COLUMN: Stere-O’ Types

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“All this drinking, violence, destruction of property… are these the things that we think of when we think of the Irish?”

—Kent Brockman, from The Simpsons.

Anyone that has shared a drink with me has heard me regurgitate a joke I always found funny but profound.

What’s the difference between an Irish wedding and an Irish funeral? One less drunk.

As I continue my “Tour of Holidays That Make Me Grumpy”, we stop at the most volatile of faux celebrations. Saint Patrick’s Day. Or, as those prone to intentional use of bad diction call it, St. Paddy’s Day.

Ah, yes, that wonderful day when every stereotype that makes Mormons hate drinking–and drinkers–comes to vivid, vomitous reality. A day, at least in Utah, where pretending to be Irish means to not only drink weakened beer to excess, but to do so by the most embarrassingly puerile of rituals—inserting green food dye into yellow beer. That inane act alone gets my Irish up.

How did we get here? When did outlandishly churlish behavior, manifested in the act of binge drinking become a staple every mid-March?

The canonical Patrick was born in Roman Britannia. His first visit to Ireland was as a captured slave. He later return as a bishop. That is what history tells us. Legend provides the rest. In time, he became revered by Irish-Catholics to the point of becoming their patron saint.

And when the Irish came to America in droves throughout the 19th and 20th Centuries, they celebrated the Feast of St. Patrick every March 17th, the day recognized as his birthday.

From there, the metamorphosis was not hard to see. Quite a few of the Irish, especially those of poorer means, have been known to indulge in a libation or two (dozen).  As American society continues its long standing propensity to hijack holidays and rebrand them for capital gain, St. Paddy’s Day became the intellectual property (Irony Alert!) of the slovenly drunk and the unabashedly profane.

Is this fair? Of course not. There are many who proudly claim Irish heritage who are not drinkers. And there are those who use this holiday to remind the world of the overwhelmingly positive contributions that Ireland has made to the world; most prominent among those are in the realms of literature and music.

It is easier to fortify a stereotype than it is to disqualify an assumption. I do it. Four out of 5 funny jokes play on the stereotypes of individuals and groups. At least that is what some Asian kid told me—you know how good they are at math.

I did it again, didn’t I?

As a native Philadelphian, I am acutely aware of the power of negative stereotyping. Being raised by an Italian grandmother in a mostly Italian neighborhood, it was not hard to see the behaviors we exuded being thought of as a novelty to outsiders—a Martin Scorcese movie in full vigor.

And then there are our sports fans. The continued references to Philadelphians booing Santa Claus at an Eagles game over 40 years ago annoys me. Other incidences in recent years of violence and animalistic behavior that have gained national attention upsets me due to the fact that these embarrassments were committed by people from New Jersey and the suburbs, not Philadelphia. The stereotype is seared into the national conscience.

Living in Utah for nine years now, I get it from this end of the spectrum as well. I am plagued with polygamy jokes. People back east feign shock when I tell them that we have paved roads and indoor plumbing here. I myself have quipped that it takes a long time for me to get delivered mail if I am not outside when the guy on the horse rides by my house.

I believe that self-deprecation is a sign of good character. On that point, I must say that most Utah Mormons can take a ribbing as well as any other group. And they usually get their revenge on the world that has fun at their expense by not tipping food servers.

Again? Yeah, I need to wrap this up before I compile too many lawsuits.

In “The Sopranos”—a TV show that paradoxically criticized and emboldened Italian stereotypes—a character described his near-death dream he experienced by stating that Hell was “an Irish bar where it’s St. Patrick’s Day every day, forever.”

Anyone that ventures out to have a drink on or near March 17th knows how fall-off-your-chair hilarious that is.

I will allow those who use this holiday as an excuse to be inebriated sociopaths to keep me inside my house this weekend. They can wear their green plastic hats with caricatures of leprechauns. They can drink artificially colored beer. They can put O’ and Mc before words that don’t need it or readily deserve it. I will not be green with envy.

It is only 52 days until Cinco De Mayo. Mark your calendars.