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Friday 19 September 2014

The world according to Ian O'Doherty

Arthur's Day had to go – people had forgotten its true meaning

Published 04/07/2014 | 02:30

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Raising a toast: Good riddance to entirely fake, manufactured mass marketing

So farewell then, Arthur's Day, it feels like we hardly knew ya. Sure, you had only been around since 2009. But in that time you had become an Irish institution and a true sign of the times that were in it.

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By that, I mean you were an entirely fake, manufactured piece of mass marketing, which proved that you can lead Irish people to the pub, but you can't make them think.

In fact, you didn't have to be one of those middle-aged, chin-stroking, pointy beard media types, who likes to bemoan the state of the nation's youth, to look on Arthur's Day with a mixture of contempt and incredulity.

Not at the idea of people going to see a load of bands and drinking too much. After all, going to see a load of bands and drinking too much is pretty much the life of the average twentysomething and that's neither news nor worthy of a scare story.

No, contempt and incredulity has been caused by the sight of a people, who are supposed to be relatively smart and independent-minded, happily allowing themselves to be corralled and manipulated by a booze company that wants to shift more units.

Don't get me wrong. As much as I loathed the whole concept of Arthur's Day on a personal level, it was a brilliant marketing scam. Rather depressingly, it also proved that marketing and PR people probably understand more about the Irish psyche than those of us who thought the public would refuse to be so easily lured by a free pint of stout.

Even worse, the sight of people debasing themselves every time they raised a toast and bellowed "To Arthur!" like some dipsomaniac war cry was proof that we will never need a foreign power to occupy us. No need, not when we'll even moderate our behaviour according to the whims of a booze company. A booze company, lest we forget, that's not even Irish any more.

But, regardless of the scorn many of us held for the shameless gombeenism on display, and the depressing ease with which so many people allowed themselves to become marketing pawns, maybe we owe the now defunct Diageo Day a grudging thank you. Because while it exposed a certain weakness in our collective psyche, which saw people abandoning their self-respect in return for a cheap piss-up, it also gave us a glimpse into the biggest of Irish pastimes – blaming the messenger while spectacularly missing the point.

Like a nation of dry drunks who are more obsessed with the gargle ever since we gave it up, the only thing more boring than listening to a drunk drone on is listening to someone droning on about drunks.

So last Arthur's Day saw reliable worthies like Christy Moore and Mike Scott emerge from apparent career hibernation, blinking in the unexpected glare of the limelight, warbling endlessly about the perils of the demon drink. In fairness, this did lead to much unintentional hilarity, with the wonderfully pompous sight of reformed alcoholic Moore spitting that it was an "alcoholiday", while that proud son of Edinburgh, Mike Scott, patronised us by bemoaning how "we'll reinforce the image that . . . Paddy is a guttersnipe on Arthur's Day."

What Moore, Scott and the other hand-wringing petulants seemed either unwilling or incapable of understanding was that they were indeed right to complain. But for the wrong reasons.

Because Diageo didn't make a stereotype of Paddy, they merely facilitated it. In fact, 'Paddy' was more than capable of making a stereotype of himself, thank you very much. In fact, 'Paddy' likes nothing more than making a stereotype out of himself – just look at the streets of your town after, yes, Paddy's Day.

It might come as an unwelcome surprise to many of those people who like to scold us about our booze intake, but targeting something as avowedly crass as Arthur's Day may be perfectly acceptable on aesthetic grounds, but misses the goal by a mile if it thinks it addresses our drinking.

Similarly, the ideologues who would have us believe that drinking three pints in one sitting makes you a binge drinker, or who think that booze companies sponsoring sporting events causes alcoholism, are all guilty of the same thing – blaming the messenger.

Here's the truth and it's one that's both simple and, for many, uncomfortable – if you're an alcoholic, then that is your fault. Or, if you want to bring genetics into the argument, then it is not entirely your fault, but is entirely your problem.

The reason why so many of the great and the good, who lecture us on our lifestyle, choose to go after the messenger – and we see even more frenzied attacks on the tobacco industry – is because it's easier to have a pop at Diageo or Heineken, or Big Tobacco than it is to tell people they are responsible for their own actions. After all, in our cosseted culture, Nanny doesn't like to place that much emphasis on personal responsibility. Because the more we look after ourselves, the further we remove ourselves from state interference, and such a freedom might give us ideas above our station.

Rather than stating that alcoholics are responsible for their own alcoholism, we engage in cowardly obfuscation – pinning the blame on big, nasty corporations who are only interested in the bottom line, as if that was suddenly a crime.

So let's celebrate the end of Arthur's Day. But let's celebrate it on the grounds that pubs will be less disagreeable on that day from now on.

But if you think it will have any impact on our booze consumption, then I'll have a pint of whatever you're drinking.

Ian O'Doherty

Irish Independent

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