22 April 2010, 08:22
Authentic manhood in modern Ireland has long been the concern of several self-appointed vanguards, each of them quite actively and provocatively promoting their own version of what constitutes "an Irishman". Apart from the current trend towards a form of economy-driven consumerist masculinity - the notion of the corporate warrior - each dominant discourse of manhood in the last century of Irish history has had, in some shape or form, a very strong guiding hand from the Catholic church, albeit sometimes cloaked in a veil of nationalism.
The ideology of the chaste, virtuous, newly-Independent Catholic Irishman was heavily promoted by both the Catholic church and nationalist movements, pushing a new man for a new nation state, a discourse of Irish manhood that had its roots in hagiography (the lives of the Saints) and the reclamation of an essential Irish purity. Through the medium of the church's pastoral role and its stronghold in schools, youth organisations, GAA clubs and parish management, and most specifically in the confessional, this discourse of authentic Irish manliness became ubiquitous. It was led by a young priesthood who acted as the chosen few, truly honoured, as Joseph Nugent puts it, to be 'carrying to every parish in Ireland the passionate rhetoric of sacred national regeneration now backed with the authority of their new priestly state.'
For the common man this doctrine of masculinity preached that sex was only ever for procreation and only ever in marriage. If saintliness could be embodied on earth it was to be found here in Catholic Ireland and achieved through a denial of sexual pleasures.
Thus the dominant form of masculinity was cast around celibacy. From the inception of the Free State, and in line with Eamonn DeValera’s active pursuit of a political and cultural autarky, 'twentieth-century Ireland', writes Marjorie Howes 'became famous for its determined and multi-faceted repression of sexuality.' Repressed sexuality for Irish people became 'an important, if somewhat confusing, marker of Irish national difference.' Sexual immorality was culturally encoded as a particularly British trait, something that the former oppressors partook of. For the upstanding Irishman his role model was that of his favourite saint, for Irishwomen it was the Blessed Virgin, or, as Gerardine Meaney puts it, 'simple handmaids of the lord.'
By sacralising the discourse of Irish nationalism the clergy deeply inflected the trajectory of Irish manly development, all the while holding true to the League of Columba's published manifesto of realising 'the actualisation of the authentic Irishman.' This discourse was bound up in nationalist notions of both chaste Irish uniqueness and a spiritual purity reclaimed from the colonial oppressors. Catholicism, the popular argument went, was what everyone had been fighting for. Post-independence, the time was ripe for a new masculinity to come to prominence and the Catholic church was only too willing to oblige. As Nugent opinions;
The church had a rich, almost infinite, and very masculinist hagiography from which to draw upon, and could utilise the most modern technologies available at the time to create an attractive and consumer-friendly trend amongst its young male congregations. Just as young boys nowadays collect and exchange pokemon or footballer cards, back then they exchanged Saints Cards. Hagiography, in particular, carries the weighty authority of a story of origins, and, as Judith Butler observes: 'The story of origins is [...] a strategic tactic within a narrative that, by telling a single, authoritative account about an irrecoverable past, makes the constitution of the [Church] law appear as historical inevitability.' Irish masculinity could thus find historically unique and authentic origins in semi-fictional biographies of sixth-century saints.
Significant from the point of view of sexuality, was the celebrity-status that St. Columban achieved; an almost cult-like following that the church was hugely instrumental in promoting. For Columban, the earthly trials of life and the sins that plagued him within this mortal coil were, of course, the temptations of bodily pleasures. In early life, according to the Catholic sanctioned Lives of the Saints, 'the good looks and winning ways of the Irish girls were a snare to him.' In vain this sixth-century hero
Columban eventually escaped the temptations of the pretty maidens by moving to France, where the girls were (apparently) not so pretty (and by literally stepping on the figure of his prostrate and begging Mother in the doorway as she beseeched him not to leave.)
St. Columban, it would seem, had already sought atonement for the sexual sins of the nation’s manhood. There was no need for the current generation to go repeating them, they could learn from his pleasured torment.
This was a simple formula for authentic Irish manhood that appealed to a broad and captive audience, one which called for a somewhat confusing combination of a virile yet chaste life. It ‘remembered’ a resolutely virtuous and pious manhood that had existed long before Ireland was colonised. It found its contemporary social authority in a disavowal of bodily pleasures that had been introduced by the perverted English colonisers. Formulating the essentialist Irishman of ‘before English rule’ by using role models such as St. Ignatius, St Xavier and St. Columba and rooting that Irish manhood in the ‘now’ of an Independent Ireland which was built on sexual censorship, Catholic dominance and cultural isolation thus engendered a uniquely Irish masculinity.
I can't help but wonder about the seriousness of the psychological hangover of Irish men following these role models. The 1990s saw Ireland dragged, kicking and screaming some might argue, to catch up with the rest of the Western World in terms of sexuality. And whilst that's all very well for those of us who were fortunate to be born after this cult of the Saint had died out in the late 1960s, what effects did it have on the men who were in their sexual prime while they were trying to live up to these role models?
13 October 2009, 22:04
'Isn't that a fine big one. That would give you a horn'
The records of the Dublin Criminal court unearth the whispers of a wealth of hidden gay men’s histories, particularly in the years immediately following the Irish Civil War and Irish Independence. As well as a thriving cruising and cottaging culture existing around inner-city Dublin, they also reveal hidden lives often ruined by public exposé and bigoted judicial procedure, both at court and police level. What at first appears as police coercion resonates, I feel anyway, with echoes of several other possible discourses.
On the 12th of October, 1927, a Kildare man appeared before the court charged with ‘attempting to procure an act of gross indecency from another man’. This in itself was nothing unusual in nineteen-twenties Dublin; the records show scores of similar cases. What is interesting here is that the other man, the so-called victim of the crime, was a Garda detective. The interpretation of the historian from whom I originally sourced this, Diarmuid Ferriter, understands the detective’s part in this as being a Garda set up, a cottaging honey trap if you like.
I can’t help but notice however, this is the only case of its sort that I can find, where a Garda detective went incognito into a public toilet to entrap a gay man.
All of the other cases were either assault charges brought by one civilian man against another, or, they were reported to the Gardai by civilian informants who had witnessed sexual acts in public toilets.
Furthermore, given the huge effort that was put into both state and church policing of sexuality in the newly-Independent Ireland, why are there no official Garda records or even other secondary sources (that I’ve been able to find so far anyway ) that mention such an undercover Garda operation to police men’s public toilets? Perhaps something will turn up in the future, but I can’t help but wonder if there is more to this court record than meets the eye?
The Garda Detective in question doesn’t refer to any undercover operation; indeed, he gives his reason for being in the public toilet in the first place as ‘needing to use a Public Lavatory on O’Connell Street.’ Explaining how he came to arrest the man from Kildare, his statement claims that ‘My attention was attracted to him because when I went down the steps, he stared at me’ (The public lavatories on O’Connell street are underground with a spiral staircase leading down into them) The two men then chatted outside for a while and the defendant invited the Garda detective for a drink. The detective declined saying he was busy but arranged a meeting for during the following week.
On the appointed date the detective who was ‘acting on instructions’ – without actually saying just whose those instructions were – met the gay man from Kildare. The detective states he opened the conversation by talking about ‘the weather’; to which the gay man responded by saying ‘I heard of a very good place at the back of the bank in Fleet Street. Will we go there?’ (The toilets in question were actually situated in Parliament Row, which is just off Fleet Street, between Thunder Road Cafe and the Morgan Hotel)
On the way there the defendant bantered with the detective about other men he’d met and told of the ‘lavatory in the Winter Gardens' (in the now destroyed Theatre Royal on Hawkins Street) as being a ‘great place – you’d only have to stop there a few minutes and you would meet somebody.'
