Friday, 18 November 2011


Symbols matter. Concrete matters attach to them. 

Jimmy Saville, former DJ, TV presenter, marathon runner and charity fund-raiser, is buried -  fixed in earth, not concrete -  at a forty five degree angle. As a symbol of his eccentricity, it is consistent and whimsical. 

Instead of presenting TV shows today, he would be on them, exploited as a freak, by the ubiquitously laddish Ant and Dec. They are currently in a highly stage-managed jungle, itself a symbol of the lengths popular culture owners will go to as they exploit the good. And thereby wreck it.

Alan Titley asks 'an bhfaca tú riamh billiún?', which translates to English as 'did you ever see a billion?' A billion is a symbol. A mathematical symbol, 1, 000, 000, 000. Or 1, 000, 000, 000, 000. It depends on whether you use the short or the long system of numbers. 

The jingoistic rows that erupt around this numbering are themselves symbols of unresolved historical, linguistic and cultural tensions. 

A billion is a huge number, in any system, especially stacked in Euros, and Titley's question is relevant in Ireland today as billions of them are handed over to nameless bondholders.

A million is another number, another symbol. The concrete reality behind the announcement that 1, 000, 000 young people are unemployed in the United Kingdom is evident in the destitute lives and broken dreams of each and every one of the young people the symbol represents. 

Will the symbolic act by the Arab League in shutting Syria out represent an improvement in the lives of people bearing the brunt of the repression by the state? 

The city of Homs (34 degrees North, 36 degrees East;, where much of the violence has been delivered, is itself a symbol. Of dissent and resistance to the al-Assad family oligarchy. 

In concrete terms, this means death and devastation. There are claims that security forces have killed more than 1,100 civilians in the city and its surrounding province since the uprising began. Syria gears up to endure a full-scale civil war.

Not quite civil war, but the threat by the First Minster of Northern Ireland to bring down the government if a symbol – the crown  - is taken off the cap badge of prison officers, certainly provoked political disquiet, in the same week that the power-sharing executive presented its long-awaited programme for government, itself a symbol of possible better futures. Citizens do not expect quick fixes in the fields of jobs, health and education.

With Jimmy dead and gone, propped at 45 degrees to overlook the sea, who will fix us? Not Ant and Dec, who will change their names to Pant and Feic to present their new show Strictly Come, Celebrities: Z Factor: No Talent. 

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, advocates a symbolic gesture as a curative response to abuse in football matches. A handshake is patently not sufficient in the face of the concrete reality of racism. But it may be sufficient to unseat Blatter and set him up for the golden version. 

Jim'll sign off with his closing gesture, an eccentric symbol of dated TV innocence. At least he aimed to fix, not wreck.

...... kindly look after yourselves very very safely and don't let anything happen to you untoward at all.....

Crobhinge; column; Alan Titley; The Irish Times; 17.11.2011
Jim'll fix it; BBC TV; Jimmy Saville; You Tube; various

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