Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Hating The Gathering

I don’t have to tell you things are bad. I don’t have to tell you that because we tell ourselves that all the time. We tell ourselves when the arguments on The Frontline automatically reset to bank bailouts and burning …

Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 17:19

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I don’t have to tell you things are bad. I don’t have to tell you that because we tell ourselves that all the time. We tell ourselves when the arguments on The Frontline automatically reset to bank bailouts and burning bondholders no matter what the topic is. I don’t have to tell you that because the live register is still through the roof and people are still emigrating in their droves. I especially don’t have to tell you that because I am one of those people who took massive pay cuts, lost a job, and have seen more friends than I can even count emigrate (two close friends in just the past week in fact) because of lack of opportunities and economic strain.

So I don’t have to tell you things are bad because a giant chunk of newspaper headlines, radio topics, panel discussions, taxi chats, pub conversations, arguments with your family, emails to your friends abroad, meetings with your employers, interviews down the dole office, notices on JobBridge, bitching on message boards, fights on comment threads, narky blog posts, hashtags and Twitter scraps tell you: things are bad.

I don’t have to tell you things are bad, because we have become so consumed by bad things that negativity is eating away at us. And before I go any further, this is not a ‘positive Ireland’ blog post. Positivity without ideas, without solutions, without some kind of gumption is completely pointless, and lies along the same ostrich-head-in-sand spectrum that any foolish out of touch actions can be pinpointed along.

But here’s the thing: occasionally an idea comes along that’s not that bad. When we’ve become so used to thinking things are bad, it’s sometimes hard to see that something is ok. I think The Gathering is an alright idea. It seems simple enough; create a marketing campaign around the idea of bringing a slice of the diaspora back to Ireland around a few organised events. Use it as a hook to give a boost to tourism. Maybe, even maybe, it might make Irish people realise that we are an important nation with tens of millions of people who want to feel a sense of belonging to this screwed up island. Our tourism is already partially built on returning emigrants who feel they have some connection to Ireland because of where their ancestors came from. That’s kind of cool right, so let’s capitalise on it. It’s not a shake down, and I doubt very much that politicians will be putting guns to people’s heads in airports across Europe, America, Asia, Africa and Australia forcing people to come to Ireland and spend a few quid like some kind of weird reverse-coffin-ship scenario. Maybe it won’t work, but The Gathering is not a bad idea.

There have been loads of shit ideas over the past few years to do what is ambiguously labelled ‘kickstarting growth’. Your Country Your Call, electing Sean Gallagher as President, electing anyone with half a brain just because they ran for Fine Gael, building giant casinos – stupid ideas the lot of them. Idioms about pulling on the green jersey and being blindly positive are offered in order to encourage us to escape the past, not learn from it. That’s no use to anyone. But check it out, as much of a jocker that we’re in, as many injustices that are going on in our society, there are still some ideas that are worth encouraging.┬áSure, The Gathering is in itself slightly cynical and twee. But show me a marketing campaign that isn’t. Show me a tourism drive that’s raw, edgy and authentic. Bitches please, welcome to the industry.

Painting The Gathering with the same cynicism that we’ve been blending furiously over the past few years is counterproductive. It’s negative with no point for negativity, it’s self-hating, it’s obstinate, and it’s obstructive. Maybe The Gathering will fall on its arse. Maybe no one will turn up. But the hotels developers built too many of, the tour companies who charged too much, the taxis who made you wait, the restaurants who slapped on service charges, and the pubs who upped the price of a pint by the hour – these prodigal son industries are dying out there. A concerted campaign to boost tourism in 2013 will give them a hand, the fuckers. And maybe you think people who own all of those outlets were greedy bollixes. Maybe they were, but the people who depend on employment within them probably need a hand too.

And guess what, you can have an idea and try to make it a reality without constantly referring back to how bad things are. The parallel conversations that crop up every time something new is mooted are stalling us. The Gathering is not about bondholders, it’s not about gas pipelines, it’s not about VAT. The Gathering is about tourism. People ranted about needing referenda on banker’s pensions when the children’s referendum was happening. But guess what, the children’s referendum was about the children’s referendum. Let’s deal with that first. If someone asks you what you think about the new Azealia Banks track, would you reply “it’s good, but my bus was late this morning”? The two subjects have nothing to do with each other. We have to stop attaching separate negative topics to every subject just because things are bad. We know things are bad, but sometimes we’re not talking about the things that are bad, but the things that are good. Ireland’s metaphorical board meetings have pretty whopper to do lists on their hands, and if everyone keeps talking over everyone else, very little will actually get done.

Of course everyone is perfectly entitled to offer their opinion on something, just as much as everyone is perfectly entitled not to listen to an offered opinion. But when you shoot down an idea that’s trying to start something, when you call something a load of crap before you even know what it’s all about, when your immediate reaction is to brush something aside, to be cynical about it, to roll your eyes, then ask yourself: what are you doing? If things are so bad, then what are you doing to make them better? And if everyone’s ideas for improvement are so shite, then where are your ideas?