Upon arrival at the toilets on Parliament Row, according the detective, our man from Kildare ‘struck a match’ and then opened the detective’s trousers. He then
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this.
There is very little to go on, and the records actually wouldn't stand up to any great scrutiny on this one.
But still, the records don't tell me why the Garda detective elected to meet the defendant a week later, when in reality he could have very simply made the very same arrest within five minutes of arriving at the scene?
Surely, if he was on duty he was on duty? Or was he even actually on duty when he made the liason. There are no implications either way in the records.
And, to reiterate, there are no other records from the period tell of a similar operation.
Or, perhaps he needed to arrange back up, hence the delayed rendezvous, but there is only one rather ambiguous mention of any other police involvement in this, and that is the previously mentioned, and very ominous, ‘on instructions.’
It does leave me wondering was this a case of a self-loathing gay Garda detective who turned chicken just before he was about to engage in some illicit man-on-man action; and so reneged on his prospective parter, perhaps through a strange mix of the fear of being caught and the terror of going to hell?
My conjecture also takes me down another route: Could the two men have possibly been apprehended by another on-duty uniformed Guard? It wasn't strange for uniformed Gardai to patrol men's public toilets. Could he then have colluded with the Garda detective in question to stage a cover up operation by framing Our Man from Kildare as the evil pervert brought to justice.
Or perhaps the two men were reported by a Good Catholicly/Newly Independent Citizen. Who was then told that the best way to deal such a sin was to leave it in the capable hands of the Gardai, who would ensure that the detective involved was sent to the Priest. Irish Catholic morality, purity and chastity were delicately folded into contemporary ideas of how the men and women of the New Independent Ireland rejected the former 'perverted British Ways'. Sunday Sermons were often followed by a 'reading from the altar' of those that were known to have strayed from the official Catholic doctrines and of just who could have what sort of sex with whom.
And, of course, this also leaves me wondering about the sub-culture of gay men in the Dublin of the 1920s.
Here there are silenced voices, lost lives.
There could be much more to these stories, and, over time, I may endeavour to follow those voices down the corridors of Modern Irish History.
Tellingly, the man from Kildare, just before the Garda detective revealed his identity, is reported to have said ‘People have a great time here in the city. We can do nothing in the country. We are being watched everywhere’.
The average sentence for sexually abusing a child at the time was seven months with no fine.
The average sentence for raping a woman at the time was three months with no fine.
Our man from Kildare, who did nothing more than show his ‘fine big one’ to a Garda, in a toilet in Parliament Row, was sentenced to twelve months of hard labour and fined twenty five pounds.
05 September 2009, 14:52
Tuesday, January 31st, 1984; it was a day like any other in the town of Granard, Co. Longford. A bleak, cold winter’s day, and the memories of the Christmas holidays just passed were fading quickly. For the two young lads stuck in the cold damp classroom in the local secondary school, it seemed like an eternity before the bell signalling the end of the day’s lessons would ring. But ring it did; they were finally out of there.
Their route home took them past the little lane-way that led up to the local holy grotto. Like the thousands of other holy grottos situated around Ireland, this one is set in a remote field, near a church, and is dominated by a statue of the Virgin Mary.
Unlike a lot of grottos, however, this one also had a second statue, that of the other Mary, the non-virgin Mary, the one who did have sex. Here, Mary Magdalene kneels; prostrate in her sins of the flesh, begging forgiveness from the Virgin who looms gracefully above; she begs forgiveness from this, the other Holy and Venerated Mary, the one who did not have sex.
The two lads had no intention of going into the grotto, engrossed as they were in getting home out of the cold, wet and windy weather. But they were stopped in their tracks.
Beaming out like a strange bright beacon half way up the muddy path to the grotto there lay a red schoolbag. Abandoned it seemed, with books spilling out of it into the muck, as if someone had dropped it in their hurry to get up to the grotto.
Curious, the two lads made their way up the puddle-strewn path. And as they rounded the trees at the top of the lane and came into full view of the grotto, a sight met their eyes that surely neither of these young men will ever forget.
Below the statues of the two Marys, one in supplication to the other, was sprawled a third female figure. But this was no stone statue. This was a real woman, with beating heart, made not of stone like the statues, but of flesh and blood.
And blood there was plenty of.
For there before the two lads lay the half-naked figure of 15 year old Ann Lovett, whimpering in shock and pain, gritting her teeth through tears, delirious and mumbling. Beside Ann, in a pool of blood, lay her still-born baby boy which she had just delivered, alone and unaided, there below the statue of the Virgin. Beside the dead child lay its placenta, severed from Ann’s body by a pair of scissors she had been carrying around in her school bag for several weeks now, in preparation for this very event.
Ann Lovett died shortly afterwards, from shock, in the local hospital.
She and her still-born boy were buried within a few days and nobody, outside of the closed community of Granard, would have known about her death had not one local man made an anonymous phone call to the Sunday Tribune offices.
Ann Lovett’s death (and short life) raised some serious questions about teenage sexuality and unplanned pregnancies in Ireland.
The nation was outraged. Telephone lines to various radio and tv shows were blocked with angry and confused callers.
How could a fifteen year old girl’s pregnancy go unnoticed, especially in a town as small as Granard ? How could Ann Lovett, described by locals as a ‘lively lass’, be so terrified of her pregnancy that she chose to give birth, on a bleak and cold winter’s day, out in the open, in a field, with not a soul to help her? Was this not “modern” Ireland? Moving into the last 15 years of the twentieth century? The Lovett family retreated behind closed doors, refusing to answer the phone or the many notes of enquiry that reporters and journalists pushed under their door (to this day, the remaining family members still won’t speak about it). The nuns who ran the school, after initially confirming the details of the case on the phone to the Sunday Tribune, then clammed up with a very firm ‘no further comment’.
The journalists who arrived in Granard were shunned, spat at on the street and told to ‘go home’ and to ‘mind your own business.’
In the local pub, late at night however, tongues loosened and people began to talk. There had been suspicions for a long time that Ann might be pregnant, and, of course, speculation as to whom the father might be.
She had often been seen leaving the home of one particular local lad, either very late at night or very early in the morning.
Her best friend came forth and revealed that Ann had disclosed the pregnancy to her, but had sworn her to secrecy. It had been, it seems, a local, but hushed and whispered, talking point. Everybody knew about it. Everybody assumed somebody else was doing something about it.
But nobody was.
All of the questions can be summed up in just one word: Why?
The answer to this 'why' lies in the blatantly obvious symbolism of where Ann gave birth.
There, in painful labour, prostrate beneath the Holy Virgin - a woman who was so bound up in Irish imaginings of 'virtuous and true womanhood' that she didn't need to have sex to bring forth a son - Ann Lovett, a woman who definitely did have sex to bring forth her son, ended her short life of fifteen summers, forced to give birth in an open field, sent there by a church and community, all of whom supposed that someone else was doing something about it.
Let us never forget Ann Lovett.
24 July 2009, 08:37
Sex In The Sixties: What About Ireland?
Hi, I'm going to post up snippets of interesting information with regards to some aspects of Irish Sexuality as it has been understood since Independence in 1922.
Obviously, that date isn't fixed and some earlier stuff may emerge as being instrumental in later stuff...
So: As I come across them...
The following is an extract from a pamphlet written in 1969 by a woman called Angela McNamara.
It was distributed through the publishing and marketing channels of the Catholic church and was widely available around schools, colleges, churches and family homes. It would have been held in high-regard by many as a valuable blueprint for living.
Angela MacNamara was understood by a significantly large proportion of the population as being an authority of matters sexual and reproductive all through the sixties and seventies in Ireland.
Her best-seller Ready Steady Grow! Preparing with Young People for Life. has had two reprints.
She has also produced two videos on sex education, for girls and for boys.
