This was supposed to be a piece about class in the media, and I was relishing the chance to go all-in, with the chips on both shoulders.
I was going to get into how a two-hour-long documentary, Broken Song, about the best MCs and writers on the Dublin scene, can be reduced to rolling joints and gritty subplots, and feature only about twenty minutes of writing lyrics.
Or how my hometown, Darndale, is currently posing for some poverty porn, Darndale: the Edge of Town, watched in the main by those with their central heating on. (The programme has, however, managed to convince my friend’s co-worker that, “The guy on methadone, like he loved his kids an all…”)
There’s a Sting song and some interesting and vital topics in there. But right now doesn’t feel like the time to explore them. Because did you see that clip of Blindboy Boatclub of the Rubberbandits?
“My generation can’t afford houses. My generation can’t afford to have children. My generation are either leaving the country or jumping in rivers. That’s my generation, man,” Blindboy said on RTE’s Late Late Show on 8 January.
“My generation is dealing with neoliberalism [sic] economic policies that are similar enough to the economic liberalism at the time of the Famine,” he said. “It’s a laissez-faire system, where our resources of the country are being sold for private interests and our generation, my generation is screwed.”
When I saw that, it got me thinking: negative perceptions of the working class are so strong in Irish society that people who use food banks would rather call themselves “poor” than “working class”. This is the result of successful divide-and-conquer tactics.
Because the truth is that these days – the poor, the working poor, the working class, the middle-class – almost all of us are screwed. The wealth is trickling upwards to a very few.
You can see it in a survey the Dublin think tank TASC released in December, which laid out the division of wealth in Ireland. The top 20 percent are the ones squeezing everybody’s middle: they have almost 73 percent of Ireland’s wealth.
So if we look at a financial definition of working class, rather than a cultural one, the majority of us fit right in there together, even those notionally middle-class people who would recoil if you tried to tell them they were working class.
Given this situation, I would expect to see howls of protest in the mainstream media, all the time. But I don’t see this kind of media outcry, and I wonder why.
Maybe it’s because the mainstream media usually take the side of the market, seeing issues from a market perspective. And I guess the market doesn’t care if our generation is screwed.
It might actually be a good thing, from a market perspective, because it ensures there’s a steady supply of young people desperate for jobs, which keeps demand for wages and benefits to a minimum. And that would be rather attractive to multinationals looking for cheap workers.
Meanwhile, journalists are just trying to survive too. Most of them are in precarious positions, and, unless they want a ticket to the hunger games, it’s human nature for them to keep their heads down and go with the status quo.
Dr Rory Hearne, a senior policy analyst at TASC, has Blindboy’s “My Generation” quote on his wall. Sometimes conventional wisdom takes its inspiration from the most unexpected places. Resistance is becoming cool.
With more and more of the wealth being divided up among a smaller and smaller elite, the bottom 80 percent of the country now holds only about 27 percent of the country’s wealth. Resistance may be required.
To fight this type of battle, what we need is an informed, educated citizenry, but ours is delusional.
I wrote a bit about cognitive dissonance in my last column: that feeling of anxiety when we’re faced with evidence which contradicts deeply held beliefs. Where our survival mechanism is to follow the herd and keep the head down. Where we feel this despair and confusion that Blindboy talked about.
We need to examine and confront our deeply held beliefs about class in our society, and begin to understand that they’re not valid anymore – things have changed. We need to get over our cognitive dissonance and the the paralysis it can cause.
People whose parents invested in their education, who had been told from day dot they could be whatever they want to be suddenly find themselves on the same playing field as the working class, or poor. Even after following all the rules and having gone to the right schools, they’re screwed.
And too many of them are refusing to believe it.
Our generation have been pitted against each other on a playing field which is starting to resemble the set of Running Man or The Hunger Games more and more each day. We’ve spent six long years collectively taking the violence of a thousand economic cuts.
Our politicians spoke of making sacrifices, making difficult decisions. Here’s a hint: those sacrifices are us – our generation is the sacrifice. The food banks we see in our communities are the difficult decision.
Have you heard of the “cargo cults” of the Pacific? During the Second World War, Pacific Islands were used as drop points for food, fuel and other supplies. When the war ended these riches stopped arriving.
But some of the people on the islands, often encouraged by charismatic leaders, kept hoping the bounty would return. Long after the war ended, they built bamboo replicas of air-traffic control towers, and even made little radio headsets out of wood. The planes never landed again.
To my untrained eye, it seems as if this is exactly what our government – and governments around Europe – are doing, just with economists playing the role of high priests of delusion, promising rewards of things to come, to justify current suffering.