Luke Clancy, ’Get Rich or Die Tryin’: Why rap stars can’t spell and property developers don’t need to’, in Alabama Chrome, ed. John Hutchinson, et al. (Dublin : Douglas Hyde Gallery 2006).

’Why rap stars can’t spell and property developers don’t need to.’ ’50 Cent is a rap star from Queens, New York. [.] Jim Sheridan is from Sherriff Street, Dublin. He spent his formative years making theatre in Dublin, before exploiting his talents for dramatic storytelling by becoming a film director. Despite directing In the Name of the Father, he does not regularly wear a bullet-proof jacket.

In 2005, Jim Sheridan directed the film, Get Rich or Die Tryin’ (its title borrowed from the rapper’s 2003 album) a "fictionalized" 50 Cent biopic in which the rap star played himself.

It is somebody else’s business to examine why a black director was not chosen for the film. But the climate that made an Irish director acceptable for the job seems worth sampling. This is a climate in which it is assumed, perhaps, that Irish experience and Black American experience are so closely analogous as to be interchangeable. [1] The assumption seems almost Marxist, in one sense: for the choice allows that underclass experience (as endured by Irish immigrants in the United States, at least some generations ago) is a better indication of solidarity than race or nationality. In another sense, however, it would not be a strain to argue that there is a certain inherent racial - and indeed social - prejudice in assuming any connection whatsoever.

In either case, the existence of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ makes clear that "Irish" in some useful sense can be marketed as "authentically" disenfranchised, as the manoeuvre successfully heads off at the pass any suggestion that a film supposedly dealing with black, ghetto experience (once more, somebody else will have to examine the implication of another film that chronicles American black experience as synonymous with criminality) should he directed by a middle-aged white male. What is most remarkable here is that in 2006 Irish identity - that marketed part of it at least - somehow manages at once to be completely in the thrall of the industrialised cultural production (cf. not just Sheridan, but also Bono and U2) while at the same time maintaining the status of rugged outsider burdened with the right to speak about marginalisation, something that has proved elusive for, for example, Spike Lee.

Back home in Ireland, however, the negotiation between "authentic"/traditional experience and the desire to partake in an internationalised market - and its fruits - is much less delicately nuanced. [.]

When seen as part of US culture, a double status is permitted for Irishness, but locally the emergence of new characters and newplayas that do not rely on traditional stereotypes has tended to obliterate the more comfortable cultural forms. (Unless they are being resold into the Irish market via US cultural exports.) All the same, in the title of the Sheridan/50 Cent movie, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, comes the toilet-door heroic cry of a new Ireland [2] a country rapidly emulsifying into globalised suburbanity. [.]

Like Clancy, Get Rich or Die Tryin: Why rap stars can’t spell and property developers don’t need to.’ (Alabama Chrome [DHGallery 2006]: ’Irish writer and director, Gerry Stembridge in the process of directing Nicholas Kelly’s would-be clarion call of the new Ireland, The Grown Ups at the National Theatre, spoke of the play’s attempt to chart a ’Dionysian transformation’ in Dublin. [3] But is it the city itself that is taking pleasure from its own reformation, or we, the population, that are being transformed, all we citizen hod-carriers, water-hearers, baristas, bastards, taxi drivers, property developers, turning into that creature?

* * *

There is a viewing on Park Avenue, out by the bay road, past the Strand at Sandymount.