For this extract I make no comment nor analysis of my own; I feel the message speaks for itself.
[Editors Introduction:] Angela MacNamara (1931 - ), who wrote an advice column for the Sunday Press newspaper was perhaps the most influential agony aunt in Irish journalism in the 1960s, promulgating a conservative Catholic position on the family and sexuality.
Ironically, despite the conservative nature of her views, her willingness to discuss sexuality, and sexual problems at all, was considered outrageous by some readers.
She visited schools giving advice about sexuality and family life, and had enormous influence, partly through her pamphlet My Dear Daughter, which was published by the Catholic Truth Society and distributed to schoolgirls throughout the country in the sixties and the seventies. In other pamphlets, such as How to Choose a Wife (1967), she advocated a life of constraint and self-sacrifice for the wife and mother which few young women would readily accept today. The following extract is taken from a pamphlet giving advice to young people, particularly girls, on sexuality and conception.
from: Living and Loving (1969)
'A young person who, all through childhood, has been trained to behave in a controlled and considerate way in every circumstance, will react to his sexuality in a controlled and unselfish way. All the technical knowledge available on human reproduction (or what is commonly called ‘the facts of life’ will not save a boy or girl from answering selfishly and prematurely the demands of their sexual emotions.'
'The only thing that will save a young couple from anticipating the sexual rights of married people is their love of God, their love and respect for one another, and their desire to help each other to follow God’s plan for mankind.
In countries where the facts of procreation have been explained and illustrated to very young children without accompanying instruction in knowing and serving God, the rate of promiscuity continues to be alarming. People respect and love their fellow men when they respect and love God.'
‘The boy who tells a girl (or shows by his actions) that he cannot control himself and that he must have sexual fulfilment with her, is not a responsible or loving person. He doesn’t care for the girl as a person, but only as a body for his use. He is still a child, self-loving and unready to consider and respect others. Whether he is thirteen or twenty he is not old enough to be responsible for the well-being of another.'
'It is in the nature of man to be the aggressor, the one who initiates. He is the one who asks for a dance, invites a girl on a date (she shouldn’t telephone him!), makes the first move towards friendship and later the initial move towards expressing physical feeling (i.e. holding hands, kissing and moderate signs of affection). And of course, the man proposes marriage, even in the Leap Year! However there are limits to his rights. By dating a girl a man has not got an automatic right to kiss her. Nor can he ‘buy’ her company for an evening by buying her a mineral at a dance.'
'The sexual appetite was designed to draw a man and woman close together so that they would unite their bodies in sexual intercourse, and procreate children. The further a couple go in lovemaking the greater will grow their desire for the climax (intercourse). Nature has made them this way. Therefore if we may not have the climax, the wise and good thing to do is to keep as far from the climax as possible, which means keeping the lovemaking at a minimum'.
Angela Mc Namara's last book on sex and sexuality in Ireland is a short 30 page publication called 'Will Our Children Build Healthy Relationships?' published in 1999.
Her last published work was in 2003 and is of an autobiographical nature: 'Yours sincerely - Angela McNamara'
Source. The Republic of Ireland: The Politics of Sexuality. 1965-2000
Ursula Barry and Clair Wills, Editors - NB: their introduction to the piece is used. .
In: 'The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing: Vol V'
More later ...
27 June 2009, 08:31
People who love each other cannot get married.
Women don't get to chose what happens to their own bodies.
One of the wealthiest organisations in the state employs paedophiles.
Those who come to us from foreign lands looking for shelter and protection are met with violence and hatred.
The rich are protected even when they prove they cannot manage their riches.
Those who advocate a freedom of choice are stigmatised as being anti-life.
Those who fall by the wayside are often left there, to die.
Teachers no longer teach, they are crowd controllers.
In my country there is not full equality.
Yet my country is a democracy.
How does that work?
28 March 2009, 15:59
We that are not one
I’d like to start with the notion that masculinity is not one single a-historical, fixed, stable, binding way of being, or set of behaviours, that can apply universally to all men across all geopolitical regions at any one time. As R.W. Connell argues, ‘masculinity is not a coherent object about which a generalizing science can be produced.’
I reject, then, ideas of any one universal, innate and essential manhood that every man can, or definitely will, experience. Instead, I move towards an understanding of masculinities [note the plural] as discursively constructed ‘configurations of practice structured by gender relations’. Practices that ‘are inherently historical’ and will ‘follow different historical trajectories’ which ‘like femininity, [are] always liable to internal contradiction and historical disruption.’
Hegemony and its Discontents
Hegemony is a cultural concept that has been used to describe and explain the dominance of one social group over another, in the sense that the ruling group or 'hegemon' acquires some degree of consent from the subordinate, as opposed to dominance purely by force.
Cultural theorists and social scientists have observed that, within any given culture, one particular form of masculinity will rise to prominence amongst the men of that culture.
These observations gave rise to the term 'Hegemonic Masculinity'. This form of masculinity needs to be understood in parallel to another cultural phenomena, that of 'reification'. To reify something is to literally imagine a fictional concept into a believed reality. Around any given culturally constructed concept - in this case 'real men' - a constant barrage of media images, television shows, 'hollywood' movies, and sporting heroes [to name but a few] cause us to reify a popularly imagined ideal of Western Manhood into a reality we believe in - and that some want to be part of.
Hegemonic masculinity, then, can be understood as a culturally dominant construction of masculinity, a popular format for being a ‘real man’; one which will reify itself, through the power of discourse, into a popularly imagined, and geopolitically specific, ideal of manhood.
But, because it is popularly imagined, and often subtended, (or implicitly supported), by market-driven advertising and a culturally constructed iconicity of 'ideal manhood', its reification ensures that it is, in actuality, experienced and embodied by very few men.
It is the type of masculinity performed by local heroes, fantasy figures and culturally specific role models. It is competitive by nature and thus constantly unresolved and subject to both eternal self-doubt and to questioning by other men.
Hegemonic masculinity is, in the main, a social structure, and is thus open to deconstruction.
It can be understood as a commonly imagined, centralised trope of monolithic masculinity, that of the solvent sporty heterosexual. Happy to assimilate into a white capitalist ideal, one which will always gravitate towards a position of privilege. This position once gained is rarely lost but is constantly and tenuously negotiated in an infinite spiral. Ubiquitously it subconsciously calls us, logo-centric to our understanding of how power (particularly economic and political power) works in the post-modern Irish climate.
It is the centre that needs decentralising, an aspirational trope of masculine procreativity, strength and aggression, a structure that needs deconstruction, the last meta-narrative.
Men and the Market
Hegemonic masculinity, our 'imagined ideal man', is the meeting point for several dominant market-driven regulatory fictions about how men should be and act in the current Irish climate.
There is a huge creation of masculinity in the marketplace. Think of the recent G.A.A. adverts in terms of selling an ideal of 'Irish Manhood.' This is shored up by various intertwining market forces, each of which is itself based on a received knowledge about what constitutes a culturally acceptable masculine. This knowledge usually draws on a populist held epistemology [or knowledge base] rooted in gender polarities, particularly when it comes to ‘selling the man.’
One cultural selling point is the homo/hetero divide. This particular market works on a philosophy of primarily assimilationary gay politics as opposed to any liberatory, or queer, thinking. In this schema gay men set the trends and fashions for heterosexual men to appropriate and assimilate. As a cultural ‘thank you’, or modern day ‘patriarchal potlatch’ hetero men give their social approval to gay men by wearing their clothes; which is, also in reality, making them more attractive to women as ‘gay friendly’ at least. But could that be a patriarchal ruse to get women where heterosexual men want them?
Another ‘cultural selling point’ is the smaller, but very media friendly, camp stereotype that sells so well. It is shoring up the heterosexual market by virtue of both participating in capitalist competition and centralizing the heterosexual in culture.
