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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 26, 2009 @ 10:33 am

    Brian Cowen and the Naked Truth

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    The silly season usually arrives in August. At that time, parliament and the courts and the other institutions are on their summer hols and the most wild and wonderful stories have a chance of surfacing in the news media.cowen.jpg

    National Gallery visitor reads caption under Brian Cowen caricature

    The silly season has arrived five months early this year. The drama of the absurd about the ”portraits” of the Taoiseach which were illicitly hung in the National Gallery and the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA) Galley reflects a society that is losing the run of itself. 

    Bob Dylan wrote in one of his songs the, “Even the Pres-ident of the Yew-nited States must sometimes stand nay-kid.” A semi-nude cartoon portrayal of the Taoiseach is a matter for goodhumoured ribaldry and “craic”. Not so much a nine-day wonder as a flash (flasher?) in the pan.

    As I was leaving the Dail last night, the Taoiseach was coming in the gate. I can testify he looks a good deal healthier and fitter than his comic portrayal. By coincidence, as I walked up Kildare Street moments later, there was a copy of one of the offending pictures pasted to a door. Not very much like the man at all, but then it was not intended to be. It was just a bit of fun, perhaps making a political point in a harmless, semi-anarchistic kind of way. The artist, Conor Casby, has also done caricatures of Bertie Ahern and Michael McDowell.

    Therefore, the notion that the forces of law and order should have been sent into the offices of Today FM to demand emails and phone messages left in relation to the portraits really beggars belief. It suggests that the Stasi mentality did not collapse with the Berlin Wall and someone, somewhere has undergone a major “Humorectomy”.

    Fair play to Today FM producer of the Ray D’Arcy Show, Will Hanafin for declining to provide the artist’s name and contact details (for reports click here and here.) “Tell the names of your companions” indeed!

     Given the level of criminal activity in some of our cities and the other multifarious forms of skulduggery afoot, not least in certain boardrooms, you really would think the Gardaí would be given something better to do than tracking down this harmless prankster.

    RTE’s climbdown over screening the pictures was also embarrassing and unnecessary. Vincent Browne’s denunciation of RTE last night was quite bizarre coming from the patron saint of adversarial journalism: he sounded like an Outraged Mother of Ten from the Evening Press letters page of yore.

    This will probably make us an international laughingp-stock. Oh, Mother Ireland, you’re rearing them yet! 

    • Deaglán, it is not society that is losing the run of itself. If anything society has rallied against the absurdity of state apparatus being used to strongarm apologies from the national broadcaster and information from daytime radio presenters.
      Those that have lost the run of themselves are the mysterious powers that be who have further corroded our faith in our own institutions by abusing them for self-centred, thin-skinned and ultimately juvenile reasons. The issue of nudie pictures of Brian Cowen has long been exceeded by the naked avarice of his minions.

    • Jonathan says:

      I thought the Irish were supposed to have a sense of humour.
      The really sad thing about all this is that it shows that Cowen is so stupid he doesn’t realize the amount of publicity he’s giving to the artist and his pictures.
      It’s not clever to know what to say. It’s clever to know what not to say.

    • Harry Leech says:

      What’s all the more worrying than Vincent Browne’s about-face, is that RTE apologised for running the story in the first place. Whether they did it before the Governement Press Secretary complained or not does not matter; if anything it shows that RTE management fear the wrath of the parties in power, at a time when a free, fair and uncensored media is all the more important.

      And would FF in general and Michael Kennedy in particular not grow a sense of humour? Did anyone else find his performance on Pat Kenny’s radio show and The Last Word to be parochial beyond belief? It was like what I imagine the 50′s were like …

    • Paul says:

      Will we see a similar apology from RTE, for Pat Kenny asking a 7 year Old Breakdancer whether he’s going to ‘Add Colour to his face’ as most Breakdancers are black?

      This was a lot more offensive then picturegate.

