Taylor success triggers bout of below-the-belt stereotyping
WE LEARNED a lot about what the world thought of us this week.
It all began rather gorgeously. Katie Taylor, greatest living Irishwoman, and Natasha Jonas, Liverpudlian cousin of Coleen Rooney, may have hammered nine colours of manure out of one another, but Monday’s bout was remarkable for the obvious warmth that existed between the two camps.
At the close, Taylor demonstrated her immaculate manners by hugging her opponent and shaking hands with Jonas’s corner people. The enthusiastic response from the BBC’s commentators suggested the British like us almost as much as we like ourselves.
The tone soured a little on Tuesday morning. Much has been made of an article in the Age, a Melbourne-based newspaper, that included the phrase: “For centuries, Guinness and whiskey have sent the Irish off their heads.” The piece also, rather confusingly, confirmed that – a compliment, one assumes – Taylor was not “surrounded by people who’d prefer a punch to a potato”. Following representations from the Irish Ambassador, the Age offered a convincingly effusive apology.
That article was, however, somewhat less offensive than a piece that appeared the same day in USA Today. Written by one Jon Saraceno, the report on Taylor’s first victory was a small masterpiece of vulgar stereotyping and galloping inaccuracy. “Back home on the emerald-green isle, pints of Guinness flowed freely, perhaps enough to replenish the Irish Sea. The ‘punters’ inside betting parlors wagered pounds as if they were bits of candy,” Saraceno raved from his seat in Paddy McHooligan’s Shamrock Tavern.
After misidentifying the Irish currency, the journalist went on to speak of “Bray county” and describe the Irish nation as “prideful” and “scuffling”. (I speculate here myself, but I am fairly sure he also mistook The Fields of Athenry for the national anthem.) USA Today initially acknowledged only the factual errors. But, in response to questions from this newspaper, eventually apologised for any offence given.
It’s a tricky one, this. It is probably safe to assume that both the Age and USA Today felt we would be flattered by their light-hearted caricatures. After all, many Australians (not all, not most, just many; I am trying hard to mind my own language) still seem happy to be depicted as carefree, well-lubricated larrikins.
Americans of Irish descent are responsible for a great deal of the standard tropes of Paddywhackery. Domestic critics have always had a slightly uneasy relationship with John Ford’s The Quiet Man. One can, without too much intellectual wriggling, argue that Ford’s version of Ireland is no more romanticised than his depiction of the American west. By giving Ford a free pass – and by singing along to boozier Pogues numbers – we do, however, invite the likes of Saraceno to deduce that we enjoy being caricatured as crafty, gambling dipsomaniacs.