Besides being on the route of Stephen Dedalus as he walks to work on a summer’s morning, Sandymount is an area that has seen explosive growth in the value of property, with the often modest houses of the former Brickfields Town (the area’s earlier name, when it was indeed a centre of production for building materials) becoming trophy properties. With such pressures, longstanding residents were destabilised, elbowed out. 7hose residents included the three Mulrooney sisters and their aunt. Their improvised family unit had operated as a small religious community in Sandymount for twenty years, before its members were evicted from their home in 1998. The sisters and their aunt decamped to a new home, an estate on the Western fringes of the city called Cyber Plains.’ The houses of Cyber Plains were built to accommodate the workers of the nearby Intel and Hewlett Packard plants, a part explanation for the incongruous, piously utopian nomenclature, which name in turn seemed to offer a glowing signal of the nexus of ignorance and opportunity that was Ireland at the time. The name has since been changed to the more suitably neo-Celtic Rinawade’. But not before the sisters and their aunt embarked on a long, torturous suicide pact which saw them all, over the course of nearly two months, starve to death. Letters retrieved from the scene later, revealed the women’s belief that through a process of emaciation, they would shrug off their bodies 9ike overcoats,” and relocate once more to a “Higher Realm”.

The Mulrooney’s Sandymount house was sold as what has become known as “the boom” was in full cry. But the trade has not abated.

Today another house is for sale, an immense semi-detached finished in the red brick the newspapers’ property sections tell us is the most sought after. Grandma and Grandpa have decided that as granny and granddad, they are folksy and antique and hardly deserving of so much space. Their lives are locked up in these bricks: worry, anguish, office dinners, desire, small talk, minor slights ignored in the interest of incremental advancement, infighting, strategies, silences, politics, nannies, expulsions, remedial education, commuting, failed punts, exhaustion, superfluity. Now, the savings schemes, the accountants, the brokers and agents have revealed a final truth. All that struggle, the vaguely automatic carrying on, can now he distilled, transformed into moolah.

To spend on? Well, not to worry. That is something that they can, as usual, consider later. Right now - and when the agents say light now they mean at this exact moment, for any delay could see the balance slipping in some other direction, could see the descent of that price correction that floats free and ominous like the Angel of Death over the city - here in Sandymount it is time to pay homage to the ineluctable modality of the Visa bill: time to get the thing on the market.

The estate agents have brought their own doormat: a rubber-back rectangle bearing the company’s insignia. No animals or other heraldic devices, just bold san serif lettering. Its assertive functionality somewhat marred by its very existence. The estate agent’s doormat: the barber’s pole of a new century, the symbol of a bloodletting: the siphoning off of ten percents across the city map. White characters on a blood red ground. The rest of the doormat is white, and though it is hardly a snowy at this stage, the intent - a white doormat, the entrance to wantoness unimaginable - is clear. An agent is posted just inside the door, a sheaf of brochures resting against her belly. Somebody has considered the possibility that she might be stationed outside the door, obviously, and decided that this position is more likely to appear inviting. One of her wares can be yours for the price of an address and phone number. She is a woman is her fifties, rather than one the younger women chosen to attend smaller houses, those little places where every room has an en suite, the easier to suggest the property might suit a group of three professionals in their late (but reasonably successful) twenties. Here, this woman’s role must he as surrogate for the owners, the older generation who are handing on the keys to the prime property, as they beat their retreat to a bungalow, in a nice spot, not far from Luz de Tavira.

The house, of course, isn’t everything it should be. Déceor from the early eighties is not entirely disguised by the potted shrubs the agents have brought, Vivaldi churning away on the ghetto blaster in the kitchen scarcely distracts from the fact that even after every surface has been made to gleam, there is still something unlovely to the place. A bottle of Lynch-Bages [4] from a poor year has been placed in an unnaturally prominent position.

Besides the odd mother/daughter team, it’s modular families here, surprisingly traditional man-woman-two-kids scenarios, rather than the progressive single parent units of the ads. Presumably, the Moms bravely raising their little emperors on beans, air freshener and multipurpose wipes still aren’t getting those five million euro loans. Everyone pulls a smile as they pass others moving about the house. We are all sure enough of everyone’s consequence to bother with amiability. There’s a flurry near the porch where are portly man of Middle Eastern appearance and his wife - with vigilant eyes behind spangled amber glasses - has arrived. The agents - there are five people wearing estate agents badges at various stationsaround the house, with some floaters roaming the garden - move towards him. They’ve come from all sides, as though even by the upstairs bathroom (lime suite from the year dot, floppy-curtained shower) they had felt a stirring in the force. Their leader is bolder, floating down the steps with a hand extended in front of him like a five-fingered erection. The portly man strokes it, with (low wattage smile, sans eye contact) as he moves on past and into the house.

