Bloomsday is a brilliant marketing ploy – just don’t take it too seriously

Literature is a commodity and it would be naive to think otherwise

Graham Wilkinson and Paul Kennedy participate in the 20th annual Brennan’s bread Bloomsday messenger bike rally in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

Graham Wilkinson and Paul Kennedy participate in the 20th annual Brennan’s bread Bloomsday messenger bike rally in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson

Sat, Jun 15, 2013, 01:00

At some time in the last couple of decades Bloomsday became a prescribed date in the annual calendar, its arrival inexorable as that of Christmas Day. June 16th, the day Leopold Bloom made his fictional journey around Dublin in James Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses, is now clearly branded as Bloomsday.

For a day celebrating a book many admit to never having read, Bloomsday is a brilliant piece of marketing. You may never have read a single one of the 260,000 words or so in Ulysses but that is no barrier to participating in a Bloomsday event. Neither need it dissuade you from buying a bib for your baby with “I’d Rather Be Reading Ulysses” printed on it, mugs, fridge magnets, tea towels, T-shirts and even boxer shorts with Joyce’s face on them.

Literature is a commodity, and it would be naive to think otherwise. Dead writers out of copyright are particularly valuable commodities.

Joyce emerged from copyright on January 1st, 2012. Ever since the lifting of copyright, the Joyce brand has become stronger and stronger. Events can now take place that were routinely banned before, and many of the Bloomsday offerings now are far more light-hearted and inventive than previously.

Pre-copyright, it would be impossible to imagine, for instance, the Irish Film Institute’s Bloomsday screening of Joseph Strick’s 1967 Ulysses – with the addition of props and audience interaction in the style of The Rocky Horror Show. “Let’s make Bloomsday a fantastic carnival!” is their invitation to the public.

In Dún Laoghaire, between the 15th and 16th of June, among the Joyce-themed events is a world record attempt to get together the most “James Joyce imposters”. Every family member, no matter how young, is invited to participate. Prizes will be on offer in categories such as “Baby Bloom” and “Little Leopold.”

A Dublin hotel has combined a successful reality television show with Joyce, by offering “The Great Bloomsday Bake-Off”.

What has it all got to do with Ulysses? Where is the link, for instance, between learning to make soda bread and Leopold Bloom’s odyssey around the streets of Dublin in 1904? Does anyone even care, or does it matter? Is it better to keep the name of an author alive, even if no one actually reads his books very much?

What’s evident is that like Christmas, Bloomsday now goes on for several days. And like Christmas, people now enjoy it in an a-la-carte way.