Saturday 20 December 2014

When we all came down with an outbreak of Garth Mania

Carol Hunt thinks the media and politicians have all colluded in 
making us collectively mad... about Garth

Published 13/07/2014 | 02:30

Croke Park locals protest against moves to cancel the concerts. Photo: Collins
Croke Park locals protest against moves to cancel the concerts. Photo: Collins

Is it over? Is it safe for me to leave the house now? Has the insanity subsided? And will I forever be remembered as one of those "residents" who denied the country their constitutional right to attend a country-and- western concert five nights running in a stadium near my home? I wasn't one of the infamous 370 who wrote to Dublin City Council to object to a licence being granted for all five Garth Brooks concerts, but I'm beginning to wish I was, just so I could claim input into the extraordinary events of recent months.

In years to come we'll look back at the summer of 2014 and think, "wow, what were we all on?" Maybe those people who warn about fluoride in the water system turning our brains to mush have a point? But 
people, it's time to wake up now and admit that, for the past few weeks we've all been caught in a clever, psychological trap which was the very definition of A National Delusion when "whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit".

And yes, we went mad. "For the national good"; "emergency legislation"; "green jersey", "an international disgrace"; a "bad day for Ireland Inc"; a "sadness through the nation"; a "funeral without a corpse"; these are just some of the phrases we've heard ordinarily clever, rational people spout in recent days in connection with the insane farrago that will henceforth be known as The Time The Entire Country Came Down With Garth Mania.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world looked on bemused as they wondered, was this really the country that had just exited an IMF bailout programme? Hadn't we all been broke just a few short years ago? What a recovery we must have had if our only collective cause of concern was the comeback concert of a singing cowboy!

So how did it all happen? Well, the first thing a good bout of collective madness needs is a charismatic figurehead. The seeds of our current malaise were sown last January when Garth Brooks flew to Dublin on a private plane (he is used to being "treated like a king in Ireland") to announce that he would begin his comeback tour with two dates of July 25 and 26, 2014.

RTE and other media outlets went mad with delight - and advertising - and the nation was put in no doubt that what we all needed to make us collectively forget our economic blues was a night, or five, in Croker with the cowboy crooner. So, we had the second ingredient for collective lunacy - media collusion.

But in all of this collective joy, everyone seemed to forget that the residents had an agreement (long fought for) with Croke Park that only three "special events" could be held each year, similar to many other city stadia. One Direction was coming for three concerts in May and that would be that. QED. Garth would have to play somewhere else. Or at least, that is what would have happened in any other democracy. But this is Ireland, where there's no such thing as a definitive "no" and where we still think, that if we really, really want something badly enough, then we should get it.

And so it was that "nobody thought there would be a problem" if Croke Park held five extra concerts that they didn't have permission for. Even when, in February, Patrick Gates of the Clonliffe and Croke Park Area Residents Association (no link with handball) told media that many residents were so upset at agreements being ignored that they may take out an injunction against the whole shebang, none of the main parties batted an eyelid. They thought it would all be grand in the end. Residents, shmesidents, sure what rights do they have? Well, they could object to the extra licences being applied for, which is what 370 of them did when Aiken Promotions eventually applied for them in April.

Legally, DCC was then obliged to spend at least five weeks consulting with all parties before making a final decision, which it did on July 3. In a Solomon- style compromise, it gave permission for three extra concerts, but not all five. Then King Garth said he would do all or none, and the country went into meltdown.

Forget about Syria, Iraq, Gaza and whatever crisis the sick and homeless in Ireland may be currently suffering - our national broadcaster took it upon itself to make sure we all knew what the real crisis in the country was: GarthGate. Nearly every blasted news bulletin and talk show led with the Garth crisis. It took precedence over everything else.

By now, the residents, most of whom had just had a bit of a moan about the perfidy and greed of Croke Park, began to feel the ire of a disappointed nation. Not since the Black and Tans in 1921 has a group associated with Croke Park been so vilified. Threats were made, pitchforks and burnings were mentioned. Even worse, many fans said that they were coming to Dublin anyway to sing Brooks' songs to the residents for five days running!

The residents said, mea culpa, go ahead and hold all your blasted concerts if it means so much to ye. Just stop going on about it! But no, the City Manager still desperately tried to maintain the semblance of democracy by insisting that planning law cannot be overturned by public or political pressure... or country and western singers.

King Garth doesn't understand this. He says it's five shows or no shows because it would be unfair to do otherwise. Neither does RTE and all the other media channels who continue to put a country and western concert into the category of "national emergency". So, between the charismatic figurehead and his media acolytes spreading the Gospel of Garth, something close to religious hysteria has taken over the country. Move over moving statues, we now worship another deity! Yes, we have all collectively lost our minds. But hasn't it been fun? Go, on, admit it, it's been bloody great fun! Rock on Garth.

@carolmhunt

Sunday Independent

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