Another St. Patrick’s Day and a time of year to show off a bit, proclaim your Irish pride, perhaps even get kissed because you are Irish, all year long, or just for the big Irish day.
It’s hard to imagine not feeling a little proud on March 17 when you step outside, to march or otherwise celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. Green, just about any shade, is a nice color to wear any time of year but it seems especially appropriate in March, the month where spring is sprouting, though to varying degrees depending on which part of the country you’re celebrating in.
In big cities, the annual Irish day brings forth a veritable explosion of green, even on asphalt and concrete, indeed especially on those surfaces. Of course, we are talking here about St. Patrick’s Day gear: hats, clothing, accessories and the like.
It would be an interesting exercise to find out just how much the St. Patrick’s season – for that’s what it now is – means to the U.S. economy.
Certainly, on March 17 itself, we are talking about many, many millions of dollars. In the days running up to St. Patrick’s Day, and that effectively means the day after St. Valentine’s Day, stores and websites are replete with offerings, many of them humorous and desirable, some of them not so funny and not so desirable.
This year, the prime exhibit in the latter category has been Urban Outfitters, a company that markets clothing mainly to teenagers. Last year it was Old Navy, and the year before that it was not an outfitter that aroused particular Irish ire but a restaurant chain, Denny’s, which offered free food items celebrating the 150th anniversary of the end of the Great Hunger.
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More often that not, corporations who are called out for marketing items that clearly cause offense to any racial or ethnic group respond by eventually pulling the items.
Nevertheless, and despite the fact that there is uproar just about every year over offensive products offered around St. Patrick’s Day, the causing of offense seems to crop up again and again.
So we have the objections and the angry missives. As is so often the case, the Ancient Order of Hibernians has stepped into the breach and this year has seen fit to call out Urban Outfitters over clothing items linking Irish and Irish Americans not just with alcohol, but with its abuse.
In a letter to the company’s CEO, Richard Hayne, calling for the withdrawal of the offending items from stores and the company’s online site, AOH National President, Seamus Boyle, expressed his “great displeasure” and stated that he had been forced to write and ask that Urban Outfitters immediately remove the “disgusting products” the company has for sale in its stores depicting the Irish as drunks and “defaming the Irish Nation and the Patron Saint of Ireland, St Patrick.”
Strong stuff, but Mr. Boyle might want to keep a copy of his letter close by because it might yet be required for use elsewhere with merely a different address on the top.
Urban Outfitters is not the only offender this year. As reported in this issue, Walmart is also flogging St. Patrick’s season clothing items that draw a straight line between the Irish and not just drink, but outright drunkenness.
Now we all know that no matter what the AOH or anyone else says there is going to be behavior from some in the coming days that will underpin the kind of stereotyping that perversely inspires such unwelcome marketing.
But that’s not the point. Whatever about come and go street vendors, and single-owner point of sale stores, major chains earn their profits by selling a huge range of products. And those profits would survive in the absence of a relative handful of offensive products.
Walmart, for one, offers an especially broad range of items linked to the St. Patrick’s season and most of them are fine. Some are even clever and edgy without being openly insulting.
Perhaps the best St. Patrick’s Day t-shirt has yet to be invented. Wouldn’t it be interesting indeed to see people all dressed in green this month of St. Patrick, some of them even in t-shirts that might proclaim “Don’t kiss me, I work for….”