The steady trickle of Irish self-stereotyping

Joep Leerssen

Two items in the British quality Press (Guardian and Observer) about Irish culture, from January 2018 and April 2019.

In one, German-born, Irish-raised Stephanie Preissner, co-writer of the Netflix comedy show Can’t Cope Won’t Cope, combines pop history and feminist denunciations of ingrained misogyny into Irish essentialist self-stereotyping: “It’s said that Irish people are funnier because they’ve developed humour as a coping mechanism for the terrible stuff that’s happened in our past [...] If that’s true, humour is bound to be ingrained in the DNA of Irish women given the horrors we’ve dealt with.”

In the other, the actress Jessie Buckley discerns some inherited poetic genius in her ancestry. As interviewer Barbara Ellen summarizes, “Buckley’s own singer/harpist/art teacher/music therapist mother has always been creative, as have all the family. Her father, a barman, writes poetry.” Says Buckley: “I think it’s in the Irish blood to have that musicality, creativeness, or, I don’t know, wildness.”

DNA? Blood? While any sexist gender essentialism would, I presume, be indignantly rejected by interviewers and interviewees alike, they have no inhibitions to fall back on ethnic-essentialist phraseology. Let’s by all means reject any DNA-related or genetically inheritable explanations for the steady, always-persistent Irish tendency towards auto-exoticist posturing. Or the lazy complacency of journalists to hoist these clichés as human-interest signalling flags in their headlines.

Sources: Shipla Ganatra, “Humour is ingrained into our DNA': meet the Irish women making TV's best comedies”, Guardian Friday 26 January 2018; Barbara Ellen, “Interview. Jessie Buckley: ‘It’s in the Irish blood to have that musicality, that wildness’”, Observer Sunday 7 April 2019. 

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