I cannot for the life of me understand why people insist on bitching and moaning about Arthur’s Day. Many condemn it as crass, a hollow marketing ploy to trick us into buying Guinness. It is, but let’s stall the digger and examine that complaint.
We’ve been given, through no effort of our own, a day of free concerts and quality beer at a reduced price (if you go to the right places), all to be experienced amid an atmosphere of celebration, regardless of how contrived the reason for celebration is.
We are actively encouraged to start drinking early so that we get maximum pleasure at 17.59, when the day justifies itself by having all participants saying Arthur Guinness’ name aloud so we remember why we’re drunk so early of a Thursday.
What exactly is the issue? It would appear that many have a problem with Diageo, or at least the idea of Diageo. It’s very clear from the language used by the public that Diageo should be blamed for the day, not Guinness. People have a problem that it’s not an Irish company that’s profiting off what is essentially a piece of Irish performance art that we’re all in on. If Guinness was still owned by the Guinness family would we begrudge them celebrating their ancestor, though it would of course still be just as commercial and exploitative?
So we’re angry at the marketing cynicism. Point taken. But how much are we actually tricked into it? Is there anyone in Ireland who doesn’t know why Diageo came up with Arthur’s Day? People harp on about how it’s blatantly a scam as if no one else knows. They do, and they drink Guinness on Arthur’s Day anyway, but people would rather direct their ire at a corporation than admit that it’s just down to apathy and the fact that if it wasn’t Arthur’s Day people would drink Guinness anyway.
It’s not as if Diageo is only relentlessly ploughing the public with advertisements to drink one day a year. Have they overstepped some invisible line by selling our culture back to us in the name of shameless profiteering? Was all their brazen flogging of drink until now grand? Diageo did not just appear with Arthur’s Day.
The other point is that it’s not just any marketing scam, it’s one that promotes alcohol, the bane of the nation. Are we upset that we now have an excuse to go drinking early in the day midweek, something perhaps deemed unsightly on any other day of the year? Except perhaps New Years, or Christmas Day, or Paddy’s Day. Which leads me to my next point. What difference does it make that Diageo invented a day? All days were invented by someone they just have the veneer of tradition.
Saint Patrick’s Day became a “holy day of obligation” for Catholics in Ireland in the early 1600s, against the historical backdrop of the Plantations. This was a period in Irish history when the Catholic religion was under threat due to the spread of Protestantism that the plantations engendered.
Rising to the challenge, the Church contrived a day, playing on heritage, to promote a subverted product (Roman Catholicism) via culture, something much harder to censor. Our heritage was drawn on to promote something that could no longer be explicitly advertised. Familiar, no?
We think Arthur’s Day is more insidious because it’s selling us alcohol, as if alcohol were the problem and not the rampant capitalism. The hypocrisy generated by Arthur’s Day is akin to that towards the Catholic Church in Ireland. It’s 2013 and we all hate the Church now apparently but most people, even our generation will have Catholic weddings and want their children christened. Maybe we should just make him Saint Arthur and make it official.
So don’t disingenuously bitch about Diageo one day of the year and then drink Guinness, Smithwicks, Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff etc the other 364 days. If you have a problem with drink then don’t drink and argue that point. If you have a problem with the conglomerates claiming culture then don’t drink and, by all means, argue that point. But look at the larger issues or else just sit down, shut up, and drink your pint. Arthur’s Day is, in the grand scheme of things, just a day; a day out of a year in which corporate greed and worryingly high levels of alcohol abuse abound.
The last time I was actually out on Arthur’s Day, the price of Guinness, which had been reduced for the day, went back up at midnight because Arthur’s Day was apparently over. It’s just happy hour basically, or rather it’s the Irish’s excessive answer to happy hour – it’s a happy day. And who, in the omni-shambles of a world we live in, would begrudge ourselves a few more happy days?