(Click on the image for a better view of our national misery, you voyeuristic bastards.)
This week saw the issuing by An Post, the Irish national postal service, of two stamps by the artist and sculptor Graham Knuttel on the occasion of Ireland's participation in the forthcoming Olympic Games in Beijing.
The one on the right depicts a member of our coxless four rowing crew just before they cross the line to finish fifth in their semi-final, setting a new national record in the process. He wears a scowl, at once born of the essential determination of the Olympian and the defensiveness that he must pre-emptively adopt in order to brace himself for the disappointment felt by the viewers back home. He knows that despite the thousands of hours of toil he and his team-mates have endured in the last four years, with meagre resources and nominal support from the Exchequer, all the while holding down full-time employment or education, and competing against professionals who have practically infinite wherewithal to allow them to spend as much time as they want in physical, mental and technical preparation, the people of Ireland will wonder why the crew failed to even make the final, let alone win a medal. The national airwaves will be ablaze with phone-in shows dedicated to discussing whether we should be wasting any tax-payers' money on such a bunch of losers. He will not go to London in 2012.
In the background is a decaying tree in a lush, green field. This stands for the withering of the rower's dreams in the midst of the grand celebration of human vitality that is the Olympic Games. The field also symbolises Ireland, with the tree as the Irish soul which, in these post-Celtic Tiger days, knows the price of everything.
The second stamp is similarly detailed in commentary. The first thing to note is that the female shot-putter is looking towards the top-right hand corner of the stamp, as if in disbelief at the price (82c for a stamp?!). Secondly, she is practising at home in Ireland. This is because she has failed to qualify for the Games; in fact, no Irish shot-putter did. The nation shrugs and turns on the Gaelic football (as symbolised by the Macgillycuddy's Reeks in the background, a mountain range in Kerry, Ireland's foremost Gaelic football county). The image is ambiguous: is she in training for an attempt to reach the next Olympics, or has the lack of recognition for her almost Stakhavonite devotion to her discipline driven her to bash herself over the head with her own shot?