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This evening I turned on BBC1 to see some famous comedian explain that Christmas is awful because being in a room with one’s family is horrible. I am sure that once – many many moons ago – such an insight was fresh and amusing. Today, it is tired cliche, regurgitated hundreds of times every december. In between this affected cynicism and, on the other hand, the polished overly chirpy vision of Christmas that dominates our screens, stands Shane McGowan’s brilliant take on the annual festivities.
Nothing quite captures the spirit of Christmas, in all of its shit and beauty, like this great work. But what has really caught my attention this year is the way in which McGowan represents life in the bustling New York. McGowan has always been interested in the experiences of Irish emigrant communities in New York and London. And this story - of broken dreams and, just about unbroken spirits – undoubtedly reflects the experiences of many who reside in the metropolis.
How much richer it is than this years big song about New York. I refer of course to that awful, self-congratulatory, American Dream-regurgitating, lump of turd that has been served up to us by Alicia Keys and Jay-Z.
New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of
There’s nothin’ you can’t do
Now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you
Let’s hear it for New York, New York,
Bla blaaaaaa bla
bla bla bla bla
(Honestly, if Alicia is going to sing this shit, then she should at least stop invoking the spirit of Huey P. Newton in interviews)
Representations of metropolitan life increasingly fall into two categories. On the one hand, we are invited to Marvel at the glitz enjoyed by a handful. See for example Sex and the City/New York minus the black people. On the other hand there is urban poverty porn. Now that cinematic realism has become a grotesque caricature of itself, we are invited to ponder on how grim and awful everything is.
By contrast, McGowan tells us about people who have a bit of agency – agency, that is, that means more than the capacity to make it to the front of the rat race. It is for those who fight to realise a bit of their humanity, who dare to make promises that will probably be crushed, and who struggle keep alive those bonds that are, of course, frayed and contorted by life’s bitter winds.
So let’s raise a glass to the old drunk punk, and wish each other a happy Christmas.
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