News Declan Lynch

Wednesday 1 October 2014

It's a matter of grave importance when a decent man is monstered

It may seem weird, writes Declan Lynch, but John Waters is not a natural agitator, always up for a march from Parnell Square

Published 20/04/2014 | 02:30

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John Waters pictured for Sunday Independent.  Picture; Gerry Mooney
John Waters pictured for Sunday Independent. Picture; Gerry Mooney

Here and there, a voice will be raised in support or in defence of John Waters. The broadcaster John Bowman, the academic and journalist Elaine Byrne, the musician Sinead O'Connor, some guy on Twitter who runs a sports betting website.

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There is not much obviously connecting these voices, they may be referring to different aspects of the various controversies in which Waters is involved, but if there is any pattern it is a general sense of opposition to the prevailing wisdom.

Like the journalist or the broadcaster, the betting man would be a sceptic by profession, forever observing the vast majority of people taking their information from the wrong sources, reaching the wrong conclusions, acting on the wrong impulses.

He may also be mystified as to how, in this case, so many of that majority can continue to pour out their hostility to Waters, jumping so enthusiastically on each new thought-crime that they perceive – like, if you've seen about a thousand posts or tweets which essentially say that "John Waters is a c**t", would you not just pause for a moment and say to yourself, "you know what? I won't bother this time. I think this has been done."

But no, they just keep coming, all fired up with what Philip Roth has called "the ecstasy of sanctimony".

The journalist, the broadcaster, the betting man would be naturally wary of that stuff too.

Sinead O'Connor would be in another category, that of people who know John Waters in real life, which is where I would know him too. It is a strange place, real life, and I realise that for the purposes of these matters of grave public importance, it doesn't count. But in that dimension, in which I have known Waters since we were juvenile delinquents in Hot Press magazine, I will drop my mask of objectivity for a moment to state that you could not meet a more decent man or a more agreeable companion.

And I mean agreeable, because weird though it may seem, I have always felt that John is not a natural agitator. Certainly, I have known people who are far more abrasive and argumentative and always up for a good march starting at Parnell Square at 2pm on Saturday afternoon, but I wouldn't count John among them.

He has spoken himself about this strange existence of the columnist, who can be mooching around without a constructive thought in his head for days, and who is then seized by the furies (and Davey Arthur) the moment that his fingers touch the typewriter.

What gets him going, I feel, is this one profound belief that the journalist must always, always be going against the grain. It is hardly even a matter of choice, more an obligation. Otherwise he is just in the public relations game, a hack, one of those guys who appears on the radio telling you where you can buy a bit of cheap insurance.

That said, he would also insist that he is ultimately just some fellow who goes around starting arguments, a spoofer, not a legislator whose views really are a matter of grave public importance.

Which is a modest enough assessment, when you consider, for example, that Waters' work on family law and on the legal rights of fathers is increasingly seen as seminal, and that nobody else was doing it. Indeed, he was mocked for it.

His piece on his treatment by the Irish Times in Village magazine, reminds us that some of the more virulent mockery down the years has come from individuals within the very paper in which he was doing that outstanding work, that this is a person of substance being monstered.

Now there is a matter of grave public importance.

Sunday Independent

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