Will we ever beat the Irish stereotype?
A new video game is causing offence with its troublesome, drunken Irish character. Will we always be cast as the Drunken Paddies on screen and is it our own fault, asks BRIAN O'CONNELL
WHILE SOME are welcoming it as the biggest gaming release of the past decade, it seems Red Dead Redemptionhas failed to get a critical fáilte romhat here in Ireland. This is because one of the characters in the game, namely the town drunk, is called “Irish” and is, the game says, “usually found stumbling around and getting into trouble with sober townsfolk while attempting to talk his way out”.
Under the headline “Irish drunk sours the launch of hit game” Irish reviewer Cormac Byrne took exception to the negative cultural stereotyping. He noted that Irish gamers are in for a “nasty surprise”, as the “stereotype of the Drunken Paddy will again be taken advantage of”.
Rockstar Games, the developer of Red Dead Redemption– which is set in the Wild West – have followed a similar format with their previous smash hit, Grand Theft Auto. It, too, drew controversy (and one presumes added publicity) through the risque content and cultural stereotyping in their narratives.
In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, for example, one particular mission was titled “Kill the Haitians” and led to Rockstar Games releasing a new version with certain lines of dialogue removed after Cuban and Haitian groups objected.
So with this new release, many gaming and online sites in the US have carried coverage of the critical response to Red Dead Redemption in Ireland.
Thomas Mallon, from Gamestop Ireland, says that the media coverage has not affected on initial demand for game among Irish gamers. “It came out last Friday and the first weekend, we had really strong sales,” he says. “We get feedback from people through Facebook and Twitter and this issue hasn’t come up once from consumers.”
Mallon points out that gamers must be over 18 in order to buy the game, and that those who do buy it take the content with a pinch of salt. “If you look at other games, you do get stereotypes in them, but it’s cartoonish in a way. I don’t think it’s a huge problem for Irish customers. Everyone is aware that this stereotyping exists. It’s just a caricature rather than an actual belief. There’s an element of comedy in the game play, so this character is not really taken seriously.”
Whether it is in games or films, newspapers or dialogue, drunken stereotypes of the Irish are nothing new.
Images of the punch-drunk Paddy in British and American media dates as far back as the 18th century. More recently, The Simpsons have parodied the Irish with St Patrick’s Day floats carrying “Drunken Irish novelists”, while the town drunk, Barney, sometimes sings with an Irish lilt. There was also controversy some years ago when an episode of the British soap opera EastEnders was set in Ireland and portrayed many locals as marauding drunks.
Yet, with the highest binge drinking rate in the EU, and Guinness Brewery promoted as our most visited tourist site, have we any right to feel offended if we are portrayed online or on screen as a nation of drunks? Isn’t that what we are?
Historian Diarmaid Ferriter points out that representation of the Irish in early Hollywood cinema largely rowed in with the drunken image. “Most Irish characters in early 20th century film were fiery and drunk, and that was 100 years ago,” he says. “Even in the late 1950s, [Sean] Lemass made an official complaint to the BBC about plays and television programmes portraying the Irish as drunks.”
And America’s Wild West – the era dating from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, and where Red Dead Redemptionis set – would have received Irish emigrants fond of the jar, Ferriter adds.
The difference now, though, is that Ireland trades on the drunken stereotype and therefore should not be surprised when it is picked up by popular culture.
“Irish emigrants developed reputations for drinking too much, be it in London or in America,” Ferriter says. “I don’t see how we can get all pious with it. We are a drunken nation at home and abroad and we have been historically. It’s not a stereotype.”