Hard to contain resentment of the anti-begrudgery brigade


AREN’T YOU sick of so-called Rory McIlroy? Look at him playing golf. What’s with that stupid hat and that preposterous hair? So, you won some piddling tournament last month. What have you done for me lately, bud?

What were they up to naming a bridge after Samuel Beckett? Apparently he wrote a bunch of plays concerning confused tramps and lunatics in giant jars. Who wants to watch that sort of claptrap? Come back to me when you’ve conceived a film franchise that can knock Transformersfrom the top of the box-office charts. Then, maybe, we’ll consider constructing a river crossing in your name.

Don’t start about bleeding Heaney. We get it, mate. Digging up spuds summons thoughts of important stuff such as mortality and that. Tell it to somebody who cares.

Relax. These complaints are not meant in any way seriously. I put them down to illustrate the true meaning of begrudgery. The word describes those who seem pathologically incapable of appreciating the success of others (their compatriots in particular). Such people positively seethe with a desire to discover the squalid reasons – bribes, boob jobs, brothers-in-law – behind the puzzling success of allegedly talentless superstars.

For centuries, domestic commentators have been convinced that – this exact construction is often used – the Irish are a nation of begrudgers. Any negative words about any recently successful playwright, pop star or movie star immediately trigger sighing and rolling of eyes. Oh, here we go again. Can’t we just appreciate the triumph of our gifted sons and daughters?

An example. Nearly two decades ago, I heard a journalist discussing the Cranberries’ second album on the radio. As he pulled apart the clodhopping lyrics, the clunking tunes and the foghorn vocals, the host became increasingly exasperated. Eventually, the DJ dragged out his most disappointed voice and flung the b-word in the reviewer’s disgusted face.

“Oh, God not this again,” the journalist actually bellowed. “I am not a begrudger. I hated the Cranberries when they were playing to 10 people in the back of a bar. And I still hate them. Their success has nothing to do with it.”

You said it, my friend. No more preposterous myth has ever been put before the Irish people. The begrudgery formation has long been used as a sort of gagging order on any reasonable (or unreasonable for that matter) condemnation of currently voguish phenomena. You think Riverdance is a tad cheesy? Begrudger! You find Irish chick-lit novels somewhat patronising? Begrudger! You fail to appreciate the warblings of Daniel O’Donnell? Begrudger!

It’s all nonsense. The Irish are no less keen than any other nation on celebrating overseas success. If any short filmmaker receives an Oscar nomination then domestic news reports (quite reasonably) tend to bump that information to the top of the story.

Each cough, belch and exhalation that emanates from the (charming, in my experience) Colin Farrell gets reported in extraordinary detail. Though Gay Byrne spotted signs of begrudgery as long ago as 1742, U2 continue to receive unblinking adulation for each release and every public performance. Tax problems, you say? Begrudger!

Compare the situation to that in the United Kingdom. That nation’s newspapers and broadcast media are awash with commentators deriding the weediness and the conformity of Coldplay’s unchallenging stadium rock. Jonathan Ross has had to endure a decade or two of negative publicity from the middle-market tabloids. Some of the criticism is well considered. Much of it is overheated. But the British do not display the same addiction to writing off such icon-bashing as a symptom of jealousy and pettiness.

Things are a little different across the Atlantic. The US has always been a tad more willing to regard financial success as a virtue in itself. The appalling Grammy Awards – which gives out prizes more liberally than the organisers of children’s birthday parties – usually nudge their top gongs towards artists that sell in billions. This year something slightly different happened. The excellent Arcade Fire, comprising a thousand Canadian harmonium-bashers, somehow managed to beat Eminem to the prize for best album. Did the commentators locate signs of tall-poppy syndrome? They did not. As the amusing Who the Hell Are Arcade Fire? blog demonstrates, the main reaction was mere bafflement that such an obscure band (no, really) beat such an established artist.

To be fair, the illusion about supposed Irish begrudgery became less conspicuous during the boom years. The fantasy resulted from a slight inferiority complex concerning our place in the world. Every great cultural success, however puzzling, should be carefully treasured, lest we slip further into obscurity. Heaven help anybody who questioned the greatness of Dana back in 1970.

Caution should be taken against any backsliding. The right to kick the living hell out of any annoying song, film, play or novel is one of our most significant – and pleasant to exercise – personal liberties.

Down with the begrudgery begrudgers.