A British network has commissioned a sitcom about the Irish “famine” to be titled “Hungry” written by an Irish halfwit named Hugh Travers. Travers defended his monstrous idea by saying “Ireland has always been good at black humour.” Let’s hazard a guess that such insularity is due partly to privilege (which often makes one stupid) & partly to sucking up to British prejudice to achieve fame. He wouldn’t be the first to sell his paltry soul.
The potato famine in the 19th century (1845-52) was while Ireland was a British colony. It is now recognized as genocide & called that by historians not wedded to idiocy. It killed one million people & forced two million to emigrate. It was not a famine since plenty of other crops were grown beside potatoes. The water mold that attacked the potato crop devastated because it was the cash crop used by peasant farmers to pay their English landlords & (to show the affinities between colonialism & neoliberal plunder) while the Irish suffered starvation & disease, other crops were exported to England & elsewhere–including wheat, oats, barley, butter, eggs, beef, pork.
British landlords evicted starving tenants & whole villages were taken out with cholera & typhus when they ate the rotten potatoes; many resorted to eating grass. People died on the side of the road. We haven’t seen such horrors since the last news report on the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. (Another affinity between colonialism & neoliberal predation.)
Entire families were sent to overcrowded, squalid workhouses which was considered a death sentence. Ships carrying diseased & desperate immigrants became known as “coffin ships” because often over a third of passengers died on the voyage.
Any Irish writer who can find humor in that history has to have their head examined–or has their head stuck so far up the butt of the British elite they can no longer think. And there is that privilege thing again. Travers is playing the Paddy to get laughs from a British public still steeped in hatred of the Irish & likely taught as malformed a view of English colonialism as kids in the US get of Black, Mexican, & Native American history.
What’s most monstrous is that the historic record has not been sufficiently corrected & the terminology of famine replaced with genocide. What is needed is not foul humor at the expense of history but excoriation, including in the form of satire, not sitcom banality. The world doesn’t need more court jesters like Travers; it needs more satirists like Jonathan Swift who wrote “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, & for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick” (1729) satirically suggesting Irish babies be plumped up for the British meat market. The difference between Travers & Swift, between groveling & satire could not be more damning.
(Photo of “Burying the Child” by Lilian Lucy Davidson is provided by Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut)