Diageo Day

So the feast of Saint Diageo, Arthur’s Day, is upon us. What started as an event to celebrate the 250th anniversary of an iconic brand has become an annual pseudo-festival. As part of it, Diageo have popular music acts playing in pubs across Dublin, and cheap pints are dispensed, and it is enjoyed immensely by many people.

Some of us however approach it with a bit more caution. Every year I post online about Diageo closing down the Harp Lager brewery in Dundalk with the loss of hundreds of jobs, and sign it “To Arthur!”. This year I also threw in the story about Diageo shamelessly trying to screw over independent punk rock brewers BrewDog. To be honest I mainly do it out of curmudgeonly mischief, but also to make a minor, understated point about the perils of celebrating such a brand too familiarly. I drink Guinness. Not so much as I used to, but I can’t sit here and claim otherwise, but, I’m not a fan of the day or of the parent company. I had no problem with the first event, but its continued presence seems amusing to me. And i’m not alone, as each year passes the chorus of dissenting voices grows louder. People I know who used to argue with me about it are also tired of it.

As is inevitable, there is a backlash to the backlash. A refrain of “stop whining about it, it’s just a marketing event which brands always do, no ones forcing you to attend”. My first retort would be that I guess my problem isn’t actually necessarily with Diageo or its marketing but with its embrace by the public. By turning “Arthur’s Day” into a thing, we’ve aided a massive multinational company turn an advertisement into a legitimate holiday. That is dangerous. It also humanises an entity which acts less than humane. I wonder, would we permit Vodafone to do similar?

The other problem is the inference that “It’s just a brand doing marketing, stop complaining” as if this is something totally natural that we should not question and simply tolerate. This immediately made me think of this famous misattributed-to-Banksy quote (that was actually by Sean Tejaratchi)

Banksy on Advertising

“People are taking the piss out of you everyday. They butt into your life, take a cheap shot at you and then disappear. They leer at you from tall buildings and make you feel small. They make flippant comments from buses that imply you’re not sexy enough and that all the fun is happening somewhere else. They are on TV making your girlfriend feel inadequate. They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen and they bully you with it. They are ‘The Advertisers’ and they are laughing at you.

You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law mean advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity.

Fuck that. Any advert in a public space that gives you noise choice whether you see it or not is yours. It’s yours to take, re-arrange and re-use. You can do whatever you like with it. Asking for permission is like asking to keep a rock someone just threw at your head.

You owe the companies nothing. Less than nothing, you especially don’t owe them any courtesy. They owe you. They have re-arranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked for your permission, don’t even start asking for theirs.”

I’ve seen comments along the lines of “they are perfectly entitled to do it”. Yes, they are, and we are perfectly entitled to say “no, enough is enough”. If they are entitled to promote it, we are entitled to “bitch about it”. They fill our public space. We are allowed respond.

Finally, there is the line of argument that goes “but! if you complain about this why not complain about {X}!” The inference is that if you don’t like one thing, you must not like ALL THE THINGS. That is the same line of Louise Mensch argument that says “if you criticise capitalism then you cannot engage at all with capitalism even though it completely dominates and permeates all expects of modern society”. It demands that you take your argument to the extreme (where you can conveniently be dismissed as a crackpot). The end result would be that no one would complain about anything. To those people I say: Don’t ever complain about a company, brand, bank or government again.

Obligatory Gangnam Style post…

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t have missed the South Korean pop sensation Psy’s “Gangnam Style” video. It’s rocketed over 250 million views online and broken Guinness records for most likes on YouTube. The song and video are a parody of the stylish and opulent Gangnam district of Seoul, and it’s fame and subject matter have made it the topic of much discussion. Among these is Euny Hong’s fascinating look into growing up in the district as a child.

As long term readers will know I am interested by language and specifically languages that don’t have words that others do. So, one thing that leapt out at me from Hong’s piece was this:

South Korea had no irony when I arrived there. I can say that as plainly as I can say that it had no McDonald’s (it arrived in 1988, in Gangnam, of course). The Korean language has no word for irony, nor for “parody,” which is why the Korean press has been using the English word “parody” to describe Gangnam Style.

I wonder how telling it is (as Hong alludes to) that there is no word for ‘parody’ in Korean, and that to describe this recent phenomenon they’ve had to draft in the English word. Does it tell us something about their society?

And for good measure, here’s the good man himself with his catchy little ditty

Apples, airplanes, Alan Shatter and general semantics

Many philosophers and writers who like to think and discuss the relationship between words and reality, between sign and signifier, such as Alan Watts or Robert Anton Wilson, like to quote Alfred Korzybski’s famous dictum that “the map is not the territory” when explaining that the description of something is not the thing itself. It’s a handy and neat way of delving into the bottomless pit of general semantics and subjective reality. Watts used to also say “you don’t eat the menu” and Wilson liked to use an anecdote about moving house, to help further illustrate this point. Korzybski maintained that we used abstractions, symbols, signs, etc. to help us understand the world, but we end up mistaking these symbols for reality.

Today, the unlikely collision of Apple computers and Irish Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, has resulted in a wonderfully bizarre addition to the cannon. Apple have just unveiled their own map application and initial reaction has been less than favourable due to widespread reports of missing or incorrect information on their nascent service. Such an example has been found in Ireland where ‘Airfield Park’, which is a 35-acre estate, and not an airport, has erroneously and literally been deemed an ‘airfield’, signified as such by a small ‘airplane’ icon.

