Dispatches from the Suburbs of Hell

Heaven is for the obedient. Hell is for the wrathful. What of the ones in between? We wind up in the Suburbs. Our sin is individuality. Our punishment is boredom. But at least we're in good company.

Location: New England, United States

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wearing O The Green, Knocking O The Heads

CAUTION: This post contains strong and possibly offensive language. Parental discretion is advised.

Back in his standup comedy days, Chris Rock had a great routine, where he talked about there being a difference between "black folks" and "niggers." It was a great bit, mainly because there was truth in it. When Rock talked about "niggers," he meant the living incarnations of every negative black stereotype: those violent, lazy, disreputable ones that white people hate and fear. And black people hate and fear them even more, because those are the ones that make them look bad in the eyes of other ethnic groups. It's a sad fact, one true of every minority or ethnic group, that as unfair as negative stereotypes are, there are still members of the group who are walking incarnations of those stereotypes. And those are the ones to hated by all.

So here, on Saint Patrick's Day, the holiday of my people, I ponder Chris Rock's wisdom, and I lament the truth in it. For this is the traditional day of drunken debauchery and crappy food, things that have sadly become synonymous with the Irish. As Chris Rock said of his own people, so I say of mine. There are "Irish people" and there are "paddies." And whenever I see a paddy, I am filled with a profound desire to crack some heads.

Your average paddy - your stereotypical Irishman - runs something like this. He drinks. A lot. He works as little as possible. He's got a short fuse that gets him in trouble with the law a lot, particularly when he's drunk (which, as I said before, is a lot of the time). He's Catholic, so he's got twelve kids - most of them out of wedlock - and he's lousy in the sack. Now this is a stereotype, mind you, and therefore not to applied to all of us of Irish descent. But unfortunately, stereotypes are all built around a core of truth; there are paddies out there, and there are enough of them stomping around to give the rest of us a bad name. Believe me, I know. I'm related to a few. And I can see plenty of them roaming around on this night.

So on this night, of all nights, I cry enough. I'm sick of you drunken idiots ruining it for the rest of us. I'm sick of Saint Patrick's Day being used as an excuse to get plastered and go punch somebody out for looking at you funny. Like you stupid paddies need an excuse for that. And most of all I'm sick of people who are NOT of Irish descent doing the same thing. Like getting drunk off your gourd is part of the whole Irish cultural experience. Like it's the only significant contribution to Western society that Ireland has ever made.

So on this night, this most sacred night to the Irish, I instead encourage all of my brethren to remember who we really are. The Irish are perhaps the most dynamic and amazing people on Earth, a mad race of warrior-poets from the hinterlands of Europe who somehow managed to save Western Civilization (it's true; read Thomas Cahill). Ours is the soul of the artist, the craftsman, and the simple diligent workman. We are the people who survived centuries of adversity: war, conquest, famine, and finally exile, to the New World that we made our own. The Irish story is very much the story of the American Immigrant: one who left home to seek a better life. And the fact that, due to famine and British oppression, the Irish had less choice in the matter than most other immigrants; the options were basically emigrate or starve. So we came in droves. We faced racial discrimination: the Irish were considered an inferior race by most of the Anglo-American world, and certainly not proper "white people" - which is a thing inconceivable these days. But we prevailed. Irish hands laid the foundations of the United States for much of the 19th century. Irish businessmen and politicians rose in the 20th century. And always, since the very beginning of the Celtic people, the Irish artist has been among the most celebrated. James Joyce. William Butler Yeats. Oscar Wilde. Bono. Ours is the people who helped to make the modern United States, and by extension, the modern world. And we did it by being ourselves. By embracing our best qualities: our enthusiasm, our stubbornness, our love of beauty, our good humor.

And yet, this, our most celebrated holiday, is rarely a time where we exude those best qualities. Rather, it is the time where we indulge in our worst. When our inner paddies come out to play, get sloppy drunk and disgusting, get into fights, get into accidents...and our people are the worse off for it. For well over five centuries, the English considered the Irish no better than backward, barbaric morons, and it seems every 17th of March we fall over ourselves to prove them right.

Gentle, generous Saint Patrick would be spinning in his grave to see what's done in his name. Our is a heritage of greatness, on par with any other nation's. Why do we find it so hard to live up to it, to act like we deserve it? Why does celebrating Irish culture always boil down to drinking until you can't see straight, and choking down horrible food?

(Seriously. Enough with the bloody corned beef and cabbage. This tradition must end. Remember our history, people: WE EMIGRATED TO FIND BETTER FOOD.)

Now, FAR be it from me to compare myself to Chris Rock, or to compare the struggles of African Americans to those of Irish Americans. But the situation Rock describes that a black person can find himself in - judged unfairly by the actions of other members of his ethnic group - is a situation I can relate to in a way. When people see me, and my just-off-the-boat looks, hear my Boston accent or my painfully Irish Catholic name, they make assumptions and not all of them are good. And it's the fault of those paddies; they look at me and see them.

So I call upon my brethren to put down the pint glasses, and pick up a history book. Or a book of Yeats poetry. Or something. Reclaim your birthright! You are the sons of great men! Great artists, great poets, great statesmen, great builders! Start acting like it! Make yourselves worthy of your grand heritage! And maybe then, I'll join you for a pint.

Oh, and Happy Saint Patrick's Day.


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