Fabulous Fairies and Butcher Queers
Many gay Irish men make moves towards living under this sign of ‘the alpha male’ – current queer discourses of what is an approved gay masculinity are almost all heavily invested, and inextricably bound up, [currently at least], in notions of the hyper-masculine. But this makes us question traditional understandings of hegemonic masculinity where one of its discourses, under the terms of many of the sociologists I read anyway, had to be homophobia.
Under the terms of social theories hegemonic masculinity and homophobia are mutually inclusive. But by that logic, gay men who marginalise and oppress non-conforming masculinities in other gay men - camp queens - are themselves homophobic. These ‘homophobic gays’, [what Connell calls the ‘very straight gays’] will argue in defence of their attitudes that it is just the behaviour in camp sexualities that they find abject, the performance jars their ideas of what constitutes men, the trajectory away from the norm causes anxiety. The camps compound a stereotype that 'real men' don’t subscribe to.
The hyper-masculine gay man sees himself as fixed, stable, and in total opposition to the camp gay. He thus serves to privilege the role of the active masculine penetrator over that of the passive camp receptor, who always promises as part of his attraction the ‘ecstasy of taking [his] sex like a woman.’ This divide between the two defines itself and shores up the power structure that created it illustrating how such sexual categorizations operate as instruments of regulatory regimes and become assimilated as the normalizing categories of oppressive structures.
What many of the macho queers fail to see is that they themselves are in fact subscribing to a oppressive gender ideology that fixes the essential, aggressive and sexually predatory he-man as a central point to which all others must aspire. They still wish to oppress bodies that display feminine traits - any taint of the feminine. It is a form of 'queer misogyny'
The camp queen is now no longer perceived as a man under masculine terms but as a feminised, and thus weakened, being. If camp men are indeed to be tarnished with the taint of the feminine then surely we should be asking of those who understand them under these terms: why they must understand the feminine as weaker? and also, why exactly do they see the feminine as tainted?
The Other in The Self
All of the above goes a long way towards highlighting two prominent issues regarding camp male sexualities; stigmatization and misogyny.
Some straight-acting queers’ disavowal of the camp is, I suggest, rooted in internalized shame and stigma which itself is buried deep in the subconscious. It is a twofold shame, one which hinges firstly on a patriarchal link between imagined sexual passivity and femininity where to be sexually passive is to be feminine.
This leads to the second part of the shame where straight-acting queers wish to create a ‘gay absence’. They feel a need to hide and negate their queerness and the stigmatisation they attach to it by emulating and assimilating into straight culture for, as Bersani writes, ‘I can’t be oppressed if I can’t be found.”
Goffman, quoted by Warner, theorizes this absence quite explicitly for us, blaming the negation of the camp man on a psychic “identity ambivalence” brought about in the straight-acting queer “when he obtains a close sight of his own kind behaving in a stereotyped way, flamboyantly or pitifully acting out the negative attributes imputed to them.” He sees macho queers as making moves towards “in-group purification … not only to ‘normify’ their own conduct but also to clean up the conduct of others in the group.” The “repulsion” he feels for his camp counterpart manifests as shame which “then transform[s] 'ashamedness' itself into something of which he is ashamed”.
Warner takes Goffman’s theory further by positing that in addition to “ordinary sexual shame” and the stigmatization of being queer, the camp queen’s flamboyancy, this queer who “flaunts his sex and faggotry”, reiterates and justifies the straight-acting queer’s shame making it “all the more justifiable in the eyes of straights.”
With a sense of sarcasm Warner asks “what’s a poor homosexual to do?” And to this he answers, quite succinctly, “pin it [his shame] on the fuckers who deserve it: sex addicts … circuit boys, flaming queens … anyone who magnetizes the stigma you can’t shake. The irony is that in the culture, such a response will always pass as sexual ethics.”
Warner, of course, makes a salient and cogent point, and one which concludes this section quite neatly. For among the hyper-masculine queers there will always be room for a misguided misogyny appropriated from straight culture where the heterosexual male’s oppression of women can be transposed onto queer lives and culture leaving the macho queer with a satisfying distinction between himself and the camp queen.
Patriarchy and its Dividends
A patriarch society is one ruled by men. Patriarchy has, at its core, the need to oppress and rule women.
Patriarchy as an identity category is one that uses a public disavowal or denial of membership as one of its prerequisites for representation. The criterion involved in eligibility for any patriarchal project is a publicly disavowed (and yet probably privately acknowledged) set of protocols built around men’s bodies and men’s movements throughout a gender system where they posture as centralising the female to their world, but are, in fact, merely shoring up the rigid boundaries of the hierarchy they would have us all subject to.
Yet, not every twenty-first century man would profess to belong to a group such as ‘the patriarchy’ as it is delineated in current discourses.
White and white-collared, heterosexual (usually paternal) middle-class men in particular, ones who look after their children and don’t hit their wives, if they have the terms of their privilege laid before them, would perhaps baulk at their unwitting complicity in patriarchy.
These men, strictly speaking, are not of the patriarchy.
Yet they live by the some of the rules of the patriarchy and, most importantly here, they reap the rewards that patriarchy can offer.
This is what Connell identifies as ‘the patriarchal dividend’.
Does all of this lead us to a rather quietest resignation that there may no escaping the centrality of the heterosexual male, that we can only but “trouble” him as a means of questioning his “subtle ruse of power” and challenge him by asking; if we must indeed make trouble around this “prevailing law” then the task in hand is “how best to make it, what best way to be in it?”
I call on the modern enlightened men of Gaire [gay or straight or bi] to seek to disrupt the alarming cultural trend towards an imagined and idealised ‘universal’ hyper-masculinity.
It is imperative to culturally avoid, where possible, a universal of masculinity that, because it is firstly presupposed and popularly imagined to have prerogative to a dominant position over power of agency, autonomy and economy it is, often complicity, permitted to operate under the very terms it seeks.
This discourse is inextricably bound up in notions of power where privilege is always firstly, and sometimes only, mutually exclusive to any biological configuration other than the normative healthy male.
24 December 2008, 09:23
Gladys: Or, on being of independent means.
I was always at my saddest
When they remembered Gladys.
For although I never met her
I never could forget her.
She left this world quite shortly after I was born,
to the day, the minute, the hour, the morn.
And as she passed, pale and shaky,
She called for her brief and said, 'here make me
a last will and testament, legally binding,
so when the kid grows he'll always be finding
a few bob in his pockets, and ponies and school.
For the kid that can read will grow up no fool.'
With that she croaked it, stiff, pale and shaky.
And with her passing thus she did make me
A wealthy son of a bitch.
09 September 2008, 00:11
Blame it on Maureen O'Hara
I take as a starting point an article that appeared in The Irish Times on 27th of December 1999 entitled “The shawl makes a comeback thanks to Galway designer”. The article concerns itself with a West of Ireland designer, Mary Flaherty, and her most recent creation, an “authentic reproduction” of the Galway shawl. To the discerning reader encountering semantics such as the words ‘authentic’ and ‘reproduction’ being used to describe any one item at first jars the sensibilities causing a pause to re-read the offending sentence. The description then surely provokes some humour at the sheer irony of the impossibility of anything being an “authentic reproduction”. Further on in the article, however, when we learn that Ms. Flaherty’s shawls retailed at IEP £175.00 [€169.00], as opposed to their original 1930s price of IEP £3.00 one could not blame the reader if they were to experience some feelings of anger, however minor, and to ask of themselves, just who is fooling who?