    • Duine gan Ainm says:

      The pictures themselves constitute a form of political satire, and as such are an exercise of free speech. RTE had nothing to be ashamed of in reporting the display of these pictures, but in their craven and despicable apologies for doing so they have shown a shameful cowardice unworthy of a public broadcaster in a democracy.

      Incitement to hatred? The government and the person leading it have failed to serve the people who elected them, but have become the creatures of crooks and scoundrels. The Irish people have always loathed their oppressors, be they foreign or domestic.

      Contempt for the office of Taoiseach? Mr Cowen requires no assistance in that regard. He should ask himself whether he is the servant of the people, or the plaything of criminals in suits.

      Indecency? We have been made an object of derision and contempt before the nations of the world, a banana republic ruled by the European cousins of Zanu-PF.

      Never have Connolly’s words been more apposite: “If you remove the English Army tomorrow and hoist the green flag over Dublin Castle, unless you set about the organisation of the Socialist Republic your efforts will be in vain. England will still rule you. She would rule you through her capitalists, through her landlords, through her financiers, through the whole array of commercial and individualist institutions she has planted in this country and watered with the tears of our mothers and the blood of our martyrs”.

    • Mel says:

      One of the dangers of taking ourselves to seriously, is that we can end up looking looking a bigger fool than we had ever imagined!

    • robespierre says:


      Satire of crude or complex varieties has been with us since Egyptian times. I rarely agree with Pat Kenny but I read that his response was to grow a sense of humour and maybe even to purchase the picture and hang by the chamber pot.

      For all its spin-doctory a simple quip to the media like I didn’t realise I had lost that much weight or I should really close the curtains next time would have killed the story dead.

      Richard Bruton had the sense to laugh off the Goebbels malapropism. It is important not take oneself seriously. I also remember people talking about Cowen’s talent for mimicry – surely this is just another variant of it…

    • Deaglán says:

      That’s a bit Over The Top, Duine Gan Ainm. A case gains nothing by being overstated.

    • Lee says:

      Why is this surprising? Even as far back as the Haughey days political satire has been curbed. Can anyone remember Spitting Image‘s groteque puppets? Surely their antics were sometimes indecent? But then again maybe other countries’ politicians have a better sense of humour and can occasionally laugh at themselves.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      One element that is worth noting is that while it has been long known that a democracy requires eternal vigilance, it is now more possible than ever for that vigilance to be performed by an active citizenry. RTE’s removal of the clip didn’t mean that it has disappeared from view. Many people now record regular television output as matter of course. The world of TiVo, Sky Plus et al changes such events from being one-off gaffes as it is harder than ever to suppress them from memory.

      As it happens I had recorded this particular news item (because I wished to show it to a housemate who was out at the time) but since someone else had done the necessary by posting it on the net there was no need for duplication on my part. The Maire Hoctor debacle on Prime Time which was only two weeks was similarly cleaned up on RTE online but at least two people (myself and dukemacgyver) caught that one.

      In this society right now, we’re as much the ones doing the watching as much as the state is, and our democracy is the healthier for that.

    • Deaglán says:

      Good man, Dan! Can you send me those two links please?

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      This is the Cowen Clip as originally aired on Tuesday


      And this is the full Maire Hoctor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R4YIXGklgFg including the touching moment where she says she cares about carers.

      And this the shorter version with just the goof.


    • Deaglán says:

      This incident has unleashed a tidal wave of Cowen cartoons on the internet.

    • sw says:

      where did you get that photo?

    • Deaglán says:

      SW: Picture was in The Irish Times.

    • Paul says:


      Criminal charges? Were the creators of Spitting Image convicted in a court of law for anything?

    • Having watched the RTE news piece on the Brian Cowen nudes I have to ask what all the fuss is about? This is just an artist’s impression of how our Taoiseach got caught with his trousers down by a financial crisis part caused by his and Fianna Fail’s promiscuous love-in with developers, bankers and big business. All that is missing here is the post-coital cigarette.

    • anger o haughney says:

      This portrait is Grotesque unbelievable, Bizarre and unprecedented, GUBU BIFFO

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