Raise a Glass, Throw a Fist
Posted by PintofStout on May 10, 2007
This post was started and left unfinished around St. Patrick’s Day for…um…obvious reasons. So When I was revisiting some files I went ahead and finished this. Cheers.
The Saint Patrick’s Day season is upon us and cornballs everywhere are paintin’ body parts green and wearing anything that has a shamrock or clichéd phrase plastered on it. Alcohol could be blamed if they didn’t show up to the party already decked out. The absurdity and coquettishness of the St. Patrick’s Day veneer is an American creation. In my recent memory there has been a cultural boom for everything Irish, and everyone had some ties to the island nation whether it be blood descent or some romantic image of green hills, rainbows, and short, dirty, poor, and yet extremely happy-go-lucky people. The Irish culture has had a powerful influence in the culture in our country from the musical to the political.
As corny as the bulk of this most American of holidays can be, it is still a great time to hear that wonderful music, consume delicious beverages, and throw some fists of rebellion. Ireland’s long history of occupation and oppression has fueled rebellions, which in turn inspired countless songs praising the rebels and scorning the oppressors. At one time, not long ago, it was fashionable to throw a rebellious fist in the air when singing of anything “rising up” or direct references to rebellion; it was done in place of more peaceful clapping. At the same time, references to the IRA (Irish Republican Army) and singing of the nobility of such soldiers – maybe even “passing the hat” – was also seen as bringing yourself closer to the cause. There was little debate about the justice and morality of a continued war – gorilla, though it may be – against the oppressive England. It was, and still is (in that shallow and empty American way), common to defame all things English and to scorn those who had the audacity to wear orange. Patriotism for a distant nation took on the chest puffery of good ol’ American Patriotism and flag-waving.
After September 11, 2001 dissent and revolt became “terrorism,” and support for the IRA – past and present – became taboo as well. During songs of rebellion and fighting for freedom from an occupying country, the fists stopped flying. The very singing of the rebel songs and songs about the IRA made most singers uncomfortable. To translate that into ‘Merican for us, that would be like showing shame at the singing of Yankee Doodle or the Marine Hymn. Even the act of someone else throwing an angry fist made others in the bar squirm. To replace the unruly songs of rebellion in the connection to a distant idea, the songs focusing not on the act of rebellion but the result of revolution were picked up and carried like a banner forward. Songs celebrating nationalism and nationalism on a larger scale (read: Northern Ireland) were now sung to and enthusiastically cheered.
I think I’ve beaten the idea of rebellion vs. revolution to death and obviously find it more intriguing than, perhaps, it deserves, but if when I thrust my (clenched) fist in the air angrily at the thought of rebellion and uprising I want it to be understood (and perhaps spread the excitement) that it is the upheaval I celebrate and not the reestablishing of oppressive structure above those who just cast it off. I have no love for the romance of tying one’s fate to several other temporally dispersed people for the sake of some ambiguous zone of control dubbed a “nation.” The Irish are certainly less dispersed than the United States, but scale just makes the United States’ nationalism that much more absurd while not rendering the Irish nationalism any less so. So what are the nervous celebrators of politically correct Irish culture actually celebrating: more proximate rulers; the small victory of having marginally more choice in who rules; the fact that ‘thank goodness we don’t have to fight for our freedom’ as they sit in designated places where the state approves of their exchange of paper for alcohol during designated hours? It’s easy to be passionate about things with little consequence for the actor, such as a far away struggle that has no bearing either way on one’s life or a football (not soccer) game.
Throwing a fist in the air during a song does nothing to physically bring about rebellion. It does reflect an attitude, though, as does raising a glass. A thrown fist reflects the hostility to rule beyond one’s own body. Raising a glass acknowledges those around you in the community, in the pub, or at your table and lets them know you are a neighbor and a friend. We need more of both of these sentiments; hostility to outside control and the knowledge that you aren’t alone. The culture in America today is one of marginalization; people barely know their neighbors. If one doesn’t know there is support around them, they are less likely to try and shrug off that control. So raise a glass with your neighbors and friends and throw a fist in the spirit of rebellion and independence! Cheers! Here’s to fuckin’ the man!