“I’ll have a chat with you inside in a minute,” says the agent leader amiably to the great expanse of black leather draped back. Departing viewers are treated to the site of an ’06 registered Mercedes CLS, a black model with a crushed, intensely coupd form, jammed into the gateway, it’s tyres caressing the path in post-coital languor. I park where I want.

This scene, you can presume, is being played (more or less, give or take some degrees of civility depending on the asking price) all over the city this sunny Saturday. Dublin is moving out.

The transformations of the city are in property, but also in the way we are asked to hold the demolished and the decommissioned in our minds as we behold the new. As we walk we can perform our own mental time lapse, allowinga succession ofviewsto impose themselves on each other, animating architectural time, watching a protean urban space transform repeatedly until the newest elements seem like the most logical, inescapable consequence of a past which is still moving at the edges of our peripheral vision.

Behind every hording is a hole. An abysmal mudpit lined with a grid of iron mesh: the piazza of the necropolis. Before a building rises, first its negative must be unbuilt into the ground. An anti-building dug into the history mud. Down there, in a place only ever glimpsed through a chink in the hording that, under temporary halide beams the ceremonials are repeated nightly. A scraping of the land, the ritual insertion of steel buttressing for the concrete to come. All this has to happen before any building - pine-fronted, balcony skinned block of dwelling, verdigris glassed curved corner plotted office complex - is allowed to begin its climb to the surface. The efforts of the regiments of priests in surplice of Carhartt workwear and mitre of yellow plastic helmet, chasuble of high visibility lime are all directed to a transubstantiation of a new kind. A transformation that we now find more credible, more deserving of our faith: the conversion of money into work, work into architecture, architecture back into money: a new Eucharist, a new ecology.

Recently, the state broadcaster, RTÉ, commissioned a series of station identifications for its premier television channel. These tiny fragments are designed to bookend the shows, to provide some buffer between the work of the programme makers and the work of the advertising agencies. The theme for the set is, of course, transformation. In one, the curricles of the ancient astrologically-aligned structures at New Grange are cleverly transformed into a modestly more modern view of Dunsink Observatory. Throughout the series the old is digitally morphed into the new to provide a televisual equivalent of the metronome of transformations that fill the streets of Ireland. The sense of so many transformations of preboom visual touchstones into their updated counterparts provides the intended payoff here. But so much was attention clearly centred on that visual rush that at least one of the images seemed to arrive on the nation’s screens largely under-interrogated. On one promo clip of O’Connell Street, the time machine stokes up in its traditional manner, and a hundred years pass in a handful of seconds. An ancient tram blossoms into a Luas in the foreground. But in the background something odd is happening. The Nelson Monument, a British gift to the occupied nation, a pillar on top of which the Admiral sat until a day in 1966 when a bomb unseated him, was transforming, swelling and rising into the tumescent shape of The Millennium Spire, the form that replaced the traditional fluted pillar and a brave hero. Yes, Dublin has a hard on.

In 2005, The Irish Times, the newspaper which was once considered the newspaper of record (when the notion that keeping-records was something that could be trusted tojournalists) commissioned a series of advertisements in various media intended, presumably, to give the a new spin to a paper that has a long history of sympathy with the Angto-Irish ascendancy. Ibis was newspaper after all (though it is rather hard to believe it now) that was controlled by someone called The Major, and is now overseen by someone known asThe Major’s Daughter. Clearly, a rethink was needed. A shift that would push the musty old journal back at least into the peripheral vision of the generation that commentator David McWilliams has called ’The Pope’s Children’ - those born in the early 1980s.

