I’ve recently seen an incredible amount of butt-hurt and faux outrage floating around on a proposed Channel 4 series, (penned by Irish comedy-writer Hugh Travers), on the Irish Famine/Genocide. The series is to be called Hungry. A good bit of this outrage was highlighted via Irish Central‘s numerous articles and posts, and as many of us know, they tend to like to stir up controversy as clickbait. The Irish Times soon followed suit, with no less a personage than Tim Pat Coogan weighing in, and now there’s a petition circulating to stop the as-yet-unwritten series, as well as planned demonstrations in Ireland.
For those not familiar with this young writer, Travers, it should be noted that an intrepid commenter on Irish Central editor’s Niall O’Dowd’s recent strongly-worded opinion piece on the proposed comedy, actually took the time and effort to comb through the Irish 1901 and 1911 census reports. He discovered that Travers’ family roots were in Mayo, and going by the length of time many of them had been rooted in that area, as well as what appears to be a long experience with poverty, there was no doubt these Travers forbears survived An Ghorta Mór themselves.
Before anyone goes off the rails, signing petitions or calling for demonstrations on a series that hasn’t even been written/aired yet, let’s ponder the notion of satire and comedy.
My first raised eyebrow concerns why a young comedy writer with roots in one of the worst affected-areas by the famine/genocide would pen a comedy concerning one of the worst events to affect the Irish people, where the British persecutors would be seen in anything but a less than favourable light. Or even tackle it in the first place, if he didn’t intend to stand well-worn tropes on their heads and create a triumph for down-trodden characters.
I raise a second eyebrow at the idea of Irish people, or people of Irish descent, lacking insight regarding satire. And it should be noted that the archetypal American ‘plastic paddies’ seem to be those most egregiously offended, suprisingly — considering so many of their forebears fled An Gorta Mór rather than tough it out with the rest of our ancestors. These same plastic paddies seem to have no trouble lolling about on Paddy’s Day in cities across the US, drunkenly proclaiming their oirishness, all while wearing offensive t-shirts and sterotyping the rest of us as some sort of boorish, alcoholic louts. It is endlessly amusing that Irish people would be so offended by the idea of the famine/genocide done as comedy, considering the Irish very nearly invented satire and sarcasm (Dr. Jonathan Swift, anyone?)
We excel as a people at turning even the darkest matter into craic, often if for nothing else but to keep our sanity. And we are not alone. There have been Jewish-penned comedies and plays satirising the grimness of the holocaust. There was the very popular Hogan’s Heroes, which sent up Nazis as fools in a big way. Likewise with All in the Family, where bigoted Archie Bunker was constantly sent up by his family and others. And for goodness sake, what about Father Ted? An Irish-bred series which took one holy sacred cow, the Catholic Church in Ireland, and sent it up magnificently.
The success of all of these models were built upon giving the persecuted the power (through the written comedic word) to one-up their persecutors, show them to be fools or otherwise turn societal horrors on their head.
Some of you may be familiar with Irish satire website Waterford Whispers (sort of the Irish version of The Onion). Recently, they did this little send-up on an issue very near and dear to me. I wasn’t offended by it, and as many of us who were victims of State- and Church-sanctioned child trafficking will attest, we often use our own dark humour and send-up of government and religious figures. It keeps us from dissolving into madness and depression.
I don’t recall anyone staging demonstrations, creating petitions or being outraged by the Waterford Whisper piece. Or Father Ted. So do we just randomly decide what is offensive or ‘off limits’ for satire? Or is it fair to say that it’s possible to find humour in any dark situation, or at least find it acceptable to use satire as a way to turn horrible circumstances and events on their heads as well as those who perpetrated those horrors?
Food for thought. So before you sign a petition or vow to demonstrate against something Mr. Travers hasn’t even put to paper, consider the value humour — even the darkest humour — can have in keeping us human. And besides, we’ve far more pressing and present-day issues affecting us.