July 18, 2007

Paying a high price for daring to mess with the Streisand Generation

Posted in Ireland · 11 comments ·

Denis Desmond of MCD made one big mistake last weekend: he took on his own generation. The unfortunates who queued up in the mud, fought over tickets and ultimately flipped at the Barbra Streisand concert were not the kids who will tolerate almost any privations at Oxegen, they were their parents. These were the same age as Desmond, the promoter, and they won’t stand for this type of shoddy treatment.

These are the Streisand Generation and, like the diva herself, they have standards that have risen over the past decade.

As Ireland has become wealthy, the Streisand Generation have garnered the lion’s share of the spoils. They are not going to fork out a few hundred euros to wade through the mud, be treated like teenagers and sit on the scaffolding; they did all this at Rory Gallagher concerts in the 1970s. These guys drive a Lexus for God’s sake.

More importantly, they have mates in the media who are of the same age and when they vent their spleen, the airways open up. This is why the Streisand fiasco was front-page news. This is why it featured on Morning Ireland.

The Americans have a wonderful expression to describe trying to take people for a ride – “don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining”. The Streisand Generation have experienced the warmish, uncomfortable feeling and they are not having it. Furthermore, companies usually use the threat of litigation to muzzle consumer criticism; but for MCD this time, that threat is slightly less menacing when the people you are threatening are lawyers themselves.

But the real economic significance of the Streisand debacle, which from the reports sounds truly appalling, is the commercial power and influence of this new group in Irish society – this Streisand Generation. These are middle-aged rich kids who have loads of cash and they are spending it. This is the generation that refuses to age.

Look at the big gigs this summer: you have Barbara Streisand, who shot to stardom in the 1960s; the Stones at Slane; the Who – a band that sang of My Generation in the early 1960s; and the reformed Police, whose lead guitarist is two years away from qualifying for a bus pass!

The key to understanding the power of the Streisand Generation is to examine the housing market and see who has been enriched by it and who has been indebted. The middle-aged have made fortunes as the price of their house shot up in the past decade, while the first-time buyer generation has been shafted.

There has been an enormous transfer of wealth from the young to the old and the old are now spending it. In addition, they are on the right side of the pension changes where they will get guaranteed pay-out, irrespective of what they have put in. In contrast, the first-time buyers will get only what they have paid for. So, today’s first-time buyers are not only roasted in the housing market, but they are paying for the pension of the very people who have been enriched by the property boom in the first place!

Their buying patterns and significance was first noted in the US in the 1990s as the post-war Baby Boom generation started to hit middle age. This year, classic baby boomers like Presidents Bush and Clinton hit 60 and their generation yields power in the United States.

In Ireland, we are seeing the same trends. However, the big difference between Ireland and the US is that whereas the US baby boomers constitute a huge proportion of the population, here, because our baby boom kicked off in the late 1960s, the middle-aged are a small section of the overall population. Yet they run the place, and companies are falling over themselves to get a slice of this grey market.

One of the most visible places to see this niche is the explosion of corporate entertainment which is directly related to the growth of Ireland’s Streisand Generation. Go to any big gig or sports event and you will see the gilded generation cordoned off in the VIP areas being waited on by 20-year-old Poles.

The Ryder Cup last year was the pinnacle of this carry-on for the gilded middle-aged generation and it also attests to how powerful this generation is. You might recall the hype ahead of the tournament and the extraordinary branding and advertising fest accompanying it. This was a day out for the Streisand Generation. It was Oxegen for people with self-administered pension funds.

We even built a new Naas Road to make sure that the Streisand Generation was not “shown up” in front of our guests. The upgrading of the Naas Road for the foreign dignitaries was a lot like the opening up of the “good room” for the local doctor when we were children – something which many of the Streisand Generation will remember.

Our granny in Cork had a “good room” and “good china” in her house. It was so good that none of our family were good enough for it. We weren’t allowed in. The good china was kept under lock and key in the musty cupboard – lined with yellowing copies of the Irish Independent. The good room had a bragging wall which consisted of grainy photos of ancestors in rented suits and two UCC parchments, plus a photo of my mother in a mortar board on graduation day.

Only our betters were ever invited into the good room. If you made it to the good room, you were automatically a class above us. The good room was designed to equalise or minimise the gap between our family and the rare guest. It never put us on a par – it couldn’t, after all it was the good room. The real rich didn’t need a good room; all their rooms were good. Only chronic aspirants did.

