Friday 24 May 2019

21st Century Man: GarthGate has rocked us to our core

Why the garthgate saga had all the ingredients of a typical irish non-crisis

Garth Brooks fans bring their protest to Dail Eireann. Photo: Gerry Mooney.
Garth Brooks fans bring their protest to Dail Eireann. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Colm Tobin

The Garth Brooks scandal, GarthGate, Garthageddon, The Bay Of Gigs – call it what you will, but it has rocked us all to the very core. Grown men crying in the streets, women threatening to set their stetsons on fire, grandparents trying to explain to children why Mammy and Daddy had to leave for Dublin with a busload of cowboys with placards... it's been a troubling episode in our fraught recent history.

What began as a small scuffle (a local planning dispute) escalated into a bitter war (carefully-orchestrated media strategies on all sides) which has ultimately divided the nation (it hasn't really, to be honest), leaving us completely disgraced the world over (the global media smirked for about five minutes) with our international reputation in tatters (seriously, none of them actually give a rat's arse) and our future as a sovereign nation on the brink of collapse (well, this is technically true, but for other reasons).

Personally, it's been very trying. I've always had strong opinions about music. I played in bands for years and, for me, alternative rock music was a route into a whole world of other non-mainstream culture. The Pixies led me on to Sonic Youth which led me back to punk which led me to 70s Bowie, The Velvet Underground and Krautrock. Led Zeppelin led me all the way back to old blues records and Planxty introduced me to the rich world of Irish traditional music. I'm basically an unbearably annoying snob. So the fact that I have to share an island with over 400,000 Garth Brooks fans gives me the sort of uneasy sensation I haven't felt since I saw the opening scenes of 28 Days Later.

But, as I've gotten older, I try to remind myself that musical taste isn't really all that important. Like, it really isn't. As the whole GarthGate fiasco snowballed, with all the subtlety of an asteroid landing on a horse, I genuinely started to feel for the fans who had queued for tickets. And I started noticing a certain pattern.

I was a child in the 80s when The Moving Statues craze hit Cork. I was a young adult when Saipan happened, a national "crisis" so hilariously overblown that the only way to accurately retell it was through musical comedy. I've seen this stuff before. Sometimes I think Reeling In The Years should be just called Ireland Loses Its Shit.

For some reason, every couple of years and usually during the summer months, we go collectively bonkers. It could be all the pent-up nervous energy that builds up over many months of worrying about rain and being overly polite to each other. We just need a good fight. Anyone in a relationship knows that sometimes you have to have a massive and pointless argument over curtains to clear the air and just get back to normal.

So, although it's taken a while to monitor all this and collate the data, and although the process isn't exactly scientific, I think I can at least provide a basic recipe for your typical Irish non-crisis. Here are the ingredients:

1. A national schism divided along rural/urban lines. e.g. Roy Keane is from Cork, so that was easy. GarthGate featured an army of adoring country people vs snobby folk that eschew stetsons.

2. A Jesus-like protagonist who can act as hero or villain depending on your side in The War. e.g. Roy Keane, Garth Brooks.

3. A controversial authority figure who can act as hero or villain depending on your side in The War. e.g. Owen Keegan, Mick McCarthy.

4. A government who are more than happy with this timely distraction given the absolute state of the place, and who promise to intervene in a shamelessly populist pursuit of votes, e.g. Enda Kenny, Joan Burton, Bertie Ahern, most of the rest of them.

5. A national media who are a bit bored in the middle of Silly Season and are more than willing to fuel the social media frenzy with endless clickbait.

6. An Irish public who badly need to let off a bit of steam, God help them.

7. A developing sense of national shame and embarrassment that the world is watching when it probably isn't.

8. Liveline.

Oh, and shake well before serving.

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent

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