Enter into the fray Irish Justice Minister Alan Shatter who has fired a concerned missive at the American electronics giant, urging them to correct this error post haste, citing that it

is dangerously misleading in that it could result in a pilot, unfamiliar with the area, in an emergency situation and without other available information, attempting a landing.

What is even more delightful (beyond the idea that airplane pilots might be using iPhones to navigate and simply using a little picture of an airplane as guidance) is Shatter’s suggestion for alternative imagery:

In context of Airfield there are a variety of possible alternative images that could be utilised such a cow, a goat, a sheep, a flower or any indeed other type of plant as Airfield operates a nursery.

Which, for me, offers us a unique portal into the mind of Mr. Shatter. He concludes:

An aircraft is an entirely inappropriate flight of imagination.

The map is not the territory, and the plane is not the airport. But the goat is the park.

The problem with Irish soccer

During the Republic of Ireland’s disastrous European Championship campaign this summer, there was no shortage of opinion on the causes of the problems in Irish international soccer. Whilst the manager Giovanni Trapatoni rightly takes a large chunk of the blame for his tactics and squad management, there is undoubtedly deeper issues involving the general quality of Irish players. Part of the problem, it is argued, is that we no longer have a robust and healthy domestic league in which to discover and blood new talent. Sure, the cream of the crop of the league and the school boy leagues get hoovered up by English clubs, but statistically only a subset of these will ‘make it’, giving us a relatively low pool of talent from which to assemble a national squad. (Again the manager has been rightly criticised for which players he is using from that pool – undoubtedly there are players worth throwing into the mix – certainly after a failed Euro2012 campaign using the ‘old’ system). The argument goes that a strong league would allow local talent to be developed and noticed on a larger scale. The problem is that we do not have a strong league – we have a terminally ill league, slowly but inevitably, lurching towards financial collapse due to lack of interest.

The league of Ireland is something of a punchline for many people now, usually by folk who don’t regularly attend games. But those of us who do go to games, however, don’t view it with rose tinted glasses either. At its height it was massive, regularly commanding tens of thousands in attending fans each week. Now, in the wake of SkySports aggressive marketing of the “Premier League” since the 1990s, it has dwindled to an average attendance of last than two thousand per game. The quality of the football has declined in response. Clubs do not make enough money to support or attract the highest calibre of players (or to discover them). And here in lies the problem at the heart of the matter.

During Katie Taylor’s successful London 2012 Olympic campaign, there was a few mutterings of “who of ye cheering her now paid in to see her last bout at the National Stadium?”, (echoing similar sentiments about Britain’s Jessica Ennis). It recalled a similar refrain heard during Euro2012, but in a kind of inverse – who of ye sneering the Irish national teams efforts pay in to see your local league of Ireland team? Many people who lambasted the FAI and the infrastructure of Irish football were greeted with “when did you last go see a league game?” In someways this became a pissing contest for sports anoraks – but there is a truth at the heart of it. A strong national team needs a strong local league, so as you deride the efforts of the national squad, you should think about how they got into such a state.

This is the paradox though: people don’t want to go to Irish league games because the quality is very low. But the quality is low because the clubs have no money – because no body goes to games. Because the quality is low…

I’ll admit now this is probably a hugely over simplified and uninformed take on all this – it is certainly more complex and nuanced – but I think there is a thread of truth running through it.

This morning as I was checking last night’s scores, I thought about the Belgian national squad. It features (and I’m taking an unashamedly English Premier League-centric view) players liked Manchester City’s Vincent Company, Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen, Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Dembélé, Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, and Everton’s Marouane Fellaini (amongst others); all of which have received praise recently for their skill and ability. Belgium is a country of 11 million people, and the domestic Jupiler Pro League last year had an average of 11,731, and clubs like Standard Liége and RSC Anderlecht regularly compete at the highest level of European football. This season, the Airtricity League in Ireland has had an average attendance of 1,683. And any one who might counter with the fact that our population is roughly a third of Belgium’s, consider that in recent years the average attendance at the GAA All-Ireland Championships has been 16,032, and that figures of this kind were not unheard of in Irish soccer in the past.

Last night as the national team miraculously managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat following a woeful performance against Kazakhstan, the debate struck up again, people want a strong national Irish team to compete at the highest level. But to do that you need players, and to get the best players you need to support their development. A strong, healthy, competitive domestic league can help with this. But this can only happen with bums on seats. But people don’t want to go. The cycle will continue until the league has eroded itself down to a completely amateur oddity. Then we’ll really see the health of the national team and we’ll hear from the arm chair critics.

I don’t want to come across as some kind of holier-than-thou zealot who thinks you can’t have an opinion unless you’ve been in the trenches of domestic soccer support, but last night after the Ireland game I went into Oriel Park and saw a half empty stadium cheer on their team and the connection became vivid in my mind. And the thing is, it wasn’t that bad. The result was awful for the town, but the game had its share of spills and thrills and some wonderful moments of skill. It wasn’t great, by any stretch of the imagination, but it will never be great (again) unless people support it.