What the newspaper decided was the way most likely to approach these people - young, affluent new Irelanders in their mid-twenties - provides an instructive vision of what Ireland’s ruling élite felt about its offspring. The material was created in a style that presumably was pitched as neo-punk, that brand of American -restyling of the 1970s movement, which stripped away political content, leaving only jaggedness in guitar and hair styles in place. Jamie Reid was perhaps the first to bring this cut up, fanzine aesthetic into the mass market with his cover for the Sex Pistols’ “Never Mind the Boilocks“. This style was then used to create text-lead images (of cut-out newspaper letters) whose slogans contained an element of confrontation and shock-value, but were apparently far more intoxicated by their double-coding.

“Is celebrity a career choice?”
“Are you working for the babysitter?”
“Do you consider your credit limit as a target?” [5]

Was the implied answer to all of that “then you’ll love The Irish Times”?

All encouraged us to wallow. To wallow in our time poverty, to wallow in our information poverty, to wallow in our poverty poverty. Because, at the heart of the spendomania, we (naturally enough) still didn’t have quite enough money. But what is interesting is how entirely free of distinctively Irish imagery or suggestion all the advertisements are. The newspaper had made rather misguided previous attempts to position itself with a series of ’greatest living Irishperson’advertisements - taking in figures presumably considered worthy of emulation, from mathematical prodigy, Sara Flannery, to boyband impresario, Louis Walsh. But that was essentially the sort of thing the newspaper had always done, associating itself with élites within Irish life.

This time they had reached out to the empty-headed disenfranchised. This type of advertising - an approach which we might call conformist transgressive, one which is most often used in the promotion of sweet alcoholic beverages aimed at young sections of the market, often called RTDs - is most interesting because of its tendency to write a character into existence. A combination of this element of self-fulfilling psychological prophesy and what the advertising industry calls “giving permission” leads to a subtle shift.

The strategy works best, of course, if the advertisement is pushing against an open door, or at least one that is slightly ajar.

Footnotes
1. Roddy Doyle has, indeed, previously made capital from this analogy, likening the experience of Irish people, and more specifically Northside Dubliners to that of Black Americans, in his novel The Commitments. Remarkably durable, meme, that.]

2. During an oration at the funeral of Rosa Parks in Washington, one speaker referenced 50 Cent, the album and the film, pointing that: “Our young people need to be reminded there is more to courage than to get rich or die trying. ..” Controversy around the title in the United States also say billboard posters for the movie being removed from sensitive areas by its producers, Paramount Films. 50 Cent is unique among rap stars in at least one way, having been a vocal supporter of the Bush administration’s reponse to Hurricane Katrina.

3. As it happens, the Dionysian tendency has been clearly visible in Irish theatre for some years now, through plays such as Gany Duggan’s rewoffing of the Tom Murphy trope of a night of excess in Monged, as well as in the dance theatre productions of Michael Keegan-Dolan. Indeed, the very existence of Keegan-Dolan - the creator of works which allow the body equal footing with the text on the stage - as one of Ireland’s most prominent theatre artists, indicates a broader Dionysian transformation.

4. Wine from the Hiberno-French founded chateau of Lynch-Bages became something of a talisman for Ireland’s new wealthy, the sturdy cultural heritage of 1he Wine Geese (the Irish who moved to France in the 18th Century and entered the wine business, creating wine such as Lynch-Bages, Chateau Talbot etc) offering an emotive and captivating strategy for the future.

5. Another poster in the series featured a character presumably intended to po” an anti-globalisation protester holding a placard reading “Replace Capitalism with Something Nicer” above whom (in more newspaper cut-out headlining) appears the phrase “Any Suggestions?” The subtext here - that there is no alternative to the hegemony of global capital - represents perhaps the newspaper’s most overt, most archly metropolitan, attempt to fulfil a role in stifling dissent.

 

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