It's hard even to find words to adequately express disgust at Hollywood star Rose McGowan's tasteless “I would have joined the IRA” outburst. But let's have a crack at it anyway ...
Speaking at the Toronto film festival to publicise her movie Fifty Dead Men Walking, inspired by the autobiography of Provo informer Martin McGartland, she said: “My heart just broke for the cause. I imagine, had I grown up in Belfast, I would have 100% joined the IRA.”
The ignorance of her remarks, which she made on the anniversary of 9/11, is stunning and sickening. And more than a little depressing. But let's leave aside the insult to the victims of the IRA and let's just look at McGowan's words.
My heart just broke for the cause? What on earth's going on here? The triteness, the stereotyping, the sheer-aul-fashioned-melodrama of McGowan's language would embarrass a Sinn Feiner. Obviously, in Sweet Rosie McGowan's eyes, living in Belfast consists of pale — but heroic — downtrodden Irishmen and women battling sneering Englishmen who kick down the door of their humble — but tidy — whitewashed cottage to ... er ... just be generally horrible. As they knock the Sacred Heart picture of the wall, you can almost hear the wailing Uilleann pipes and ethereal chanting of some colleen on the soundtrack.
Oh, the terror and the pity.
Of course, it simply never occurred to McGowan in her little hypothetical scenario that she may have been raised on the Shankill Road. Or on the Holywood Road (how about that for a theoretical irony?). Or in the leafy suburbs of the Malone Road. Or in the Village. Or on York Street. Or on the Antrim Road.
Would her heart have been breaking for ‘the cause' then? Or maybe it would have been a different cause.
But in movieland, Belfast has been reduced to the Falls Road and a few streets running off it. (You want stock library footage of Belfast? How about some black hacks running up and down the Falls and then cut to a Bobby Sands mural? Voila, a whole city's experience in 10 seconds.) Belfast is really West (cap ‘W', always cap ‘W') Belfast.
In the worldview of luvvies like McGowan, Protestants simply don't exist. Or if they do, they exist merely to realise the error of their colonialist ways (see Hunger).
So just the ramblings of yet another airhead actress? Yes and yes again. But that doesn't mean we should ever tire of pointing out the stupidities of far-flung celebrities pontificating about the Troubles.
You know, the types who fight for ‘the cause' from a well-upholstered hotel chair.
Before McGowan, Rose we had McGowan, Shane. And before him, Mickey Rourke and his little IRA tattoo. And so on and so on stretching back to John Lennon and his “you anglo pigs and Scotties sent to colonise the North”. Any pampered celebrities — especially those with a little bit of Oirishry in the blood — in need of some rebel chic could always splash on the great smell of ‘Provo' (made from blood and sentimentality).
But McGowan's comments — stupid as they are — also indicate a failure on the part of the Northern Irish unionist community to spell out the full complexity of the situation here.
Maybe the task is simply too great. Maybe the narrative arc of the republican version of the Troubles — being simplistic — is simply a more satisfying one for those in the foreign media. Maybe if the Ulster-Scots — and not the emigrant Irish — had settled in New York and California and not the Appalachians, we'd be knee-deep in biopics of Edward Carson and Sir James Craig. Maybe we'd open up Empire magazine and be reading of Brad Pitt's struggle to come to terms with a Ballymena accent for his forthcoming role in The Gunrunners of 1912: “My heart breaks for the old UVF ...” But for too long such ‘Erin Go Bragh'/‘Dying for the cause' guff has been allowed to go unchallenged, or has merely been dismissed as empty-headed celeb burble.
In the last few days, we've had the odd unionist politician condemning McGowan's remarks as insulting the memories of the victims. And she has.
But has there been any invitation from unionist leaders to McGowan — and those of her ilk — to actually come and meet ordinary unionists and Protestants?
After all, it is a strategy which has paid handsome dividends for the republican and nationalist camp.
Any halfwit celebrity who shows ‘an interest' ends up with an invitation in their in-tray to attend some ‘community festival' to ‘see the situation for yourself'.
It isn't just the celebs who should be putting their money where their mouth is. It's unionists themselves.