Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

How we bought into the PR scam that is Arthur's Day

Black day: Revellers partying on the annual Arthur's Day

I am not surprised that it is Mike Scott who has come rhyming to the rescue. The man from Edinburgh has been singing redemption songs for 30 years, most times as vocalist with The Waterboys, sometimes as his solo self.

But perhaps his greatest-ever service to music and to society is represented in the release this week of Arthur's Day:

"We'll reinforce the stereotype on Arthur's Day/That the Paddy is a guttersnipe on Arthur's Day/A bestial dog just up from the bog no manners in his head/We'll drink and stink and curse and worse and soil our sodden beds/On Arthur's Day."

Has there ever been a scam like Arthur's Day, as contemptuous of the people it targets, as disrespectful of the culture and especially of the music it misuses to make its play, as depressing in the extent to which the people made fools of simper with pleasure and cry out for more?

Arthur's Day was dreamt up by a PR agency hired by the multi-billion multi-national booze outfit Diageo to boost sales of one of its concoctions. The event was launched in 2009, supposedly marking the 250th anniversary of Guinness starting production in Dublin.

The idea was to use an instantly recognisable, stereotypical image of Ireland to create a phony occasion of celebration for branded export around the world.

First, they had to take Ireland. The word in ad-land is that there was considerable nervousness on this score at first. The plan would backfire badly if the response in Ireland was of anger at the self-evident insult.

A major effort was made to spruce up and soften the presentation. The media were easily lured onside. Pubs were promised major promotion. Tourism chiefs were recruited to endorse the operation.

Like all pushers of drugs, legal or otherwise, Arthur's Day targeted younger users. Hence the huge emphasis on popular music.

Every performer guaranteed full-colour postering, intros to journos who might give them a mention, a possibility of actually being paid.

It's hard to blame bands for signing. Hard, but not impossible. It may be only rock and roll, but it's also a fiddle.

Time for another? "We'll show the world we're drinkers on Arthur's Day/Not gentlemen or thinkers on Arthur's Day/We'll puke in our hands and p*ss where we stand and we'll fill the A&E wards/We'll binge and minge, talk sh*te all night in Ireland in our hordes/On Arthur's Day."

The PR wallahs needn't have worried. The Paddies, they will have clapped one another on the back as they realised they'd craiced it, had gulped it all down as if they really believed the stuff was good for you.

Sales of plastic bodhrans and leprechaun beards soared through the thatched-style roof of the craft-village cottages, as half the population turned out in full Darby O'Gill get-up as capering extras in epic scenes of paddy-wackery.

Between 2002 and 2012, 2,849 people died in the north from alcohol-related illness. Deaths attributed to all other drugs were 906. That is, three times as many people die here from drink as from heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, tranquillisers and anti-depressants combined.

Deaths from cannabis, of course, have been nil. But we have contingents of police combing the countryside for innocent cannabis plants, while the Department of Health shuts its ears to the racket of a global business using every trick in the advertising book to persuade citizens to up their intake of alcohol.

We are great at the debasement of culture, maybe the best in the world. We tell one another there's a culture distinctive to the Protestants of the north, which can entirely be contained within the bowler hat of a marching bonehead.

What's amazing is that this isn't (only) a sectarian gibe intended to belittle Protestants, but a boast made on Protestants' behalf by people they have elected into office.

Hardly to be wondered at, then, that a Free State cabinet minister can stand seemingly steadily in front of a camera thanking the capitalist apparachiks behind Arthur's Day for "supporting our culture".

Does the word have any meaning anymore? Does it matter that it doesn't?

They say we are a sadly divided people. Can we salvage some solace from the fact that so many on all sides seem equally pleased to be made eejits of by outsiders? One for the road? "We'll leave the streets in tatters on Arthur's Day/'Cos drink is all that matters on Arthur's Day/We'll raise a glass, fall on our ass and never give a damn/Or have a bother that we're all just fodder for an advertising scam/On Arthur's Day.

"Down with Arthur's Day!"

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