The Riordans

by Henry Farrell on July 26, 2008

“Tyler Cowen”: evidently doesn’t realize that he’s touched upon a significant cultural phenomenon when he praises Biddy White Lennon’s “Irish Food and Cooking,” co-written with Georgina Campbell, and remarks that BWL has “a great name to write a book like this, no?” Biddy White Lennon was one of the mainstays of Irish rural soap opera, _The Riordans_, which did as much as anything to help shepherd Ireland into modernity. The “Wikipedia entry”: on _The Riordans_ is a gem, providing a really nice encapsulated history of the show and its relationship to social debates in Ireland.

The Riordans tackled many ‘conservative versus liberal’ issues from its very start. Its start coincided with the coming into force of the Succession Act which for the first time granted to the wife of a farmer an automatic right of succession to the family farm, so removing the danger that after her husband’s death she could be left with nothing, with the property being willed to a total stranger. The issue was at the time controversial; banks until the 1970s would not allow a wife to open a bank account except with the approval of her husband. Conservatives suggested that the new Act, which had been pushed through in the face of opposition by then Minister for Justice Charles Haughey, would undermine the traditional family and lead to the sale of a farm owned by a family, were a farmer’s marriage to break up. Liberals argued that the reform was one of social justice and a long-overdue recognition of the rights of farmers’ wives. …

The show also focused on a range of farming issues, from the promotion of new farm technology to safety on farms. (In the 1970s Tom and Benjy featured in a television advertisement urging farmers to have metal framed cabs put onto their tractors to protect themselves from serious injury should the vehicle overturn.)

Other issues were also raised, such as illegitimacy, poverty, the problems of old age, marriage break-up, sexual activity, the dramatic changes in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church, and most famously contraception, when it was revealed that Benjy’s wife, Maggie, for medical reasons could not risk having a second pregnancy. The decision of the couple to use contraception (the Pill) caused considerable controversy and criticism from “family values” organisations and some in the Catholic Church. The show was on many issues both praised and criticised in the national media and even in Dáil Éireann while civil servants in the mid 1960s criticised the image portrayed of a ‘farm advisor’ sent out to advise farmers on new advances in farming but who in the series was seen drinking in the pub and gossiping.

Of course, as was the usual course with good Irish shows which touched on social and political controversies (see e.g. _Scrap Saturday_, _Nighthawks_), the show was axed without warning.

I’ve a particular fondness for Biddy White Lennon’s cooking books (although I haven’t seen this one, which Tyler describes as a ‘revelation’), being a graduate of _Biddy White Lennon’s Leaving Home Cookbook_, a volume which I received when I first went to college and couldn’t fry a rasher to save my life, and which contained recipes for such then-exotic foodstuffs as pita bread.

Back to the Futura

by John Holbo on July 26, 2008

So, about that Obama-in-Berlin poster.

No, I’m not going to make fun of the small handful of right-wing blogs that got fake-alarmist about it, hinting that it kinda sorta looked Fascist. My question is related, however. Being a sensible and knowledgeable sort of person, as opposed to some sort of crazed wingnut, when I look at the poster I see not Fascist art but an homage to German modernist styles of the 1910’s and 20’s. Being the sort of person who futzes with fonts, I also see an example of art that would have been actually illegal under the Nazis. Quoting from German Modern, by Steven Heller and Louise Fili [amazon]: [click to continue…]