Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

David McWilliams = The Paddy David Brooks???

I wasn’t going to bother with McWilliams’s new book “The Pope’s Children” until a friend of mine suggested that his ideas were very similar to David Brook’s analysis of Bobos In Paradise.
I read Brooks a few years ago and didn’t really remember much of the comic sociologist in detail until I started reading the Dubliner economist, lecturer and broadcaster extraordinaire (as he modestly described himself on the dust jacket)
The first few chapters are full of gushing statistics – we drink more, have more sex, work more, earn more, pay more, buy more cat food than anyone else. I felt vaguely breathless after reading it.
McWilliams point about the Commentariat (the meeja) not telling the good news stories of our economic success is reflected in the seemingly paradoxical high ratings we give our lives rings home.
Then McWilliams enters full blown soundbite, down at the pub with the lads having a few scoops mode and starts making up new words.
The Wonderbra effect and Midnight at the Olympia School of Economics rule in McWilliam’s Ireland. Wonderbra pushed us all together and upwards. Midnight at the Olympia was all about McWilliams sitting happily with his warm beer before the fella in front stood up and then David had to stand up too. The other fella’s girlfriend got up on his shoulders so McWilliams had to throw his girl up on his shoulders too. Basically it’s the economics of envy – but it’s all blurred.
We get the “Kells Angels” who live in Deckland in the Babybelt and raise their Destiny Child in the Expectocracy. These are the builders of our houses and the Celtic Tiger (which apparently McWilliams didn’t coin – and has waited this long to set that one straight)
We have Damien the DIY enthusiast spotted in Woodies, the tabloid delivery man, the bouncy castle salesman, the Eastern European women who work in Spar and then the cutting edge of Ireland today – the communion lunch in Joel’s on the Naas road. All these species, native to the new housing estates surrounding the M50 were described with 3 or 4 one liners where 1 would have sufficed.
Eventually we get onto the panoply of those who don’t really fit in – the Rural Nostalgists at the Ceifin Conference; the Carrot Juice Contrarians at the Organic Farmers’ market and the Economic Enquirers, all of whom are opposed to Decklanders.
And finally McWilliam’s piece de résistance – the HiCos.
It is here that McWilliams lives – the Hibernian Cosmopolitans. Those Irish people who cherish their Irishness while embracing the international influences that their global trotting lifestyle as economic emigrants and gap year travels brought. They’re professionals who don’t flaunt the wealth that they’ve amassed from the cells in their heads and the letters after their names.
The vulgar Deckland spending on new luxuries, like decks, sun holidays, new porches, kitchen extensions and identically groomed front gardens is anathema to the HiCo whose tasteful appreciation of the joys of the high end necessity marks them a cut above the rest. (As does their music snobbery!)
The HiCos are the Irish version of Bobos – the bourgeois bohemians. They come from the same place and have the same a la carte values – a mix of free spirited hippy and a seriously clued in high end, high spending, high taste consumer.
Like Brooks, McWilliams investigates the seedy underworld of the Irish Times Wedding Announcements (Brooks checked out the NYT and came to the same conclusions) and finds that people from houses that don’t have numbers marry people from houses that don’t have numbers – it’s here that the HiCos reside. Unless you’re an academic and can only afford to do up an old council house.
Let’s be honest, the Decklanders probably make up a tiny proportion of the 35,000 who bought his book in recent weeks – they’re reading the Star, as McWilliams, the intrepid explorer of the world beyond the Red Cow roundabout tells us repeatedly. The HiCos will chortle their way through the books, probably on the look out for those little tell tale signs of Deckland to ensure they’re never actually confused with those sort of people.
I’ll admit that I’m probably a baby HiCo (born 1983) without the gaelscoil fetish – don’t like the oul gaelige but will more than likely have 3 year olds playing the Boys of Bluehill in a family ceili band beside my mega Aga and small truck sized refrigerator.
I missed something from this book – not just the index (why write a factual book if you’re not going to give us at least an index) but the part that was the analysis of how these seemingly disparate groups are interacting and will interact. Not just why the social landscape snapshot taken at Christmas 2006 came about, but where it’s going and what it means politically and socially.
Many have made the argument that while Brooks’ analysis was spot-on for the Clintons and the 90s, 9/11 changed the political scene in the States – it was suddenly more serious and less about culture wars and the welcoming political centre with its comfy Starbucks couches.
McWilliams analysis is similarly time restrictive but without the thoughtful depth of Brooks.
I put down the book feeling bereft of an index and a bottom line. I like my books to have at least 1 bottom line. Anyone who has been walking around Ireland for the last few years with their eyes open (and 3 researchers and all the Big Bite crew) could probably have written this book. McWilliams describes us with a breezy and bright style that satisfies as you wait for the punch line but then kinda fizzles out into the night.
McWilliams said he wants to write the book entitled “…”  (couldn’t find the page again because there was no index – something to do with property) but perhaps he should start with the “Pope’s Children – Now That You Know Who They Are, Let’s Try and Understand Them”.


Blogger Pampooties said...

Great review Auds.
I was going to buy this last week, but while I admire Macca and really miss his morning slot on Newstalk, I find his pathological neology cloying and sometimes embarrassing

December 22, 2005 2:21 p.m.  
Anonymous Sinéad said...

Really enjoyed that review, Auds. I saw him being interviewed about it on The Late Late and it was one indistinguishable blob of soundbites & acronyms. I couldn't keep up with him.

December 22, 2005 5:58 p.m.  
Anonymous that girl said...

Yea - I totally agree with your review of the book, the cliché manufacturing drove me demented!

December 27, 2005 12:43 p.m.  

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