The irony of this ‘authentic reproduction’ does, unfortunately, run a lot deeper. Ms. Flaherty found inspiration for the shawl whilst engaging in conversation with former Hollywood actress, Maureen O’Hara, who is a native neither of Claddagh nor Galway but of Renealgh, a very Dublin suburb, and has been an American citizen since 1947. Ms. O’Hara, during a visit to Ireland in 1995, was reminiscing on her time spent in the West whilst filming The Quiet Man in 1952. She “recalled how the wardrobe department working on the film had offered £25.00 to Galway people who were prepared to part with their shawls and so dress the cast on the production. She bemoaned the fact that the shawl had become almost “extinct” after hundreds were taken back to the US by the Hollywood cast and crew.”
And so it transpires that Mary Flaherty’s artistic stimulation did not arise from the bogs and fields of Claddagh, Galway, Connemara or even County Clare, but from an idealised, stereotyped and essentialist “Technicolor glorification of Irishness”, in the form of a Hollywood movie. Her ‘authentic reproduction’ turns out to be, in itself, a reproduction copied from a reproduction. Nonetheless, Mary Flaherty was clearly saddened enough by the gaping hole left in “Galway’s heritage” caused by the “extinction” of several hundred shawls to create two thousand “authentic reproductions” of her own. Which she then sold at nearly two hundred pounds apiece. Her shawl is, of course, a “limited edition”, worked on a jacquard loom, and “is intricately woven with symbols of the heart and hands, harp intertwined with shamrock, and is bordered by Celtic knot-work depicting interlocking birds.”
Before pondering the possibility of any Irish nineteenth century peasant owning such an expensive, large and cumbersome piece of hardware as a jacquard loom one must firstly speculate how women in Western Irish agrarian communities, particularly during periods of famine, found the time or inclination to weave such intricate and deliciously Celtic designs. One can again only speculate as to how Ms. Flaherty’s quiet chuckles on the way to the bank probably turned to loud, long and raucous belly laughs when she received the news that the Irish Government saw fit to buy up a consignment of these shawls to present to visiting dignitaries and diplomats. This was, of course, in commemoration of the passing of the twentieth century. For Ms. Flaherty had the foresight to name this particular version of her “limited” and authentically reproduced shawl the “Millennium Edition”. Lest any of these overseas dignitaries and diplomats should forget just how fortunate they are to be in possession of such a glorious piece of Irish heritage, each shawl is individually numbered and comes with an accompanying “explanatory booklet”.
My analysis of Mary Flaherty’s Galway shawl is rather culturally iconoclastic. Many would applaud her entrepreneurial acumen and congratulate both her capitalism and contribution to Irish industry and design. We should, however, pause in our praise when it comes to the government’s decision to buy a consignment of these shawls and reflect on what is, in the final analysis, the invention of yet another tradition in the name of a cultural revival, that of the ‘Galway Shawl’. For the shawl has been worn by women and men the world over since its original incarnation as part of the male courtier’s costume in the Achaemenid Persian Empire [550-330 BCE]. It was gradually assimilated into Western European culture over many centuries and reached its peak as a fashion accessory during the nineteenth century with the second age of the European imperialism. But the fact remains that many people from both Ireland and other nations parted with relatively large sums of money for the purpose of proudly wearing a tradition that never really existed but was, to all intents and purposes, invented.
The invention of tradition, particularly in terms of being constituent of a cultural revival, is no new notion. Indeed it has a long, varied and well-documented history. Within the academy it has been the concern of historical, anthropological and cultural scholars, particularly since the last quarter of the twentieth century. Recent works have moved beyond the realm of historical surveys and opened new lines of enquiry into invented traditions. Their findings uncover many interesting and enlightening nexus, both cultural and political. The scope of this blog then, lies not just in illustrating examples of invented traditions that emerged in the quest for cultural revival but also in exploring the underlying ideological forces behind such inventions. By firstly examining two Scottish and Irish cultural revivals and their accompanying invented traditions and then by marrying these examples to the findings of current historical research around invented traditions mentioned above, I hope to draw both historical and ideological conclusions around both past and modern cultural revivals and the invented traditions they have concerned themselves with.
Inventing the Irish Writer
The Irish Literary Revival is certainly a case in point. During the closing decade of the nineteenth century and the opening of the twentieth, certain public figures of political and literary circles, often with intertwining interests, sought to promote notions of an essentialist Celtic literature. Upon closer analysis these works seem to have their creative inspirations not so much in the distant mists of an ancient Ireland (although this is the bulk of the subject matter) but in deeply entrenched Irish Nationalism and the struggle for independence. Several historians locate the main starting point of the Irish literary revival as the demise of Charles Stuart Parnell in 1890 and his death the following year. Certainly “by the end of the decade, the burgeoning of cultural and associational life, and in particular the literary revival, was already being explained as a response to the post-Parnell political vacuum.” For many contemporary Irish nationalists the fight for home rule seemed to die alongside Parnell. Lionel Pilkington finds the roots of this when he cites Lady Augusta Gregory, who alongside William Butler Yeats was a primary instigator of the revival and, again with Yeats, a co-founder of the Irish National theatre:
“Parnell’s death. That was the unloosing of forces, the disbanding of an army. In the quarrels that followed and the breaking of hopes, the imagination of Ireland had been set free, and it looked for a homing place.”
Colin Graham neatly reiterates this point when he quotes cultural theorist Jacob Golomb’s maxim that the “birth of authenticity is rooted in revolution” and continues, in his own words, to state:
“Authenticity and claims to authenticity underlie the conceptual and cultural denial of dominance. … In the Irish context, claims for [cultural] authenticity move from the ‘revolutionary’ (in all its aspects) to the dominant, following the path of the nation to the nation state.”
A seat in Yeats’ and Lady Gregory’s revivalist ‘homing place’ be it literary or dramatic, was fiercely contested and much sought after. Renowned, successful and established writers such as Wilde, Congreve, Sheridan, Shaw and Stoker were relegated to the alterity of being labelled ‘Anglo-Irish’ or often just ‘English’ authors. And within the accepted parameters of this newly invented canon there lay a definite bifurcation between literatures written in Irish and English. Previous literary endeavours were either conveniently ignored or dismissed as being simply not Irish enough. Nationalist literary critics and writers were keen to put forth the notion that Irish literary history, especially previous nineteenth century works up until the point of the revival, had been a blank page. Irish literary scholar Margaret Kelleher would surely disagree having traced the history of Irish Literature, in both Irish and English, back to the sixth century with the fruits of her labour currently running at 1286 pages and two weighty volumes. R.V. Comerford, through shrewd historiography, offers a neat survey of major Irish literary endeavours from the advent of print in the fifteenth century. Most interestingly, both Kelleher and Comerford uncover a wealth of Irish writing in the years immediately prior to the revival. Indeed, as early as 1754, writer Paul Hiffarnan had proposed the idea of a literature that was English in language but made distinctly Irish by drawing on Gaelic sources. Irish literary societies sprang up both at home and abroad, most notably the Southwark Irish Literary club in 1883. The club, founded by Thomas Davis, primarily concerned itself with new works and guest lecturers. William Butler Yeats first attended the Southwark meetings in March 1888 and was quick to appropriate the club’s work and members to his own self-promotional ends. In 1891 he “reconstitut[ed] the Southwark club as the Irish Literary Society, returning to Dublin in 1892 to found the National Literary Society there.” Yeats’ mission was taken up by Standish James O’Grady [1846-1928] who himself drew heavily on the work of Samuel Ferguson [1810-86]. Both O’Grady and Ferguson were Gaelic scholars who, having good access to recondite ancient literature, “served up this material in exciting, highly charged and above all accessible form”. Publications such as "History of Ireland: The heroic period"  and "History of Ireland: Cuchulain and his contemporaries"  have oft been cited as the birth of the Irish literary revival. Yeats was keen to focus on the Celtic mythological side of things whilst ignoring any new modern writing, his purpose being the invention of an ancient Irish literature. It seemed to matter not that this “involved the putting aside of much that Thomas Davis and the original members of the Southwark group regarded as Irish literature” primarily because it did not fit in with the Nationalist agenda.
