Brooks-mania triggers debates, denials and a heap of snobbery
All around Ireland you could hear it: the scoffs and shudders of indignation as Garth Brooks yesterday announced – and proceeded to sell out – a fifth Croke Park date, meaning roughly one in 10 Irish adults will attend his shows this summer.
On Twitter, in particular, the umbrage was deep and bile-soaked: how embarrassing that Irish people should tumble into a swoon over this Stetson-adorned cow-poke and his repertoire of hammy hits. What does it say about us as a nation? Are there truly that many rednecks 'down the country'? (it is accepted that nobody inside the M50 could possibly have a soft spot for Friends In Low Places).
Soon, the debate widened. Brooks fans, we were told, spoke for everything that was bleak and retrograde about Ireland. They were assumed to be church-going (bad), GAA-loving (very bad), enablers of parish pump politics – the sort who bring tin-foil wrapped sandwiches to the Munster final (unspeakably embarrassing), say 'mam' instead of 'mum' (smelling salts please!) and eat their dinner at 'lunch' hour (what must the rest of the world think?).
Why would anyone feel threatened by the fact that the singer is astonishingly beloved here? The answer, of course, is that we enjoy feeling superior – and how better to do so than by focusing on an obvious target such as Brooks, whose music is admittedly broad and does not seek to satisfy the intellectual curiosity of its audience.
Similar, albeit on a far smaller scale, was the kerfuffle over the inclusion of the band Kodaline on the shortlist for the Meteor Choice Music Prize, awarded to the "best" Irish album of the year. With their mainstream sound and chart appeal, a section of the commentariat regarded Kodaline's nomination as tantamount to a betrayal of everything the Choice stands for.
Back in the real world, few of us may care about (or have even heard of ) the Choice Music Prize. Nevertheless, it's fair to say we've all been guilty of recreational cultural snobbery at one point or another.
Maybe we deliver an extravagant eye-roll whenever someone mentions they quite enjoyed the last Iron Man movie, treating them to an impromptu lecture on the joys of Polish cinema or Breaking Bad.
This inclination to presume our tastes are more rarefied that those of the people around us is perfectly natural, even if it has been empowered to a rather excessive degree by the internet.
Still, it's amusing to observe 'sophisticated' friends in knots of denial over the return of Garth Brooks and the apparently endless esteem with which he is held in Ireland.
It is as if his popularity represents some manner of threat to their world view – an opinion which ultimately says more about them than about the hundreds of thousands who will descend on Croke Park in July for what may well be the night of their life.