Thursday 19 September 2019

Joe Brolly: I despise the language used to accompany this invasion of what we are

'It was like the scene in 'Goodfellas' where Joe Pesci is holding court... only it was Bernie, telling anecdotes about his playing days. Rock was opposite him. McCarthy sat beside him, eyes shining'
'It was like the scene in 'Goodfellas' where Joe Pesci is holding court... only it was Bernie, telling anecdotes about his playing days. Rock was opposite him. McCarthy sat beside him, eyes shining'
Joe Brolly

Joe Brolly

Man goes to his mother's funeral. The service is being held in a funeral parlour. As the vicar is about to start, the man says: "Vicar, what's the wifi code?" The indignant cleric says: "Your mother is barely in her coffin!" Man says: "Is that all lower case?"

Almost everything is for sale now. Every part of our daily lives is treated as a business opportunity. The corporations struck gold with the internet. Get us hooked, then turn us into profit-making commodities. Their big idea was that everything could be run as a business. Everything. No part of human life would be exempt.

A piece in The Guardian earlier this year asked: "Can relationships survive the smartphone?" It is a serious question. The instant gratification of the web over the ups and downs of reality? Aleppo's bad all right, but look at this cat with seven legs. Isn't it hilarious? Or the ten million hits on the man with the hand growing out of his cheek. Brilliant!

Beeban Kidron, one of the founders of children's charity 5Rights, conducted a comprehensive study on the relationship between kids and the internet. The conclusion? "Kids hate being offline, because it's like they're dead."

Individual human beings have become marketplaces. So, keeping in touch with your friends has been taken over by Facebook. The company is worth almost $400 billion and the founder is barely out of nappies. Our habits and likes are relentlessly tracked and logged. Then used or sold on to corporations to get a handle on what they can come up with to sell to us.

Everything has been commoditised. Walking used to be a way of forgetting your cares. Now, you wear an Apple or Google smart watch that measures your steps and monitors your calorie burn. So you can hate yourself even more and join a fit club or get a personal trainer.

Running? You must wear heart-rate monitors, sat nav watches and Nike fluorescent gear ('Just buy it').

Singing? It used to be about the glorious imperfection of the human voice. Human beings expressing themselves. Now, it's about a software package called Autotune. Over 90 per cent of chart albums in the last 20 years are as a result of Autotune. Can't sing? Who cares! The machine will do it for you. So, everything sounds the same. Cher used it on her album 'Believe' in 1998, sold 11 million copies and won a Grammy. They're all using it now, turning music into a purely commercial commodity.

As famed guitar maker Paul Reed Smith said to Autotune creator and ex-Exxon oil executive Andy Hildebrand a few years ago, "You have completely destroyed western music." We are left with pretty clones fronting a computer package. What a defeat for the human spirit. Our deepest selves are for sale. Even dating and love-making have been hijacked, turned into billion-pound industries.

I despise the language used to accompany this invasion of what we are. Our personal lives have been turned into a business and we have become unwitting pawns. "We have an outstanding corporate product," said Aoghán Ó Fearghaíl recently, when he discussed the Sky TV deal. The fact it cuts out over 90 per cent of the GAA community is irrelevant. We are no longer members. Simply consumers.

Twenty years ago, the GAA was ripe for a corporate takeover: a big, cohesive market of utterly loyal members, permeating every part of Irish society. As I warned loudly throughout that period, we needed to prepare for this onslaught. We needed to strengthen our defences and create a fit-for-purpose amateur association with a social, community ethos, backed by a strong, comprehensive constitution.

We needed to deal with the commercial world on our terms, through the prism of our ideals. Instead we hoped for the best and the commercial world swept over us. As Professor Paul Rouse of UCD said to me during the week: "We'll never undo the damage of the last decade."

It has been a defeat for the human spirit. A phalanx of new-age professionals have feasted on us, using all sorts of emotional sales pitches. Even our thoughts and feelings are no longer our own. We have to think in a certain way.

I strongly criticised the phalanx of life gurus and sports psychologists earlier this year. I believe they are dangerous, useless and cause unhealthy levels of worry and self-obsession.

Now our players wear movement trackers and vests that transmit data to a coach who analyses it all. Sleep, what they eat, how they socialise are all carefully controlled. Their natural instincts are erased. I met three young Donegal men recently wearing their development squad tracksuits. Training three times a week. Looking like Chinese gymnasts. All not yet 16.

The GAA ought to be a bulwark against all of this. It ought to be (as it always was) a release of our daily cares. Somewhere we could express ourselves and learn about life. An adventure.

I was in Boston a fortnight ago as a guest of the Wolfe Tones club. Bernie Flynn was with me. James McCarthy and Dean Rock were the guests of honour. It was a fascinating insight into the stark differences in culture between then and now. 'Carlow are a great team. They're not coming to make up the numbers,' etc. That culture reminds me of Tommy Sands' song: 'Whatever you say, say nothing, say nothing about you know what, for if you know who should hear you, you know what they'd do . . .' Versus Bernie in full flow.

On the Sunday, we were all together in the Banshee Bar in Dorchester. It was like the scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci is holding court and the bar crowds round, in hysterics. Only it was Bernie, telling anecdotes about his playing days. Rock was opposite him. McCarthy sat beside him, eyes shining. "There's no characters like that nowadays," he said to me at one stage. The whole place gathered round. My favourite, which I will give you word for word, was this one:

"One night we were playing an A v B game in Páirc Tailteann. The longer nights had come in and it was warm. The team hadn't been going well, the old heads were in bad form and the game was savage. Mick Lyons was on me. I was very young at the time, maybe 22. The first ball he hit me hard in the ribs. I told him, 'Don't fucking do that again Mick, I fucking mean it'.

"But I was shitting myself. The next ball he went right through me and after I got up he hit me again. I knew I was being tested. In my mind I knew I had to hit him to earn the respect of the group. So I drove him in the face as hard as I could. I split his nose straight down the middle down to the white. The blood came pumping out. He didn't even go down. Just stood there, shook his head and started wiping the blood away. Boylan was refereeing and didn't blink. Just let it go.

"I genuinely feared for my life. No one paid any attention. Not a word. I could feel his breath on my neck and I was sprinting into places I never ran before to keep away from him. I was like the Duracell Bunny. I knew what was coming, so I ran and ran.

"When the match was over I jogged into the changing room. The old dressing rooms in Navan were like concrete jail cells. I got into the shower and in those showers the steam rose and left it like a Turkish bath. The next minute Mick appeared through the haze. I put the shampoo in my weak hand and clenched my strong fist behind my leg. I said to myself I can't go down when he hits me. I have to stay on my feet and strike back.

"As he approached me, he lifted his hand and just as I was about to pull on him, he put his arm round my shoulder, looked me straight in the eye and said, 'That's the stuff, Bernie. It's more of that we want here'. I was so relieved I nearly fainted."

The anecdotes from games and training went on for three hours. It was a magical afternoon. The two Dubs wheezed with laughter, but didn't tell a single one.

There's a large stencil on the wall in the RTE Sports Department. It reads: "Some things in life are more important than money, and the GAA is one of them - (Joe Brolly)." I said it 12 years ago. Time to paint over it.

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