Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Anne O'Leary thinks I'm dumb and offensive. But I'll prove her!

All because I chose a leprechaun, a pot of gold, and some sci-fi-y stuff for the first-ever issue of Indie Writers Monthly, the magazine I edit and contribute to.

This is the cover:

Commenting on Andrew Leon's "Strange Pegs" blog, Anne says:

"The Luck of the Irish" means bad luck, not good luck. Whoever came up with that title needs to take a history lesson. Also, that cover is paddywhackery and is highly offensive.

COMMENCE THE HISTORY LESSON, and verily we shall see who is dumb.

The phrase "Luck of the Irish" is not of Irish origin at all.  While it means "good fortune" or "extreme good fortune" it first came into vogue during the second half of the 19th century, the gold and silver rush years, when Irish and Irish-Americans (of which I am one; my great-grandma's name was McDermott) were
successful at mining, leading to the expression. (Source.)

Most sites that claim multiple meanings or cite to the version Anne is apparently familiar with have no sourcing (this one, for example, is pretty vague on where the author gets info from) My source, on the other hand, is the author of a book on Irish-American history and a professor at Holy Cross, so: right-er than unsourced vague claims.

David J.J. Lynch, a reporter for Bloomberg and the USA Today used the phrase to mean good luck in his book titled When The Luck Of The Irish Ran Out: The World's Most Resilient Country and Its Struggle To Rise Again. He has a master's degree in international relations and probably (I'm guessing) wouldn't want to start an international incident by misusing the phrase "luck of the Irish" in a way contrary to its meaning.

So what about "paddywhackery?" What is it?

Well, when it's not a TV show airing from 2007 to the present in Ireland, it generally means (according to Urban Dictionary) use of stereotypical elements of Ireland to make something seem Irish.  This is a bad thing, or offensive? If I use the Kremlin and wool hats to show Russians, is that Tolstoywhackery or whatever? What if I have Americans in ill-fitting jean shorts with fanny packs talking loudly? Is that UncleSammification?

Using a leprechaun on a March issue of a magazine is not just more or less acceptable, but wasn't my first choice.  The original cover was going to have a freaky-looking kitten that is a good luck charm in Japan,  but I decided that didn't fit with the theme.  So I searched for Irish symbols of good luck and kept coming up with leprechauns and 4-leaf clovers, over and over.  Is it my fault if the Irish only have two good luck symbols?

But real paddwhackery, as opposed to using leprechauns on a March issue of a magazine, is using racial stereotypes to pigeonhole the Irish and hold it against them.  (Source.) That site notes that

It is hard to say whether there is any harm in all of this, as the great majority of [examples] are electing to be Irish out of genuine affection for the culture.

But ANNE says there's harm in it because Anne was offended, without knowing who made the cover or why they made the cover.  She just assumed it was meant to be offensive, without any provocation. (One could, in fact, assume that the leprechaun on the cover was a SCIENTIST, since he is working with a plasma ball rather than magic, but ANNE apparently assumes that leprechauns cannot be scientists. I  make no such assumption, and I NEVER pre-judge magical tiny people.  I treat them as individuals.)

What is REALLY offensive is small-minded people jumping to conclusions and slamming someone without knowing ANYTHING AT ALL.

Note that I didn't say "Anything at all about the author." I chose my words carefully.


Pat Dilloway said...

At this time of year, most every store in America has leprechaun decorations for sale. In cities like Chicago there are parades with lots of drunken idiots dressed like leprechauns. And yet I don't think anyone's filed a lawsuit yet. Perhaps also because leprechauns aren't real and thus have no rights.

Anne O'Leary said...

I'm Irish, real Irish, not that Irish American thing you guys go on about. When my people use the phrase, we mean it to be bad luck.

Briane P said...

And yet, Anne, the fact that you misuse the phrase didn't stop you from calling me out about correctly using the phrase in a way that is supportive of what is, after all, part of Ireland's traditions.

Just because you don't like something doesn't mean it is offensive. Next time think before you attack.

Or just think.

Andrew Leon said...

Well, I'm glad you looked all that stuff up. Saved me some time. Time that I don't have.
(I have a lot of Irish in my family (as in I have known some in my life that came over on a boat) and have never heard anyone use "luck of the Irish" to mean bad luck.)

Liz A. said...

Um, okay...

It doesn't matter what it is, someone is going to take offense. Somewhere. At some time.

Briane P said...

Liz, I think you should choose sides. Go with us! We've got leprechauns.

Nigel G. Mitchell said...

Well, I think offensiveness is in the eye of the beholder. I mean, if someone draws a black man holding a basketball and eating fried chicken, they can't tell me not to be offended.

The thing about the symbolism of the leprechaun and the "luck of the Irish" thing is that it's kind of an American thing. For instance, the color green in America symbolizes Irish heritage, but in Ireland the color blue is the national color. Green comes from Irish Catholicism and a political support of the 1798 Rebellion. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Patrick's_Day#Wearing_of_the_green

So it's not really a good representation of the Irish in a global sense.

At the same time, I'm sure it wasn't your intention to be offensive. You just took a lot of Irish-American symbols and put them together. It's very common in America. On St. Patrick's Day, you can't throw a stick without seeing something green or leprechauns or clovers. I know many people with Irish heritage who wouldn't think twice about it. I think Anne was just trying to highlight something she and other Irish feel strongly about. Perhaps over time, the practice of using these symbols will become less common as we increase our awareness of stereotypes.