John Waters: life is no picnic for the pious philosophiser

Last night I attended another emigration 'party' for two more friends of mine who are getting the hell out of Dodge and heading for the promised land of Sydney, where a sizeable number of this country's young people already reside. I've lost count of the number of farewells I've bid to friends and acquaintances this year, and indeed to my own brother who headed for Hong Kong. In almost all of these departures, it seemed to me that those leaving this country were doing so in a fit of optimism, not desperation. But what for the poor eejits who stay?

John Waters grabbed a slice of youth culture pie last weekend when he hit the Electric Picnic festival. Writing in his column for the Irish Times, he despaired at the poor lost souls wandering around the site in Stradbally,
Co Laois. "The young Irish at Electric Picnic were in a place where they had been led to believe they might find what they were searching for, but they could not find it. And so they were guzzling soul-poison in the hope of locating it."

Before you run to the nearest bar and shout for two pints of soul-poison and a packet of crisps, it's important to consider Waters' interpretation of young people, and indeed his own morbid summaries of what is essentially something called 'having a good time'. It's rather unfortunate that thousands of people attending a festival over the weekend had to suffer the projections of a man who sounds far more lost than any of them.

Waters' polemic seemed to stem from observations that because people younger than him were consuming alcohol and drugs in his midst, they were doing so because they had little else to consume in life. That's rubbish of course. Just because there isn't religion at a music bash (save for perhaps, the Dublin Gospel Choir on the main stage on Sunday morning) doesn't mean there's nothing to be enjoyed. Waters laments that those who were having fun at the festival, who were using a weekend in a field as an escape from the pessimism that hangs dense in the air, are somehow losing out on the greater meaning in this universe. As if a bunch of kids running from tent to tent to catch decent tunes and have a few beers in the process are some sort of empty vessels starved of meaning in life.

Personally, I'd rather be a godless hedonist than a god-riddled ascetic. There is generally lots of meaning at festivals: the music itself, dancing, random encounters, meeting up with old friends, sharing a laugh, letting one's hair down. Perhaps Waters would have been more suited keening outside the inflatable church at the other end of the festival and scorning those comely maidens who chose to dance past his confusing mental crossroads of muddled pious philosophising.

The commentariat make a living out of cannibalising youth culture and its trimmings and then complain that they are suffering from indigestion. Generation after generation give out about a spiritual deficit in those younger than them. But perhaps this is the first Irish generation who have purposely opted out of tormenting themselves by searching for some unattainable greater meaning and who have chosen instead just to live.

Religion and spirituality are crutches which many younger people have dispensed with in order to stand on their own two feet. The Archdiocese of Dublin used to deal with a few defections from the Catholic church a year. Now there are so many, the church has to come up with inventive administrative ways to make it seem as though it is stemming the tide.

As for spirituality, what of it? There is not much evidence of spirituality in the generation that makes up the establishment of this country. A generation of dishonest bankers, greedy developers and corrupt politicians. A generation that completely overstretched themselves, who spent recklessly, who applauded consumerism, who told their kids to take out giant mortgages and to study commerce, who bought second properties and pretended to be landlords, and who elected a series of inept governments.

This younger generation, who according to Waters are in the midst of a spiritual famine, are also attempting to forge a creative boom out of nothingness, and to reinvent community out of disaffection. Those in their teens, 20s and early 30s are bearing the brunt of this economic crisis through a combination of zero employment, emigration and negative equity, yet they are simultaneously the most active in attempting to restructure a country into one whose sole goal isn't profit-making.

Thousands have left. Those who stay, they should be allowed have a good time without being told that their lives are empty. If John Waters feels lost or disconnected from this new reality, then it's because this isn't his country anymore. That Ireland is dead and gone. Thank God, or whoever.