Tuesday 25 October 2016

'Star Wars' row shows the farce remains strong in Aosdana

Published 17/09/2015 | 02:30

Skellig Michael
Skellig Michael

It remains one of the most baffling examples of Official Ireland's complete disconnect from the real world. A talking shop filled with relics, with one or two minor luminaries thrown in.

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I am talking not of the Seanad, but Aosdana, the hilariously pompous 'artistic elite' of this country.

Even the casual observer will be aware that any time they hit the news pages, it's usually because they have passed a motion condemning Israel and the USA, or one of their members, invariably Margaretta Darcy, has gone on some demented political solo run.

If not that, they tend to complain that people are more interested in paying their bills than reading a haiku in experimental Irish.

The levels of their pretension can even be seen in the names they give each other, and this week President Michael D Higgins conferred the highest Aosdana honorific, 'Saoi', on three long-standing members, including sculptor Imogen Stuart, who promptly used the occasion to have a go at the use of Skellig Michael as a filming location for the new 'Star Wars' movie, 'The Force Awakens'.

It's important to remember that 'Saoi' means 'wise one', which certainly reinforces the idea that you should never trust someone who gives themselves their own nickname.

But as Stuart loftily informed a disinterested nation: "I feel that being a Saoi, I have responsibility in this country. Skellig Michael is...such a holy and special place, I'm very worried."

While it's reassuring to know that she feels a responsibility to the rest of us, what is she worried about?

Well, she expressed concern that: "Everything is not as important as tourism. Maybe our country needs money but it needs culture first and foremost...Now all the fans of 'Star Wars' will start to call it 'Star Wars Island'."

Even worse was the bone-chilling prospect that 'Star Wars' merchandise such as DVDs and T-shirts might be sold on the island and if that happens: "What about next time? It could be Newgrange or the Rock of Cashel."

There are so many different kinds of wrong in her statement that it's hard to know where to begin. But it's strangely reassuring to see that snobbery, intellectual pretension and befuddled elitism are still alive and well.

It may come as horrifying news to Stuart and her cronies but 'Star Wars' is of infinitely more cultural value than anything these irrelevant navel gazers have ever managed to create, or ever will manage to create.

It melds mythology, fable and folklore and has even spawned its own pseudo-religion, Jediism.

And it has cool lasers. Lots and lots of cool lasers.

Far more importantly, the 'Star Wars' franchise (we'll draw a discreet veil over the second batch of movies) touched millions of people and inspired several generations of movie makers and writers.

But in the world of supposedly high culture versus low art, the space opera commits the cardinal sin of being popular, something which its Irish critics will never have to worry about.

On Planet Aosdana, 'popular' is always a bad thing because, ultimately, they look down on the rest of us and anyone who remains on the outside of their farcical little bubble of pretension.

To have Skellig Michael included in this movie is a great honour, a massive boon to the area and will open up one of our Unesco World Heritage sites to a far wider audience than could ever possibly have imagined. How is that a bad thing?

What seeps through such laughable comments is the idea that 'culture' is something available to only a select few and anything that doesn't meet with their mark of approval is automatically vulgar and money-driven.

It's a weird form of intellectual apartheid which tends to come from the kind of people who like to boast that they don't own a television and hang around in Dublin's 'literary' pubs complaining about the oiks not appreciating their talent.

The truly uncomfortable truth for such folk is that they could never, in a million years, create something which has touched the hearts and lives of so many people.

They don't just despise the popularity of George Lucas, they must envy and resent his genius.

Therefore, it's easier to spout platitudes about the evils of money and insist that their strangulated brand of culture should come first.

But what Stuart and her ilk fail to realise is that you can have both money and culture and, in the case of 'Star Wars' Island (which will be my new name for the place), we are seeing the application of both.

Still, it's not all bad news.

In the spirit of artistic ecumenism, I would like to invite Ms Stuart as my guest to the first screening of 'The Force Awakens' when it is finally released.

I'll even buy the popcorn.

Irish Independent

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