Is It Too Soon To Joke About The Famine?
MANY different opinions have been circulating the internet recently on Channel 4’s decision to create a sitcom based on the Irish famine. Many people think it’s tasteless, others don’t see the big deal, and others still see it as a matter of free speech.
So what exactly has caused over 33,000 people to sign their names to a petition to stop the creation of a TV show? The topic sparked controversy when it was revealed that Channel 4 were to develop a ‘black comedy’ that focuses on Ireland during the Great Famine. For anyone who hasn’t brushed up on their Irish history recently, The Great Famine lasted from 1845 to 1851 when Ireland was part of the British Empire, killing about one eighth of the population and prompting millions of people to emigrate.
Cue a social media explosion as people from all walks of life including politicians and historians voiced their outrage. Of course the show has had its supporters too, such as the Rubberbandits and Father Ted co-creator Graham Linehan. The show’s creator, Hugh Travers, is describing it as “Shameless in famine Ireland“. What exactly that means, I’m not sure. It’s currently in the planning stages and rumours suggest that it isn’t even scripted yet. So the question is, do we have the right to be insulted by an idea that hasn’t even come to fruition yet?
Well, many people – including me – think we do. The effects of the Great Famine are still felt in Ireland today, our population never truly recovered with emigration becoming both necessary and popular for generations to come. This time in our history caused such agony and still has a bad effect on relationships between Ireland and England. Of course, we cannot know how this is going to be approached until it is aired (if it is aired) but I cannot imagine a comedy based on this period in history being in any way sensitive to the millions that lost their lives and families in the most agonising way.
Travers believes that “comedy equals tragedy plus time” but no passage of time will make horrors like this funny. Too many people died and too many people disappeared, most never to be heard from again, to make this anything but a horrible tragedy. The Irish are known to have strong roots in their history, with even those scattered to the four corners of the world and some generations that never set foot on the Emerald Isle still knowing of their ancestors’ lives, hardships and victories. The Great Famine is still ‘fresh’ in many people’s minds so to speak and while the memory still lives on in our songs, dramas and music, it does not belong in comedy.
While the defendants of this comedy say it is an issue of free speech, even the Pope himself has said that while freedom of speech and expression are fundamental human rights, there should be limits to offending and ridiculing others.
Photo c/o irishtimes.com