Scotsmen and their Kilts
Anyone planning a holiday in Scotland could be surely be lured by the section on the Scottish Tourist Board’s website advertising the “Clan Tartan Centre” in West Leith. The centre invites guests to “find out if your name is linked to a Scottish clan, or tartan.” The Scottish tartan system however, as researched and revealed by Hugh Trevor-Roper, is yet another invented tradition. The Scots tartan system found its first inception relatively recently with the formation of the Highland regiments during the middle years of the eighteenth century. The invention of the Scots tartan goes hand in hand with many other created traditions in Scotland. “Indeed, the whole concept of a distinct Highland culture and tradition is a retrospective invention.” Trevor-Roper traces the original occupants of the Highlands as a disparate and non-homogenous group with the majority of their roots in Ulster. Until the resurgence of a strong Scottish nationalistic struggle in the late seventeenth century, which saw the invention of the Highlands as a cultural entity; “racially and culturally, it was a colony of Ireland.” He identifies a tri-stadial process in which the Highlands gained cultural capital as a supposed ancient nation with ancient traditions and dress. Firstly, there was cultural revolt against Ireland that resulted in “the usurpation of Irish culture and the re-writing of early Scottish history”. This achieved its desired effect of claiming Celtic Scotland as the ‘mother nation’ and Ireland as her cultural descendant. The second stage was the creation and invention of Highland traditions that were “presented as ancient, original and distinctive.” The last of these three stages saw the assimilation of these traditions into all of Scottish culture, primarily and specifically the Lowlands. Literature was invented by “acts of bold forgery” as were poetry and songs. But perhaps the most ostentatious invention was that of the kilt, that bastion of Scottish identity that is nowadays regarded as an ancient Scots tradition.
The kilt, as we know it, has only been extant since the seventeenth century when the Highlands broke its link with Ireland and declared itself a cultural entity. Up until then there had been little difference in the traditional dress of the Scottish or Irish peasantry. The common attire of the Highlanders was a long shirt or shift-like garment known as the Leine. As Trevor-Roper informs us: “The name ‘kilt’ first appears twenty years after the Union [in 1707].” Originally termed ‘quelt’ it referred to the manner in which the dress of the Highlanders was folded. Trevor-Roper continues:
“Unknown in 1726, it suddenly appeared a few years later; and by 1746 it was sufficiently established to be explicitly named in the act of parliament, which then forbade the Highland dress. Its inventor was an English Quaker from Lancashire, Thomas Rawlinson.”
The kilt, invented by an Englishman, was then taken up as a fashionable and somewhat rebellious mode of dress, not by the Highland peasantry as one might expect, but by Scottish aristocracy. As the kilt became more and more assimilated into the culture a new invented tradition emerged, that of different tartans for different clans. The earliest evidence for any differentiation in the patterning of kilts or leines was in the sixteenth century; however it was a mark of status not family, with Clan chieftains wearing colours while their subjects wore a plain brown. Trevor-Roper records two sets of Highland family portraits painted by Richard Waitt in the eighteenth century, those of the Grant and the Macdonald families, each displaying up to as many as six different types of tartan. Indeed “the only way only way in which a Highlander’s loyalty could be discerned was not by his tartan but by the cockade in his bonnet.” Thus the tartan and the kilt can be seen as recently invented traditions that were assimilated into popular culture and then mythologized, firstly in the name of nationalism and more recently in the name of commercial enterprise.
Why invent traditions?
What conclusions are to be drawn around invented traditions in Scotland and Ireland? That they are relatively recent phenomena, in both historical and historiographical terms, there is no doubt. Both Comerford and Hobsbawm trace their beginnings to the advent of the enlightenment and more specifically with the rise of European nationalism after the French revolution. “Collectives imagine nothing as readily as common ancestry”. In common with Hobsbawm’s introductory analysis, invented traditions can establish themselves with “great rapidity … and where possible, they normally attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past.” Indeed, both the Irish Literary Revival and traditional Highland culture, as outlined above, were definitely engendered by struggles for autonomous rule and both traditions experienced a swift rise to cultural prominence.
But, aside from Nationalist roots and any given collective striving for authenticity and identity, there is also, I suggest, a strong nexus between the modern-day invention of traditions and the weakening or collapse of many societal grand-structures and meta-narratives. We live in what many social theorists now term the ‘post-modern’ era. At the heart of the postmodern condition there lies the disruption of a number of societal meta-narratives or communal structures and systems. Some of these would be the decline of the belief in Christian Godhead and the ensuing rise of secularism; the fall of imperial and colonial systems; the loosening of class boundaries, and, the patriarchal confidence in men as a dominant and ruling entity. And whilst the collapse of these systems can be regarded as no bad thing in most (or even perhaps all) cases, it seems to leave a gap in human lives that cultural revival and invented traditions can fill, albeit temporarily. As Hobsbawm points out “it seems clear that, in spite of much invention, new traditions have not filled more than a small part of the space left by the secular decline of both old tradition and custom”.
Communities appear to nostalgically reach back into a fondly yet selectively remembered past, revive the culture that went with it as a means of mythologizing it, and then invent accompanying traditions. Capitalism and commercial ventures too will surely play their part, as we have seen with Ms. Flaherty’s Galway shawl. It is then the combination of several factors, namely; a secular void; the abandonment of the belief in a teleological movement of humankind towards societal perfection; an inherent need for some form of belief system, and pure commercial gain that drives today’s society to revive cultural pasts and thus invent traditions. But, as we have seen with the Galway shawl, so many invented traditions of today stand as poor representations or mere tropes of the rich cultures they seek to rekindle.
Perhaps cultural purists can take some solace in the fact that whilst Scottish Highland traditions and the Irish Literary revival will remain in the annals of history forever that, according to recent business listings, Mary Flaherty is no longer in business.
28 June 2008, 02:13
The Living Lexis - OR, how some words make it into the dictionary...
In U.S. political history the Nixon era seems, upon scholarly reflection, to have been one of paradox. Richard Nixon, battle weary and exhausted from an argumentative twenty-two year political career that had been dogged by overall bad management and a well-publicised downfall in 1962, finally arrived as U.S. president at the White House in 1968. His landslide victory over democratic candidate Hubert Humphrey in this, the forty-sixth American presidential election was to be repeated again in 1972 over George Mc Govern. But his electoral popularity, alongside an ongoing body of progressive work within the domestic sphere both seemed contradictorily overshadowed by the relentless conflict in South East Asia; for during his election campaigns Nixon had, whilst ‘avoiding specific commitments about Vietnam, promised to bring the conflict to an early and honourable end.’ This promise had, however, failed to materialise by 1972 when his old nemesis, bad publicity, dealt him one final fatal blow. On 17 June The Washington Post, one of America’s most respected broadsheets, published a report that several of Nixon's agents had been caught breaking into Democratic Party offices at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. Public outcry ensued and Nixon, having braved media storms before summoned his press secretary Ronald L. Ziegler and set about damage limitation. However, the story was bigger than him, and the following October ‘The Post’ published subsequent reports that the Federal Bureau of Investigations [F.B.I.] had proof of Nixon’s aides spying on and sabotaging numerous Democratic presidential candidates, thus exposing the Nixon administration as full of corruption, illegality and deceit. This sparked two years of ongoing debate, media interest and anti-Nixon protestations which were fuelled primarily by some sound investigative journalism and secondarily by ongoing judicial and congressional proceedings. Each fed the other until finally, on the 9th August 1974, Richard Milhaus Nixon resigned as the thirty-seventh President of the United States, the first ever to do so. His second term of office had lasted two years, six months and twenty days of its expected four-year life.
