Talking Movies

March 21, 2016

Politik: Part IV

It has been, mercifully, nearly two years since this blog last strayed in the direction of politics; and yet now, very regrettably, it’s happening again.

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“What’s his angle?”

JK Galbraith once memorably quipped that every time an Old Guard Republican leaned over to nudge a compadre and muttered “What’s his angle?” while they listened to some liberal do-gooder proposing something fiscally irresponsible if not downright treasonous, there, in the heart of McCarthyland, you could justifiably claim spoke a true red Marxist, rummaging through fine words for the base economic motive. Whenever I hear someone from Fine Gael’s caretaker Cabinet proclaiming “We will not cling to power at any price” I hear “We will not cling to ministerial salaries, ministerial pensions, ministerial cars and drivers, ministerial prestige, patronage to reward our friends, the apparatus of the state to harass our enemies, and free travel to far-flung destinations on St Patrick’s Day power at any price.” And it sort of changes how seriously I take their sentiment.

 

50+1+3+7+2+6+5+…

Hunter S Thompson once mischievously wrote that Ted Kennedy was not President because he never learned to drive properly. One might say we are still without a government because a deplorable number of TDs never learned to add properly. The magic number is 79. There is a party with 50 and a party with 44. This is not that hard. But instead the country is being cast in the role of an increasingly exasperated parent trying not to step in and solve the problem while its child tries to mash all the small numbers together first to come up with less than 79 over and over again before looking at the actual obvious solution of putting two big numbers together. But it gets worse.

 

Shunning S(h)inners

The magic number, 79, is actually quite easily reached. Fine Gael (50) + Labour (7) + Sinn Fein (22) = 79. Hey! How about that? Only Fine Gael have decided that Sinn Fein cannot be in government. But then across the aisle Fianna Fail are letting I dare not wait upon I would for the ‘end of Civil War grand coalition’ because they have decided that Sinn Fein cannot be in opposition. Surely this is approaching insanity. Are we seriously to have another election because Sinn Fein cannot be allowed in government or in opposition? Perhaps the simplest solution at this point is to simply proscribe Sinn Fein. If people will insist on voting for them then surely it’s moot whether it’s more anti-democratic to not allow them vote for Sinn Fein than to disregard their votes afterwards.

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February 25, 2016

Austerity and the Arts

The Journal has compiled a handy guide to various political pledges on arts funding. But take all with the caveat of Pat Rabbitte’s infamous slip on farcically utopian bait-and-switches, “Sure isn’t that what you tend to do during an election?”

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Brian Eno’s John Peel lecture at the British Library last year excoriated politicians, especially the Tories, for wanting to bask in the reflected glamour of cultural icons, and boast about the money such activity makes for Britain, both in its own right and in attracting tourists via a sheen of national creativity, without ever wanting to invest in it. According to him these people believed artists magically appear, and start providing a return without requiring any initial capital outlay; an impressive economic conjuring trick to be sure. Whereas, he pointed out, Roxy Music would not have come about without a previous generation establishing a whole gamut of public investment in the future: the NHS, Arts Schools, libraries, galleries, museums, and the dole. According to the Social Democrats there has been a 55% cut in arts funding since 2008 in Ireland. Such cuts dramatically change the cultural current. Take Annabelle Comyn.

Annabelle Comyn was the founding artistic director of Hatch Theatre Company in 2004. She directed a number of contemporary British plays (by Martin Crimp, Dennis Kelly, David Greig, and Zinnie Harris) with regular collaborators including set designer Paul O’Mahony, sound designer Philip Stewart, and actor Peter Gaynor. Then in 2009 Hatch Theatre Company saw its grant slashed from €90,000 to €20,000. After that there was no funding for any projects submitted, and Comyn, who had also directed Joe Penhall’s Blue/Orange and Caryl Churchill’s A Number for the Peacock in 2006 and 2007, took the hint. As she told the Irish Times in a 2014 interview “I remember thinking that the work I had done with Hatch – predominantly contemporary British plays – wouldn’t get funding.” So began two years in which one of Ireland’s best theatre directors didn’t work as a director.

And then Abbey artistic director Fiach Mac Conghail offered her the chance to direct Pygmalion at the Abbey’s main stage in 2011. So began a new phase of Comyn’s career. Her version of Shaw’s comedy emphasised that Henry Higgins really is stripping Eliza Doolittle not just of her accent, but her station in life; and even personality; and irresponsibly remaking her to his own whims. The coldness of Charlie Murphy’s Eliza to Higgins in their final scenes captured the accompanying intellectual transformation he had not counted on, and was an unexpected touch. 2012 saw her back on the Abbey main stage reviving Tom Murphy’s 2000 Abbey commission The House. This Chekhovian tale of social climbing and the frustrations of returned emigrants in the 1950s saw Comyn add new strings to her bow as she blocked 13 people for a chaotic drunken speech and fight. Comyn’s interpretation of Murphy’s melancholic character study with barbed commentary on societal failure saw her win Best Director at the Irish Times Theatre Awards. And yet…

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A director who specialised in premiering contemporary British plays is now (with the exception of 2012’s The Talk of the Town) exclusively reviving classic texts. A cultural current in Irish theatre has been diverted, and you can be sure that nobody returned to Dail Eireann after tomorrow will have as a priority allowing it to resume its original course. Does it matter? Well, John McGahern, the Irish novelist par excellence, would not have become the writer he was had he not been exposed to the works of Flaubert, Camus, and Hemingway. It matters if our theatrical landscape suddenly has a Berlin wall of austerity erected cutting off consistent interaction with new British writing. In the grand scheme of things cutting a €90,000 grant has had a larger effect than the latter-day Gladstone who made that retrenchment could ever have imagined.

