Oftentimes, when conversations of race take place on social media, they become party to the little recognised phenomenon of American privilege. As the leading superpower of the last half-century, the United States has found ways of infecting the cultures and cultural understandings of other nations which were borne from an entirely different context.
It is understandable that the revelations that Neeson gave to the London Independent last week invoked for many the history of lynchings in the United States, which often occurred with the pretence of defending a white woman’s ‘honour,’ and it is a good thing that those conversations occur: not nearly enough for Americans to recognise the utter barbarism of their very recent ancestors. James Q. Whitman, a Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law at Yale University, published a book in 2017 which highlights the admiration which leading figures of the National Socialist German Workers Party had for the United States; as an economic powerhouse with a system of racial hierarchy embedded into its laws, it was precisely what they would have sought for the German Reich.
The problem with this, in this instance, is that Liam Neeson is not an American: he is an Irishman, specifically a Northern Irishman. Surely if there is any part of the western world that can have a profound understanding of the emotional responses that bring about the futile action of revenge, leading to the most devastating and needless of results, then it will be Northern Ireland. After decades of pub bombings, and eye-for-an-eye killings from Whitecross to Loughinisland, anyone who wants a basic understanding of how anger can spiral out of control and sweep innocent bystanders into a frenzy need not look very far to find it.
The responses to Neeson’s statements have been typical of social media outrages which have happened so often in the last ten years and tend to last little more than a week, before another subject comes along and is deemed worthy of the pillory. There has been little actual analysis of what Neeson said, nor why he was saying it.
While promoting a film which, as so many of Neeson’s film do, centres around the subject of revenge, he used an example from his own life in order to explain his actions, not justify them. This is the key distinction: how a person can come to behave in such a way. It is obvious from reading the transcript of the interview that he is disturbed by his own actions; in his own words ‘when [I] came back down to earth’ he realised the despicable nature of what he was doing.
But it is also important to recognise that there is nothing extraordinary about such a volatile reaction, and one cannot help but think that much of the outrage around it actually comes from an unwillingness to recognise that people can behave in such a manner, which is the prerequisite to actually doing something about it.
Anyone who has been in a similar scenario in which a friend has been the victim of violence, will understand that anger, or perhaps vengeful indignation, is a part of the immediate response; it is also a fact that most men do not know how to deal with their emotions by any means but physical.
This story from Neeson’s life highlights how anger is a natural and immediate response, but is also futile and would have devastating affects if allowed to satisfy itself: surely then the best riposte to such an admission is to take a breath and allow that most immediate and useless of human emotions to be overcome by its far more worthwhile, but difficult to attain, cousins of understanding and empathy.
The Gown has provided respected, quality and independent student journalism from Queen's University, Belfast since its 1955 foundation, by Dr. Richard Herman. Having had an illustrious line of journalists and writers for almost 70 years, that proud history is extremely important to us. The Gown is consistent in its quest to seek and develop the talents of aspiring student writers.
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