As history scholars at the beginning of the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Watergate scandal, we have the resources to examine as broad a spectrum as possible of not just primary sources but also their underlying influences, particularly within political, ideological and global frameworks. It is possible to evaluate the significance of the Watergate Scandal on many levels, normally within either a local or a global sphere but generally from an English-speaking westernised and/or Eurocentric viewpoint. For the purpose of this paper, I shall examine the significance of the Watergate scandal on the global lexis of the English language, primarily as contributor of a new suffix ‘-gate’. This I found possible to do by tracing the usage of the suffix in primary source material up until 1989 when it was included in the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. By marrying the evidence presented within this linguistic timeline with two historically juxtaposing contexts; that of domestic language education policies with a brief reference to the cultural voices and ideologies presented in the contemporary American cinema in the immediate aftermath of Watergate, it is possible to present a case for a true evolution of the American rhetoric of liberty and freedom. We can trace the history of American influence on the world through its everlasting yet self-appointed sense of newness as it claims precedence on a global language, whilst observing linguistic natural selection at work and chart a living globalization that affects the global village on many levels.
Historic and linguistic scholars have in the past examined the significance of Watergate on language. Rawson  argues for a ‘Watergate-see’, isolating phraseology such as ‘deep-six’, ‘executive power’, ‘smoking gun’ and ‘deep throat’ amongst others. A call for an annexation within the language for Watergate-ese may seem valid within the context of American political and cultural history, especially given its framework of sixties counter-culture and notions of revolution. However, the theories remain vague, abstract and too temporally dependent on the whole, whilst making no significant impact on the usage and teaching of English on a global scale. Perhaps, to understand the true significance of Watergate on our mother tongue we should examine the evolution of English in the United States itself, in particular its pedagogy. Robert McCrum, a leading English language historian, in The Story of English posits that ‘American English has two fundamental characteristics which are slightly at odds with each other. On the one hand, a highly mobile population with a strong sense of National Identity has always stimulated a trend towards a national variety of spoken English. At the written level, this centralizing tendency has been reinforced by generations of vigorous textbook learning. American society is astonishingly plural and its language is correspondingly eclectic.’ This pluralism of both home-environment and classroom learning can be mirrored even further by comparing America’s own confidence in its English prowess with an aggressive teaching policy against an almost absent and very passive presence on any foreign language learning fronts since the Truman years. As early as 1945, administration agencies were reporting on America’s willingness to take a leading role in a United Nations global English language teaching programme, a good example of the United States firm belief in its own uniqueness as it claimed to be a leading exponent of an imported language. Yet this is in direct juxtaposition with a weak record on the foreign language learning sphere with reports as late as 1994 showing that only thirty eight per-cent of American high-school students enrol in a foreign language course. And perhaps it is the same eclecticism that leads McCrum  and Bragg  to write of the subdivision of American English into several different varieties; some examples being Creole, Gullah and Afro-American. Each of these, whilst originating within a small geographical area, has had a global impact as English spreads out across the world that also defines every one as living, vibrant and as valid as any other variety of English such as Hiberno, Australian or Scots English. But there is a darker pluralism to be found in notions that a certain percentage of Americans, notably blue and white collared, Caucasian and Anglo-Saxon in ancestry, seemed over eager to embrace, both at home and at school, what was after all, a new by-word for all that had gone wrong with Nixon’s American Dream.
The Watergate investigation brought fame to The Washington Post and to the reporting duo Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The team not only uncovered a web of political spying and intrigue but also gave birth to the phenomenon of the media scandal which had seen its embryo in the Profumo affair in Britain in 1962. This, in itself, gave rise to a new genre of mainstream film, the political thriller. Little did Bernstein and Woodward realise that by virtue of these events taking place in a hotel and office complex called ‘The Watergate’ that just a quarter of a century later they would contribute to the recorded annals of the English language, an impact few men of writing and words can lay claim to, but one many surely aspire to. English has been called the thief of languages and the speed with which the new suffix ‘~gate’ was now being absorbed into the lexis [as indicative of a media scandal] was rapid. Its growth was spurned on by a sense of disappointment in American governments and false promises which was soon reflected creatively in the immediate aftermath of Watergate. Bernstein and Woodward published a book, All The Presidents Men in 1974. In 1976 came the movie of the same name. The American populace speaks with both its pockets and its accolades on celebrity and so, as the new Ford administration found its feet and the U.S. entered an unsteady period politically, economically and culturally, the sentiment of betrayal US citizens harboured towards Nixon’s and any subsequent administration was reflected in both in the book’s bestseller status and the film’s four academy awards in 1977. The word Watergate was now firmly in the minds of both American and the English speaking world.
Parallel to its growth in popular culture, media and film, linguistic scholars and historians began to note a predominance of the suffix in respected broadsheet newspapers and academic articles. Beginning in August 1972 with the National Lampoon, Harvard’s own alumni journal which carried an article on the ‘Volgagate Scandal’; a cover up attempt by a group of liberal Russian politicians; there was a huge plethora of ‘-gates’ reported, some funny, some serious and some which, upon reflection, seem to have no newsworthiness at all. Some comic instances are ‘Headachesgate’, a journalist’s gripe at the Cater administration, ‘Nannygate’, a Scottish investigation into free air travel for child-minder Elizabeth Mac Gillivray, and ‘Sewergate’, a suburban incident in New York where a local politician made money on the back of tendering out the city’s sewerage services, and nowadays, a term commonly used in the U.S. and Canada to expose shoddy waste disposal services by local authorities. There were, of course, more serious reports using the suffix such as ‘Irangate’, a term attached to the Iran-Contra affair, the biggest political scandal of the Regan administration, which was first used in The Independent in December 1986. In South Africa recently we witnessed ‘Oilgate’; a scandal involving Imvume Management, a huge petrol trading company which attempted to stop The Mail and Guardian, one of South Africa’s leading broadsheets, from publishing an article exposing under the counter dealings with state petro-chemical agencies. By 1986, when the inclusion editors at the Oxford English Dictionary [O.E.D.] were preparing the second edition of this, the worlds leading dictionary, they had recorded some thirty instances of the use of the suffix –gate. In consultation with Margot Charlton, principal editor for new words at the O.E.D., she informed me that there is no fixed criterion for new word inclusion, however they will follow some loose guidelines. No firm distinction is made between spoken and written currency, although the ‘documentary evidence on which the dictionary is based is largely written’ ; that fixed compounds and collocations are included, whether they ‘merit definition through their semantic complexity or are simply part of the historical record.’ Currency is also assessed through the collection and analysis of examples of usage available to the dictionary’s editors, but, most interestingly to this study, ‘proper names/nouns are not normally included’. This shows us that the inclusion of –gate into the second and subsequent editions of the dictionary, which was based on many examples using proper nouns really is the exception that proved the rule. With over thirty new instances of the suffix in either academic articles or broadsheet newspapers [the O.E.D. do not consider Tabloid newspapers worthy of inclusion] the suffix was included in the second edition of the dictionary in 1989, holding pride of place as the seventh of eight usages under the entry for the word ‘gate’ itself. It was subsequently added to the sixth edition of the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, which is the best selling dictionary for teachers of English as a second language, in 2000.
In conclusion, American English can be seen as not only a global economic entity, with foreign learners worldwide requesting US English lessons in preference to British English instruction, but also as a historic entity. This linguistic history, of which I have discussed a miniscule part, the evolution of but one suffix, within itself argues for a bias on the part of the English speaking world towards linguistic natural selection taken from varieties of American English over any other. English, like any living language, is constantly evolving and as we track it’s evolution, it’s history and it’s globalization we are pointed towards a foregrounding of the predominance of American English as the leading spoken variety of English. This, in itself, can only direct us to conclude that twinned to the globalization of American English is a predominance and globalization of American political systems, cultures and ideologies.
