Thursday, September 10, 2009

It was pure mule (the bad one)

When I was asked to give the culchie take on Pure Mule in Tuesday's Evening Herald, I mostly focused on the original series. I thought the two-parter on Sunday and Monday night last on RTE was not very good at all. Too kitchen-sink drama, it dragged and moaned its way to a pretty obvious conclusion.
But I did love the six-parter that aired a few years ago, and so did most country folk I know. Watching the All-Ireland hurling final in a Co Limerick pub on Sunday, I heard the following from the lads at the bar when a promo for Pure Mule: The Last Weekend came on during half-time: "Jaysus, is that back? That's a great show. I'd better be back home for that after the News."
There you go. So highly regarded by countrymen, they'll put a premature end to a feed of pints on All-Ireland Sunday to watch it.

Here's the verdict...

Pure Mule:
Viewers either like ir or loathed it. Is this latest example of an Urban/Rural divide? Yes, says Susan Daly
Tuesday September 08 2009

IT says a lot that the phrase that gives its name to the RTE drama Pure Mule can describe either of two very different scenarios.

Down in the country, 'pure mule' can mean something outstandingly good, as in: "O'Donoghue's bar was hopping and then we got the lock-in and I scored with the young McCarthy one -- sure, the night was pure mule!"

Or it can mean you had a woeful time, as in: "I had a bad pint and got into a scrap with the big fella of the Heffernans, then I was sick on my shirt and had to walk home in the sodding rain -- it was pure mule."

It all depends on the intonation.

Whether or not you like Pure Mule -- the programme -- similarly depends on how you take it up. I have noticed that my friends who are not of rural origin don't take it well at all.

They are concerned that it condescends culchies like myself, with its portrayal of small-town isolation and frustration exploding in a grim-faced orgy of Drink! Girls! Feck! Die miserable, but get lashed out of it on the way there.

I take the show as it is meant by its creators (culchies themselves): a largely truthful depiction of a significant portion of young rural Ireland, highlighted somewhat for dramatic effect.

While I have issues with Pure Mule: The Last Weekend, the two-part sequel to the 2005 series which concluded last night, they are mainly to do with pacing and the excessive use of 'Jaysiz' as an adjective. Scobie doesn't want to sell his 'jaysiz' car, he's off to 'jaysiz' Australia and he'll be down the 'jaysiz' pub if anyone's looking for him. For Jaysiz' sake.

By focusing on the dysfunctional relationship of Jen and Scobie -- two of the more excessive characters in the original series -- it was in danger of veering into kitchen-sink drama.

But the depiction of rural Ireland remains honest in its bones.

The reckless hedonism fuelled by easy cash as depicted in the booming climate of the original series has given way, as in real life, to boarded-up business ventures and half-finished estates.

Even the most cursory blindfolded drive through the country will show you that much.

Characters like Scobie are everywhere; the big-mouthed gunslinger in a one-horse town who wakes up one day to find he is, at once, too old and too immature to do anything else with his life. We all know people who become caricatures of themselves.

I never understood the shock that abounded from city cousins when Pure Mule showcased young country folk engaged in formidable language, drug use, violence, sex and a haze of booze.

Not all of us in the country lived like that, but some did.

It is condescending to presume that recreational drug habits, senseless brutality and alcohol abuse is confined to urban areas. How many rural district judges over the Celtic Tiger years despaired at the Saturday-night list of offences overcrowding their court sittings?

Let's be clear: I'm no fan of most RTE 'yoof' dramas, with the exception of Love Is The Drug which was similar in theme to Pure Mule.

I have never seen anything worse than The Big Bow Wow, ever -- and as that was supposed to depict my life now as an urban-based professional, I should know.

I also know where I came from so believe me when I say that slipping 'yokes' in the pub and bush-drinking in deserted houses is not melodramatic make-believe.

Funnily enough, the week in which Pure Mule returned also featured two more sanctified beacons of rural life: the All- Ireland hurling final and the Tidy Towns awards.

My county was in the final and my native village won the overall Tidy Town award -- and I was proud of both.

But if we accept that rural Ireland is about tradition and community spirit, then we should also accept that it has its dark side too. Anything less is truly patronising.

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