Andrea Smith: 'Some of us are deeply disappointed at one of our own brightest stars reinforcing stereotypes that are outdated and insulting'
Andrea Smith on SNL's Aer Lingus sketch featuring Saoirse Ronan
In the 18th Century, Edmund Burke famously wrote that, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Fast forward three centuries and I’m borrowing the essence of that sentiment to say, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of casual racism and distasteful disloyalty is for good people to do nothing.” Saoirse Ronan, I’m looking at you.
You’d have to wonder what was going through the talented 23-year-old’s head when she was in rehearsals for hosting Saturday Night Live? In case you missed it - and if so, lucky you - Saoirse took part in an Aer Lingus spoof that managed to insult, belittle and sneer at her homeland all in one fell swoop.
Did she genuinely think that suggesting that our national airline’s name sounded like was cunnilingus was side-splitting stuff? Was she slapping her thighs with glee when the scriptwriters suggested that we’re a nation of peasants who only eat potatoes?
It’s hilarious to poke fun at the reminder that a million of our ancestors died because the potato crop failed during the Famine, isn’t it Saoirse? Gas that another million were forced to leave the country too, many of whom ended up in the US, where SNL is recorded.
It wasn’t even an amusing gag. “We’ve got purple potatoes and we’ve got salmon,” an attendant announced. “Sorry I misread that. The salmon is also potatoes.” Groundbreaking stuff.
Who knows, maybe Saoirse found herself in an awkward situation that she felt powerless to address? Perhaps her desire to win over the powers-that-be ahead of award season was stronger than her desire to be a great ambassador for her home country that particular night.
Maybe she cringed as much as the rest of us at the passengers dressed in Aran jumpers and the toe-curling stage Oirish accents on the rest of the cast. Mind you, while dressed as a flight attendant called Colleen, Saoirse’s own accent was bafflingly Oirish too.
Perhaps she was as confused as we all were about the dogs that kept featuring in the sketch, although given the calibre of the rest of it, it’s surprising that it wasn’t a set of donkeys or pigs that were trotted out to shore up the abysmal stereotypes.
Speaking of farm animals, it’s a pity that Saoirse is too young to remember the infamous 1997 episode of Eastenders. She was only three when the Fowler family visited these shores, where they were greeted by a cast of British-hating, dirty, rude Irish drunks. Not to mention the shots of farm animals roaming the streets of Dublin.
Saoirse might have been more careful on SNL if she had recalled the brouhaha that arose over that particular piece of paddywhackery. Such uproar ensued, with everyone from ambassadors to tourism chiefs getting involved, that the BBC had to apologise. Complaints about the programme were upheld by the British Broadcasting Standards Commission, who said "the intention was positive rather than negative but the result was clumsy and irritating."
Clumsy and irritating also describes the SNL sketch, as well as ill-advised and downright embarrassing for all involved. We still love Saoirse and are rooting for her to get the Oscar nomination for Lady Bird and win the thing, of course, but some of us are deeply disappointed at one of our own brightest stars reinforcing stereotypes that are outdated and insulting.
Don’t be complicit in making us the butt of the joke again please Saoirse, and think before you throw us under the wheels of the bus just to further your award-season ambitions. Stand up to those who try to involve you in things that make you uncomfortable, and look to strong women in your profession like Meryl Streep, Helen Mirren, Anna Kendrick and Halle Berry, who fight for what is right and don’t remain silent in order to get ahead.
We’re letting this one go on account of our genuine pride in you, but seriously, don’t push us Saoirse. We could go off you very quickly!