Have you heard the one about the American TV commercial that portrayed the Irish as a modern, sophisticated European nation instead of a race of ruddy-cheeked cailíns and charming alcoholics? Nope, me neither.
You won't have seen the series of acclaimed TV ads for Jameson whiskey currently airing here in the US; it's safe to assume it was not designed with the beguilement of an Irish audience in mind. That much is apparent from the minute the voiceover guy in the latest one, the Hawk of Achill (you can see it on YouTube) opens his mouth and holds forth in an accent best described as an Irish person pretending to be Tom Cruise pretending to be an Irish person. "Ta most people, de hawk of Achill was just a legend," the voiceover intones. "When it took de mason's daughter, dat was tragic. When it took a barrel of John Jameson whiskey, well dat was another matter."
From there, it's all swarthy heroes, swooning, red-headed maidens and eager peasants, in a slickly produced effort that rates a solid eight on the John Ford paddywhackery scale. (There are no priests, so minus points for that.)
It’s hard to know who this guff is aimed at; certainly not the Americans I’ve met, who seem reassuringly unsurprised to learn that Irish people are occasionally sober and don’t all go around wearing Darby O’Gill hats and punching passing strangers. But someone must be buying it – otherwise, ad agencies presumably wouldn’t keep churning it out. And churn it out they do: the Ireland of US TV commercials is a place of dingy pubs, busty wenches, back-slapping chancers, stirring soundtracks and near-constant funerals.
But if it makes us squirm, we have no one to blame but ourselves. After all, it wasn't an American who came up with the wheeze of peddling certificates of Irish heritage emblazoned with images of donkeys and dirt roads to nostalgic Yanks for €40 (and scant supporting evidence of a link to Ireland), or who insisted that we hand pints of Guinness to Barack Obama and Queen Elizabeth as soon as they stepped off the plane? Or who helped us work our way to the top – or thereabouts – of pretty much every international drinking league table ever compiled.
On the one hand, we’re loudly insisting that we really want to be known as the best small country in the world in which to do business, celebrated for our educated workforce, envied for our sophisticated, European-style cities and adored for our breathtaking landscapes. Meanwhile the other hand is shoving a pint of Guinness at you and telling you not to mind the tax man, sure and begorrah, we’ll look after you.
It’s no wonder the rest of the world is a bit confused about what it means to be Irish, when we haven’t a clue ourselves. We can’t seem to make up our mind whether our national symbol should be a USB port or a pint of porter; the comely maiden dancing at the crossroads, or the half-finished ghost estate in the field next door.
Sexual harassment by women sadly no surprise
A spate of cases in the US raises a troubling new spectre: the sexual harassment of females by other females.
As part of the settlement of one recent case before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Wells Fargo bank agreed to pay $290,000 to four tellers in Reno who were subjected to lewd comments and inappropriately touched by their boss, Denise Tyre, and another female teller. In July, a female software engineer at Yahoo filed a lawsuit accusing her superior, another woman, of harassment and pressuring her into having oral and cyber sex. And in January 2013, a New York-based Armani employee accused her former boss of harassment, claiming the boss called her into a private office and exposed herself. (In both cases, the claims are denied.)
Stories like these tend to invoke one of two reactions: a kind of titillated mirth or rank incredulity. We tend not to believe it can be “real” harassment if it doesn’t involve a man. This is partly down to the influence of porn: the sexually predatory female hitting on other coy-but-eager women might be a relatively new phenomenon in the workplace, but she’s been a staple of the porn industry for a very long time. But the reality is that workplace harassment is rarely about sex: it is about power. As women become more powerful in the workplace, then, like their male predecessors, it is a depressing inevitability that some of them will choose to abuse that power.