism and stereotyping of an authentic sense of ‘Irishness’.
This short paper will focus on various aesthetic strategies used in a number of recent films to present and represent [Post] Celtic Tiger Ireland? In jettisoning traditional Irish cinematic references as archaic, should we worry about a danger of alternatively embracing a hyper vision of Ireland. From Angela’s Ashes and The Commitments to more contemporary stories including About Adam, Adam and Paul and The Tiger’s Tail the pervasive issue of identity, or lack of it, as we muddle through our consumption-driven Celtic Tiger, remains an abiding preoccupation. Let us start our analysis with a quick overview of what some critics see as the ‘poverty-chic’ preoccupation in Frank McCourt’s best selling novel Angela’s Ashes and Alan Parker’s filmic adaptation, which can be compared to his earlier foray into Irish working class culture in The Commitments.
Born in abject poverty, Frank’s father (played by the Scottish actor Robert Carlyle) was an unemployable alcoholic. The film revels in presenting the utterly miserable conditions McCourt grew up in, including the death of children through malnutrition. The story engendered much criticism at home, particularly in Limerick for its relentlessly negative portrayal of the city where is appears to rain all the time. However, Frank retained the belief and hope throughout his childhood that a better life could be found. Such a narrative ark appealed to the huge diasporic Irish community in America, often forced to emigrate during very hard times and seeking to validate this traumatic memory. All of this of course appears at odds with the wealthy Celtic Tiger reality of today and the overwhelming experience of new generations including the glib paraphrasing of those who never had it so good, as ironically constructed by the economist David McWilliams and ‘The Pope’s Children’, aired on RTE alongside his current series recently broadcast.