05 June 2008, 00:38
Dr. Theosuphus Squirrel the third threw his MFWD down on the desk in anger. Unfortunately however, he had left the device switched to 'ink' instead of 'laser' causing it to splatter a fair amount of blue editing liquid all over his glasses.
"Damn!" Bloody writing devices. He could never remember what setting he'd left it on. This technology was what - twenty years old. He'd been using one since he started senior school, you'd think he'd be used to it by now. He wiped his glasses clean with some multi-fibrous and stared back at the screen in front of him.
The all too familiar heavy black writing spun around and around, filling up the display and infuriatingly leaving trails and shadows on the foreboding scarlet background
"Network Permission Denied".. then in smaller writing: "The network decrees that you have inferior edu-status to access this information batch. Please upgrade your edu-status credentials and try later."
He scowled at the screen.
Try later... yeh right. Like in five years. His edu-status was one of this highest on this land mass. It would be at least three years before he could upgrade.
"Damn bloody network. I hate it" he yelled out loud without realising. Then immediately threw his hand across his mouth in horror. They might have heard! A quick glance at the comms panel down the side of the screen told him his mic had been disabled for 25 mins. Phew. He only had another 5 mins of mic-off before he overran the afternoon protocol for 'non-comm' status. They'd be ballooning him and then there'd be trouble. He switched it to mic-on in case he forgot and reminded himself to curse the network silently and only inside his head in future. At least they couldn't go in there. Yet.
Reaching forward he hit the 'query network' button on the comms panel immediately clearing the screen leaving the flashing cursor sitting in the parameter field. He'd redefine his search. He hit the button marked 'holographic input device' and sat back as the familiar whooshing sound filled the room for a few seconds and the keyboard materialised before him. Theosuphus had to smile to himself. Even though his father had worked on the holographic development team it still never failed to amaze him. He pushed memories of his dad to the back of his mind; tempted as he was to wallow there was work to be done.
He typed: 'Status Data: Prof. Perry Cormo' and hit enter all the while wondering just how many times at this stage he had run this search. Hundreds maybe. And, as usual, the search yielded no new results. He did, however, scan his eyes across the by now all-too-familiar data, hoping against hope for some network glitch since his last attempt. But no, it read as it always had.
Prof Perry Cormo.
Born: 1969. Nth Atlantic Archipelago, First Land Mass.
Year of Death: Unknown.
Place of Death: Unknown.
Edu-Status: Network Professor.
Last known locale: Fourth Land Mass.
Network Status: Wanted Exile, presumed dead due temporal factoring.
Global Status: Persona Non Gratis.
And then the usual network disclaimer stating that anyone who held any information about this PNG should contact a their Network Liasion Officer Immediately.
Below the data there sat the usual five buttons for any person who held network edu-status above tertiary school, namely: "Docu-Biog." "Publications." "Achievements." "Specialities." "Contact."
Theosophus didn't bother hitting any of them knowing that if he saw the large black writing on the scarlet screen informing him of his 'inferior edu-status' he would probably scream. Very loudly. And as the mic was back on really that was out of the question.
He cleared the search field again and tried another approach.
"Search: History: Pre-Network Era: Prof Perry Cormo"
The results came back instantaneously:
"Apologies. The Network holds no data for the search "History: Pre-Network Era: Prof Perry Cormo"
This made Theosophus smile - he daren't laugh out loud. Just to prove to himself how those bureaucratic data storage management twats up in Network HQ1 had their heads up their bums he cleared the screen and ran another search, again a search he had run many times before.
"Search: Publications: "The Four Ideologies" - and hit enter.
A small entry field popped up on the screen, "Information Restricted: Tertiary Edu-Status Only: Please Enter Your Tertiary-Edu ID code"
Theosophus typed in the 12 digit code, a code deeply inscribed on his brain ever since it had been issued to him, all those years ago when he had been chosen. As soon as he had input the last digit the screen filled with writing:
"The Four Ideologies. "Book. Publication Date: 2018.
Network Status: Dangerous. Subversive. Holders may be incarcerated.
Then the usual network blurb, Theosophus could almost smell the Network propaganda off it, dammit, he wrote this stuff on a daily basis for the network:
The Four Ideologies was a book written by the dangerous subversive edu-rebel Prof Perry Cormo.
Published in 2018 it is seen to have been the main causal agent in the Global War of 2020.
After the war during the non-war era [2022-2025] it is said to have circulated amongst underground rebel circles until the Network came to power in 2025. The book, along with most other pre-Network printed matter was burnt in the great purge of 2026.
However, many tertiary-edus feel the book may never have existed, arguing the cause of the Global War was the assassination of Polit-Giant Dr. Lou Cee by insurgent forces on his grand tour of the Second Land Mass in 2020. Rumours that Dr. Lou Cee may have been touring the Second Land Mass as a means of promoting "The Four Ideologies" have never been confirmed. Prof Perry Cormo disappeared from general circulation shortly after the book's publication."
PUBLICATION STATUS: Purged 2026.
EXTANT COPIES: Zero.
Printed Copies available: Zero.
Electronic Copies available: Zero.
END NETWORK REPORT: "The Four Ideologies"
Theosophus smiled to himself, knowingly.
"Printed Copies available: Zero" indeed.
He knew better.
But! He needed some more information before he could reveal his secret to the world. Information he had been searching for for five years now, ever since he had finished his doctoral E-theis.
There was a missing link, something he just couldn't find.
It was all so long ago, nearly two hundred and thirty years at this stage. His grand-great Uncle The Squirrel had been part of that great gang, Perry Cormo the writer, Bugle O'Boyd the world-leading psychologist, Elat Mc Raif the great artist - and leading them all to glory, their Great President, Dr. Lou Cee.
Ahhh... Theosophus closed his eyes and tried to imagine himself back in August 2018, the month he was now certain "The Four Ideologies" had been published. In paper. "Wow" he thought. Paper Books. What a novel idea.
Theosophus let his imagination wander back 230 years. The Great Dr. Lou Cee had been president of the First Land Mass back then. Except it hadn't been called that in 2018. No body quite knew what it had been called. And Dr. Lou had also been heading up some organisation called the United Nations. Theosophus had often wondered what a Nation was. It was obviously a purged word, pre-Network. Back then in the world of music Blurtette and The Mini's would have been blaring out of the radio-casters [or whatever they were called] - their big hit "Killer Heels". And they'd probably sat down to a meal they'd learnt how to prepare on the famous television show "Cooking with Clyde". Life sure seemed to have been good. They had been free. Idealists in an Ideal world.
Then "The Four Ideologies"
Then the Network.
Where had it all gone wrong?
The ringing of an incoming balloon interrupted his thoughts and brought him firmly back to 2248. The balloon ID reader informed him it was his good friend and colleague Dr. Frodo Four. He hit the 'accept incoming balloon' button and a hologram of Frodo Four's head filled the space directly in front of him.
"Whassup wanka?" Frodo Four yelled - his standard greeting.
"I think I'm onto something here Frodo Four" Theosophus siad.. "I really think I may have cracked it."
"Oh Man," Frodo Four's face scowled, "are you still banging on about all that ancient history. Its over - get over it."
"But I may be able to bring down the Net-"
"SHUT UP!" screamed Frodo Four, " much more important things have happened today, while you've had your head in the ancients."
"Like they've only just converted anti-matter into craft fuel!!"
Theosophus looked at Frodo Four's head, in disbelief.
This was big.
Frodo Four continued... "Man this is amazing, history in front of our eyes.... we can finally get out there and find another universe to live in... this planet is just so... so... so.. wasted dude."
Theosophus had his stellar-jacket on and was out the door before he even knew it.....