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Column: The Young and the Angry need to take themselves to task

Lisa McInerney is a fan of The Secret Millionaire reality TV show – but it has alerted her to a section of disillusioned First World youth who won’t take any blame for their actions.

Lisa McInerney

WE ALL HAVE our guilty pleasures, little visits into pop cultural wasteland that we’d rather our friends, family and that delightful dreamboat down the pub didn’t know about. For me, it’s The Secret Millionaire.

An hour-long documentary which occasionally borrows from the emotional propaganda of reality TV, The Secret Millionaire takes one fortunate citizen, gives him or her a new identity, and lets its subject loose in deprived area to identify worthy grassroots charities or individuals to help.

After a brief culture shock, a startling introduction to the considerable challenges faced by small charities, and often a poignant personal assessment of the subject’s own demons, our millionaire hero gives away tens of thousands of his or her own money. Cue very real tears of gratitude and a tug on the audience’s heartstrings so intense, we’re surprised not to hear them snap altogether. Perfect weepy television, and all for numerous good causes.

One of the most recent millionaires was a gentle chap named Bobby Dudani, some of whose businesses were damaged in the recent London riots, costing him hundreds of thousands of pounds. He went undercover in Croydon, the area most affected by the violence, where he donated to three charities that worked with young people – a steel drum band, a boxing club, and a motorcycle club – and also gave a substantial cheque to the community centre that housed two of the charities.

Bobby’s focus was clearly on charities that kept young people engaged in their communities and, consequently, out of trouble. He wasn’t angry about how the riots had affected him. He wanted to help.

“Angry Young Men have cottoned on to the fact that… they’ve now got everyone to blame but themselves”

One young man in particular caught his eye: a boorish, loudmouth yob called Alex who, once the cameras started rolling, openly threatened our philanthropic hero and said that as a business owner, Bobby had only himself to blame for any act of violence that was visited upon him. Alex didn’t have a job because of his criminal record, which was the fault of employers because they insisted on doing background checks and wouldn’t take a chance on him. Alex’s dad left when he was fourteen, so he got kicked out of school. It’s the one per cent, innit?

I’d like to say it was mind-boggling, but it was all too predictable. Angry Young Man is angry. Angry Young Men have cottoned on to the fact that society is searching for the reason we have angry young men, and they’ve now got everyone to blame but themselves.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t complex reasons for disenfranchised, disillusioned First World youth. We know we have such citizens here, too, so this isn’t a UK-centric problem.

Ireland has her share of no-go areas, ‘problem’ communities, and petty criminal carry-on. Young men and women who don’t feel part of their own State, who don’t understand their role or responsibilities, who have no feeling of belonging or obligation to society as a whole – yes, they exist, and no, there’s no simple explanation.

There’s no doubt, too, that providing youth facilities and channelling energy into positive pursuits is hugely important, because we don’t develop socially completely independent of influence. Take a bunch of young people, ignore their needs and give them nothing to do and you’re asking for trouble – you’d be rolling in bonfires and empty cider cans before you could say “Here’s a euro; go buy yourself an ice-cream”.

“Many of our citizens, born into unfortunate circumstances, roll up their sleeves and just get on with bettering themselves”

But there’s a new tinge to disadvantage now, quietly shaped by access to information and the bombardment of advertising and lifestyle envy: entitlement.

Many of our citizens, born into unfortunate circumstances, roll up their sleeves and just get on with bettering themselves. Ireland’s population is in a better position in terms of social mobility than the UK’s; we didn’t even have a middle class until the Celtic Tiger put most un-Peig-like notions of holiday homes and Louboutins in everyone’s head, so our social strata remain relatively fluid. You can be born on a council estate in Leitrim and end up on the Amalfi coast with your supermodel girlfriend; as we say in Ireland, Who’s stopping yeh? Ours may not exactly be the American Dream, but we’re certainly not bound by a caste system, either.

So the ‘disgruntled underclass’ idea seems relatively new here. Characterised by a total lack of understanding how one’s destiny is largely in one’s own hands, and a sense of entitlement so expansive you could shelter an entire crew of intimidating hype-men under it, we now have more than our share of people who think the world owes them both a living and a solid excuse if and when they mess up and get their wrists slapped (or bound, as the case may be).

And while we can all agree that bad behaviour and chest-puffing bravado always comes from somewhere, and that we can’t just assume louts and wastrels will suddenly grow a conscience and become librarians, we can also claim entitlement to the feelings of weary irritation that such Angry Young Excuses provoke in us.

“No, it’s not the rest of the country’s fault”

Yes, it’s terrible that your mam and dad broke up when you were eleven. Yes, it’s completely unfair that you didn’t have any facilities in your community where you could hang out as a teen. No, it’s not the rest of the country’s fault.

Back to our Secret Millionaire. Keen to give Angry Young Alex a second chance and a sense of self-worth, Bobby created a job locally, and arranged to pay Alex’s wages for a year. Alex was momentarily humbled. So he grunted at the cameras, anyway, in between looking sullen and childishly uncomfortable. According to the Croydon Guardian, the job lasted six weeks before Alex was suspended for having a ‘disagreement’ with a colleague. When the paper phoned him for comment, he demanded a grand for his story, and swore and hung up when the paper said they couldn’t pay. No doubt that was everyone else’s fault but his own, too.

‘Society’ isn’t some sort of disconnected construct wafting about the ether over anyone’s head. It’s more than a concept – it’s something we’re all part of. We owe it to each other to look after those less fortunate within our society. And, in turn, we owe it to society not to be spoiled, crooked brats.

Read previous columns on TheJournal.ie by Lisa McInerney>

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Lisa McInerney

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