Call Saoirse Ronan British. Go on. . . Please. . . Pretty please!
Nothing makes the blood surge more exhilaratingly than recreational outrage
The merriest season of the year is almost upon us. It’s that time when we get to complain about the British media identifying Saoirse Ronan as British. This happens with other people – Fassbender, Negga, Farrell – and it happens at other points in the calendar. But awards season offers us more opportunities than usual to fume at postcolonial laziness.
Greta Gerwig’s autobiographical comedy, Lady Bird, starring Ronan as a version of the director, has just opened in the US to ecstatic reviews. Indeed, by one measure it is the best-received film in the history of review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. Ronan has an excellent chance of securing her third Oscar nomination. Even if that doesn’t happen, she will be part of the conversation until the morning of January 23rd. There will be plenty of opportunities to direct apoplectic rage at British outlets.
After taking deep breaths in the cool morning air, most Irish people will conclude that this is nothing to get het up about. We overreact. We reveal insecurities by becoming overly enraged. Sod that! We say the same about mad Uncle Kevin and his racist worldview, but we still fume when he launches into one of his intemperate rants. Nothing makes the blood surge more exhilaratingly than a dose of recreational outrage.
Two years ago, when Saoirse was nominated for Brooklyn, Richard Suchet, a journalist at Sky News, showed us why such errors are worth fuming over. “I think we can take Saoirse Ronan as one of ours,” he said on air. As Richard Nixon could have told you, the cover-up is always worse than the crime. Subsequent tweets served only to enrage those who might otherwise have been forgiving. First he tried the old “she’s from the British Isles” defence. Then he went nuclear. “Many Brits will see her has one of their own,” he wrote. “It’s a consequence of geography. A compliment, I’d say.” A compliment? Put your dukes up.
Suchet’s wavering revealed the sorry truth. For a surprising number of British people, Ireland is independent only in an abstract, technical sense. People who defend that independence are like those folk who argue the 21st-century really began in 2001. Strictly speaking, it’s true. But only a pedant would insist upon the fact. There exists a mystical intertwining of the cultures that no political alteration can disentangle. So goes the (largely unspoken) argument.
In recent weeks, this ignorance has worked its way into an awkward paradox. Paternalistic British pundits have expressed surprise that Irish politicians dare express views held by the vast majority of the Irish public. There is a sense that we are still subject to the whims of British opinion. The current, controversial British opinion is that we should, by allowing at least the possibility of a harder border with one part of the UK, become more foreign than much of Britain really believes us to be. Therein lies the paradox.
Not since the grim days of the Troubles have relations between the nations been so uneasy. The right-wing UK press seems intent on doing everything possible to inflame those tensions. When Jeremy Warner, associate editor of the Daily Telegraph, tweeted that “Ireland has poisoned UK politics and brought down governments for centuries”, he suggested something he didn’t quite mean. Subsequent tweets confirmed that he probably meant “the Irish question”, but the carelessness of the language offered, in itself, grounds for reasonable offence.
More outrageous was the now-infamous attempt by the Sun to make all this about something else altogether. “Ministers have told the Sun that the Irish PM has only been forced to adopt the stand under heavy political pressure from Gerry Adams’s Sinn Féin,” wrote Tom Newton Dunn, the paper’s political editor. The paper is essentially suggesting the IRA is dictating the country’s EU policy. Heck, there’s no “essentially” about it. “IRA’s political wing Sinn Féin to blame for new Brexit stand-off … ministers say,” the subheading read. What better reason to ignore everything the government says?
There are two ways of reading this. The paper has either concocted a brilliantly sinister alternative history or it genuinely believes its cockamamie theory. It’s hard to know which is the more worrying.
At any rate, many British citizens are sufficiently ignorant about Irish affairs to believe the IRA is running the current government. We suck up UK politics and culture every day. They only attend that part of “the British Isles” when its gets in their way or when one of its citizens gets nominated for an Oscar. It would be enormously petty to respond by redoubling our objections to any misattribution of Saoirse Ronan’s nationality. So what. Better petty responses than what went on in those darker times.
Let the Season of Cheap Fury begin.