But it served the purpose of convincing my family that, while we obviously weren’t equals, we might just be within sight. In reality, it cruelly reinforced how wide the gap actually was.

The new Naas Road is the 21st century infrastructural equivalent of the good room.

It reiterates the gap that it’s trying to bridge. For the locals, it suggests that the first impressions of zillionaire American golfers and their grey panther fan base has a much bigger impact on the urgency of our national development plan than the poor subjects who live here. Politically, the moral of the story is more Ryder Cups for the Streisand Generation, less elections.

The debacle of the Streisand gig and the indignation that followed it on the airwaves and in print, tells us something about the power nexus in this country.

The boom has made the middle-aged fabulously wealthy and shafted the young. The former will be the ones with the fancy seating at the Stones next month.

The next time it chooses to piss down someone’s back, MCD should make sure it isn’t wrinkly.

  1. Haha, correct the spelling of the woman’s name, quick!

  2. Ah, no, my mistake. How embarrassing.

  3. Tom

    Usually I find David to be too opinionated and, frankly, boring. But. What a great and insightful article. The best compliment I can pay David is to say “I really didn’t think it could be you”.

  4. Ronin Cribbin

    Very good article, i am myself one of the oxegen generation and know all too well that no matter how bad the set up is of oxegen or events like it, they is no use in complaining. Just look what happened to boards.ie, after the burning of tents in oxegen the year before last, mcd nearly brought legal action against the site and now boards.ie cannot say anything about any mcd events! It looks like mcd are afraid of some negative feedback.

  5. Robin Farrell

    People need to know MCD have been pissing down their customers’ backs for years in this country. We pay the highest ticket prices in Europe and Oxegen is the most badly organised farce I’ve ever been to.

    Vote with your feet and go to events by Aiken Promotions.

  6. [...] Why should this be? While I find it fascinating that a blog can become the place for people to vent their frustrations over a particular event (and, indeed, I’m gratified, for the purpose of doing my theatre reviews is exactly to encourage debate), I would have thought that somewhere like boards.ie would be far more suitable for something that has affected so many people. But then, of course, MCD have the clout to prevent debate from happening on the internet, and the good folks in boards.ie have felt obliged to ban all mention of anything MCD related. This is so unhealthy it reeks. So unhappy consumers come here to comment. But with the Streisand Generation, perhaps that sort of bullying can’t be sustained. [...]

  7. David McWilliams

    thanks for all the comments. tom, here’s to surprises! regards, david

  8. Damian McEvoy

    Hugely enjoyable and thought-provoking article, David. Interesting though that the media portrayal and the audience perception of Oxegen are so vastly different. The media would have us believe that everyone who attended was violated by theft and arson. The reality is that 99%+ of attendees has a roaringly brilliant time. and countless annual attendees like me deemed it to be the best yet. 200 Euros for 2 full days of brilliant acts, many of whom would cost 50 Euros to attend in their own right, is actually value for money. (Gasp!) Anyone who was stupid enough to pay 550 Euros to watch an old lady sing for 2 hours deserves all they get.

  9. tyoung

    I’m glad you see the property boom as the intergenerational wealth transfer that it is. This is the core of the issue. Go to the property Pin website to get a sense of the frustration of the younger generation versus the settled complacency of the older set on askaboutmoney.

  10. okaycuckoo

    Nice insight with the “good room” notion. Forelock tugging is another one.

    American blogs go on about the seething resentment for selfish baby-boomers amongst generations X/Y/Z. But they’re all just people, in the end.

  11. John

    This is a favourite theme of yours but I would like to point out a couple of things.
    There seems to be an expectation from the twentysomethings in Ireland that wealth should be handed over to them without having to earn it,part of the having it all and having it now mentality.Your article implies that the wealth enjoyed by baby boomers was not earned but a happy accident. Most Irish people of a certain age knew unemployment and emigration and although house prices are high now for younger people you must remember that at least they can get mortgages. The baby boomers did not have easy access to credit and so to portray them as having walked into wealth is wrong. Mortgage lending in the eigthies was subject to punitive interest rates (10 to 12 %) if you were lucky enough to get it from a banking system that was reluctant to loan to anyone but the great and the good.
    I dont seem many twentysomethings going without shiny cars , holidays, shopping , plasma televisions , city breaks to Barcelona ,weekend stag parties and lavish weddings so that they can afford a mortgage.
    So give me a break with all the whinging about how tough it all is and how unfair. Every generation has its own problems. It will be interesting to see how the twentysomethings cope when the going gets tough.

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