To quote the two voices at the end of GK Chesterton’s The Napoleon of Notting Hill:

“What could have happened to the world if Notting Hill had never been?”

The other voice replied—

“The same that would have happened to the world and all the starry systems if an apple-tree grew six apples instead of seven; something would have been eternally lost.”

October 26, 2011

Politik: Part II

After a lamentable fall off the wagon with a post-election political blog in April here is the even more disgusting spectacle of a pre-election political blog in October. Thankfully there won’t be any more political events until 2014. We hope.

Senator McCarthy as Requested
The two constitutional referendums to be voted on this Thursday have been alarmingly lost in the white noise of the hopelessly bilious Presidential campaign. Tom McGurk and Vincent Browne have both written cogent columns arguing against granting more power to the Oireachtas to conduct inquiries as the Government wishes. Worryingly this proposal seems to be liable to be passed by a landslide. Browne’s legal objections to the wording of the proposed amendment raise the terrifying spectre of these committees deciding that the people they call before them don’t have the right to legal representation, to face their accusers, or to know the charges brought against them, and that they don’t have the right to see if the courts believe that the committee has acted fairly by the constitutional rights of the person so victimised in striking this balance between rights and cost-effective enquiry. I don’t know if Browne is scaremongering or not, or whether it’s possible that Fine Gael could spend the entirety of this Dail investigating every member of Sinn Fein one by one for their own private amusement, as has been suggested elsewhere in a piece of definite scaremongering. All I know is that a committee investigated Ivor Callely over his expenses and its conduct was so ill-advised that when the courts were finished reviewing the proceedings Ivor Callely appeared like a victim whose rights were traduced by a witch-hunt. If the Seanad was incapable of properly investigating and making findings against one of its own friendless members, do you really want the Oireachtas to be given power to investigate ordinary citizens and make findings of fact against them without judicial oversight that they are conducting proceedings in a responsible fashion? Is an ill-informed landslide about to give us our own democratically requested HUAC?

James Madison is Disheartened
In the frenetic last days of his pursuit of a nomination David Norris made a petulant outburst when a county council voted against him which implied that a vote against his candidature was a vote against democracy itself, rather than say, a vote against his candidature. Norris in insisting that only the public should vote on his candidature appeared to be conflating a democracy with a republic, a distinction James Madison was always keen to make. In a democracy the citizens vote directly on matters affecting them, but in a republic they elect representatives to vote for them on such matters; this is what allows republics to grow in size. Madison expanded this exponentially in Federalist 10 by advocating a large continental republic as the best defence against vested interests hijacking government because there would be so many vested interests they would cancel each other out. So, if the county councillors are trusted enough by the voters to elect them as their representatives what is the substance of Norris’ complaint? It would appear to be either that the county council system is undemocratic because it denies citizens a public plebiscite on every issue (in which case he apparently has no faith in the concept of a republic) or, it would appear to be that the county councillors who voted against him were unqualified to represent the wishes of their electors on this and this matter alone but were qualified to represent the wishes of their electors on all other matters. The latter possibility would be an extraordinary interpretation of what Irish democracy is all about but then Norris was never really seriously questioned on the major contradiction of his rhetoric of appealing to the people, has he not just spent two decades representing a rotten borough?

First We Go Negative
Gay Mitchell’s bizarre campaign has been both hilarious and awful to observe. Churchill said that he never knew of a man who had added to his dignity by standing on it, and Martin McGuinness’s candidature seems to have been contrived as an in-joke to enable the Irish public to enjoy one of the funniest recurring spectacles in Irish politics, that of Fine Gael rabidly frothing at the mouth about “Law an’ Order, Law’n’Order, and the Foundation of the State!” But Mitchell’s self-destructive savaging of McGuinness set the tone for his whole campaign. Attacks on Mary Davis, carefully crafted under the guise of ‘research’ by polling companies, as reported in the Sunday Business Post, saw questions couched so as to vilify a candidate without seeming to. Imagine, for example, “Would you be more or less likely to vote for X if you knew that X had been convicted of burning a small town in Leitrim to the ground during the course of a drunken hooley in 1985?” (That example’s inspired by Neil Sharpson’s hilarious play The Search for the Real Jimmy Gorman) Gay Mitchell’s campaign was like watching a poor 100m runner kick all his opponents in the shins during the warm-up before the race in the misguided hope that this would allow him to win in his personal best time of 30 seconds. It wouldn’t. It would get you disqualified by the officials, or here public opinion. Gay Mitchell needed to articulate why we should vote for him, but he never did, instead he just told us ad nauseam why we shouldn’t vote for anyone else. It’s obvious the Fine Gael top brass never wanted him as a candidate but amusing themselves by joining in kicking everyone else’s shins rather than championing Mitchell has spectacularly backfired.

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