You going to watch the FA Cup Final today? I will, although every so often I remember talking to the guide at the Nou Camp a couple of summers ago. He asked me what Irish soccer club I supported. When I said, um, none really but that I always liked to see Arsenal win, I felt uneasy. Was it healthy that as an Irish person, my footballing loyalties ignored every Irish club and clamped onto an English one? And I got to thinking how, at primary school, we used to play Cowboys and Indians, and how as teenagers we were really into Elvis and Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochrane.
Get the pattern? In soccer, in archetypal heroes, in pop music, I’ve spent most of my life ignoring the soccer, the legendary heroes, the music of my own country. Some say that’s fine- my own sons say it’s fine. Why wouldn’t you want to enjoy good American pop music, or jazz, or films, or writers? Why cut yourself off from a broader vision of the world? They’re half-right, I think.
There are people who are so insular, they focus solely on whatever is Irish-made and reject all foreign influences and attractions. That’s pretty sad. But I think the danger most of us suffer from is that we tend to dismiss what is our own and position ourselves as little English people or little Americans, passing over what is Irish as being almost by definition not worth bothering about. Except, of course, the Irish product has been approved by London or New York or other influential outside capitals. Then we'll applaud it.
I used to see Anything But Irish attitude when I taught media studies. In discussion of tabloids and broadsheets, students invariably referred to the Sun or the Times newspapers –very rarely to the Sunday Life or the Indo Irish Times. It’s as if anything we have ourselves must be at best so second-rate, it’s not worth bothering about. In short, we’re so in thrall to cultural empires – Britain and the US – it seems perfectly natural to position ourselves culturally as English or American.
There’s a term for that kind of thing: soft power. And the great majority on this island, north and south, can’t wait to bend the knee and adopt the cultural trappings that soft power says we should.