I love you, I hate The Dubliner

Archived, winter 2006 

Caveat emptor: This is a meandering tome relating to my disdain for a Philly Weekly columnist. I know it’s hypocritical to whine about someone’s diary-style columns in a blog (for chrissake), but I’m doing it anyway. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say.Those of you who know me well know my quick temperament and my inclination toward judging people. I call it “charming;” my detractors probably call it “mean.” Pussies.But let’s all come together, in the global Olympic spirit of unity, and uniformly hate the same thing. Ready? We’ll call it the Newsprint Downhill (zing!).

Allow me to get up on this rickety old media-related soapbox. Given as I am toward judgments, they have lately been more about the trivial – or the personal – and less about issues related to the greater good. It’s been some time since I brought down the wrath on an institution of society.

I feel compelled to first say that I do love Philadelphia Weekly. I love its voice, and I usually love its cover stories. It’s a bit more establishment than City Paper, but it’s still a fantastic source for the city. I am in heart with the occasionally run Top 5 column.
But Christ, Jesus, Katie Haegele.

I do not know Katie, and she may actually be genuinely charming and sweet and kind. She may pick up other people’s garbage and read to the blind. But her column, The Dubliner, makes me want to tear my hair out by the fistsful.

Her first column , an introduction to her stint abroad, intrigued me. I felt a little smacked in the face by the begorrah overtones to the whole thing, but I wrote it off as jealousy. I remembered my first week in Ireland, where I likely sounded just as naively enchanted (and sometimes, I probably still do).

Observe:

The smell here is more visceral, humanlike. But in the part of town close
to where I live the slightly sour unmistakable scent of hops from the Guinness
Storehouse pulls you along like a sexy cartoon lady’s perfume trail, and at
night you can smell peat fires. It’s an ancient smell, throatier than a wood
fire and almost sweet.

And so on.

But it was in reading her second column that I was forced to open up the group therapy. I called my other Corrib Village pals, and after we self-consciously agreed that there was more than jealousy going on (I mean, the girl is getting paid to write about living in Ireland), I felt safe in bringing up the topic in mixed company.

It would be flat-out mean of me to detail each wretched sentence of her ouevre. It would be trite for me to argue here – in a tiny MySpace blog of all places – why the phrase “trundled bumpily” is the most boring kind of dumb. I’ll leave the snickering over people who call The Salvation Army “the Salvvy” to an off-line discussion (oh, the puns). Besides, we can get into all that any old night at any old bar in town. It’s been known to happen often enough that I sometimes worry Katie herself is going to bump into the crowd of us critics someday.

I was willing to write off my sharp criticisms of her column as writer’s envy or personal taste until I read this one. The one where she calls “that leprechaun shit” “blackface.”

That is the exact moment I realized why I couldn’t stand reading her columns. Why it was more than her nonchalant uses of terms like “Jaysus” and “singsongy Cork accent.”

You can’t spend a few months – or hell, even a few years – in a country and then pretend to speak for it. It’s cultural imperialism at its worst and dimwitted naivete at its best.
I say this having lived in Ireland for six months and probably having made a lot of generalizations myself. I know what an enthralling place it is, and how it can seem like a storybook entity unto itself. Like real life continues somewhere else – but only outside the confines of this moss-covered bubble. But at least I wasn’t so-called enchantment-addled enough to think it was a good idea to publish my starry eyed musings for an entire city to read.

My point is this – Katie’s columns amount to nothing more than the same journals I collected while studying abroad. The same journals a million other students every year collect while studying in places from Galway to Moscow. And I wish that PW ‘s willingness to run a column examining the ex-pat life of a mid-twenty-something extended to its willingness to really examine the issues attendant with that life decision. There is so much to be said about living abroad. Much to be said about the climate in Europe as it relates to the United States. Much to be said about the new ways you think about your home when you’re living on foreign soil. So very much to be said that is being wasted on column inches outlining the same Irish affectations that anyone could glean from a one-night viewing of The Quiet Man.

But let’s get back to her comparing leprechauns to blackface. A ridiculous assertion, to be sure. What truly astounds, though, is her ignorance to the fact that her own column is nothing more than an extension of that same “leprechaun” culture. Faking the jocular Irish lilt in your writing voice is the newsprint equivalent to drinking green beer and eating at Bennigan’s. Yes, there’s a time and place for both, but as a journalist? Really?

For someone so obviously trying to assimilate into Irish culture, she’s taking herself awfully seriously. And anyone who has spent so much as a weekend in Ireland knows that’s hardly appropriate.

Look. “Irish potatoes” (you know, the coconut-confectioner’s sugar-cinnamon balls) taste good. Dyed-green carnations are a nice distraction. It’s all just a matter of being honest about it. We all know coconuts aren’t indigenous to Ireland and that the carnations will eventually turn your vaseful of water green. It’s nothing new. It’s nothing worth – literally – writing home about.
So, confidential to KH – please stop. You’re embarassing yourself, the city of your birth, and the city of your adoption.

If you need a post-script to this admittedly ridiculous screed, be aware that yes, Jamie and I did submit the following to City Paper’s “I Love You, I Hate You” section:

I Love You, I Hate the Dubliner
Stop writing this tripe as if everyone in Philadelphia were required to readentries from your hackneyed, self-indulgent fifth-grade diary. It’s likewatching “Far and Away” as if it were some sort of socio-anthropologicalresearch project. I don’t want you to casually drop any more of the forcedIrishisms you’ve adopted. Your mom is the only one who thinks your life-altering experience in Ireland makes you special. Your little-girl-lost, Ally McBeal writing style makes my skin crawl. It’s like getting a prostate exam with an emory board. I hope you get a hoof-and-mouth disease.

Sugar and spice, and everything nice,
Shan

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