Friday, December 12, 2008

The Celtic Tiger

So the Celtic Tiger is gone apparently: There's even a graffito on the wall outside the George Bernard Shaw on Camden Street to prove it: It has pictures of two waify-looking famine victims and the words "Hard Times" written in bold black letters. My suspicions were further confirmed by walking into a Spar the other day and hearing the ads on the radio over the speakers: All of them were ads for frothy, frou-frou Tiger-ish services, all having special sales, or 50% off reductions: Breast enlargement surgery, spa weekends and, my favourite, puppy grooming. You could hear the desperation in the ads: "Oh shit, all the fake money is running out! People are going to start spending their cash on double-glazing and good durable shoes again!"

Now, just as a Dublin Taxi driver will precede a racist tirade with the phrase, "Im not a racist, but..." , I feel the need to qualify my statements: Im not an economist, but: Didn't it seem a bit obvious that this was going to happen? I mean, even in the years when our economy was booming like the bass bins on a pimped out Ford Cortina, wasn't it plain to see that it was all a bit of a collective delusion?

We were being told we were one of the richest countries in the world constantly and that our standard of living was second to none. But sparing you the obvious tirade about Ireland's crappy food, weather, house prices, and so on, wasnt there a feeling in the air that none of this was particularly deserved? I mean we never seemed to be a hard-working, organised country like the Germans, or an innovative and powerful one, like the US, or any of the things that make a country "the richest country in the world". We mainly translate software for people brighter than us that actually make the damn stuff, put pills in bottles for the people that actually research them and um, sell houses to each other.

We seem to be, as a country, rather like a not particularly talented rapper from the Bronx, plucked from nowhere and given a shedload of cash on the strength of his single "Back Dat Shit Up (Niggaz Git Crazy)". Behind the gold rims, the smoked glass windows, and the Rent-A-Booty hoochies on each arm, the guy has basically just made out like a bandit for doing very little. And all the Faberge eggs and taste for Cristal Champagne just screams at you: "I grew up poor and Ive got a huge complex about it!"

So here we are. The bubble has burst and you just paid 400,000 Euros for a house in a depressing windswept housing estate in one of the more squalid corners of Northern Dublin. And there are several million Indians who would probably do your job better than you. If this were a movie you'd have streamers on you face and your party hat would have slipped down to a droopy angle.

The recent Christopher Guest film "For Your Convenience", shows a group of veteran B-Grade actors engaged in shooting a mediocre film on a Hollywood backlot. Out of nowhere a rumour spreads that the lead, played by the wonderfully homely Catherine O'Hara, is to be nominated for an oscar. Overnight the atmosphere changes, the actors start getting an overinflated opinion of themselves and a buzz spreads throughout the set. Catherine O'Hara gets herself remade in the image of a hollywood star: A total plastic surgery makeover, Bee-stung collogen lips, horrendous beach ball boobs and a completely refurbished face. And she looks, well, monstrous, her ordinary charms obliterated by the Hollywood star-machine.

And of course, inevitably, the Oscar nomination never arrives: The whole thing was simply a twitch on an internet message board with no basis behind it. The buzz dies down, but O Hara is left with a face like Lola Ferrari left out in the rain, a job teaching acting and no self-esteem. It seems the perfect metaphor for our little Emerald Isle.

Ireland was never, and still isn't, a dynamic and important centre of anything. It was always a cosy little Northen European backwater, the kind of place that Germans would come on their holidays and feel like they had travelled back in time. And like Catherine O Hara's face, we have ruined our homey charms with a huge and expensive makeover. We have tried so hard to be America, that we forget that America is already America: Ireland is a tiny little country, about as important in the grand scheme of things as Wisconsin, and hey, that's nothing to be ashamed of.

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