|Ryan Tubridy - "The Late Late Show"|
One of the more uplifting moments of the last few weeks was provided in bulk by international zeitgeist machine Twitter. A hashtag dedicated to great things about Ireland took off like an errant financial consultant to Rio, and in spite of the various other spectres haunting the Irish news, it became a preoccupying topic.
Some of the suggestions were straight-forward (the Kerry coastline), some were oblique (conversations with your parents that begin “D’ye know who’s dead?”), some were tongue-in-cheek (our united opposition to buying anti-virus software) and most of them were funny-because-they’re true. Memories of TV were an inevitable part of the mix as well, like the ESB ad that coloured a whole generation’s view of what college would be like, me amongst them. If only TV now was as capable of lifting the mood.
The problem with Irish stations at the minute is they’re acting like an overzealous teacher on a mundane school trip. If you have to constantly ask “We’re having fun, aren’t we?” then chances are you’re not. Case in point: The Late Late Show. To Ryan Tubridy’s credit last week’s Toyshow was one of the best in living memory and forced the country to put down their cynicism en masse for a couple of hours, but he couldn’t resist making the odd topical gag about the IMF and the like that nobody wanted to hear. Every other week he’ll make a reference to the blindingly flaming obvious, something like, “we really need good news right now” or “things are very tough at the minute”. The Late Late has always been a national barometer of sorts, but it works just as well without the running commentary.
The high water mark of this televisual navel-gazing happened a few weeks ago, when Tubridy interviewed Labour leader Eamon Gilmore. At one point Gilmore referred to the President of Chile’s handling of the mining crisis as an example of decisive leadership, when Tubridy interjected to say “But that was 33 people, we have 4 and a half million people in a hole here”.
Fair enough, it’s Ryan’s prerogative to test political leaders in any way he sees fit, but that piety would be a whole lot more tolerable if weeks earlier he had asked Willie O’Dea, a former cabinet minister in one of the most calamitous governments the world has ever known who had to resign due to spreading scurrilous rumours about a political opponent and then lied about it in a sworn affidavit, any question harder than “Who’s your favourite ninja turtle?”
That an estimable broadcaster such as Tubridy feels such a self-conscious need to furnish us with a makeshift weekly fireside chat is aggravating, but it’s a trend that’s replicated and augmented across their schedules. Of course the news has to report things as they are (although, in the now-notorious press conference where RTE cut away from Vincent Browne giving it lilty to Brians Cowen and Lenihan to studio analysts, not always perfectly either), but the litany of Ireland’s other current affairs shows generate a lot more heat than light.
“Prime Time” have created promos that made their coverage of Ireland’s bailout look so stunningly dramatic that it’d be forgivable to think presenter Miriam O’Callaghan was a figure closer to Jack Bauer than John Chancellor. Pat Kenny’s “The Frontline”, though sometimes stimulating, is well named because it more often than not descends into an over-the-top bloodbath. Vincent Browne’s crazed judicial stylings make his nightly show a clinic in masochism. And some of the callers to Joe Duffy’s national squawk box “Liveline” would make you facepalm for a solid ninety minutes. One of the counter-intuitive benefits for the broadcasters about this economic catastrophe is that it sure has helped fill a lot of airtime.
Of course, I’m not suggesting for a minute that broadcasters should avoid confronting harsh realities in order to make us all feel better about ourselves, but being stultified by increasingly bombastic and fantastical coverage of issues we’re patently and intimately aware of to begin with is worse still. We hardly need presenters and experts earning six figure salaries to tell us in detail how poor we’ve all become and why over and over. Or for them to appear to revel in it so much.
It seems to be an inescapable cycle, a part of Ireland’s incurable preoccupation with preoccupation: the more the media discuss banks and bailouts the more we get sucked in, and the more sucked in we get the more the media feel they need to ratchet up the noise. And when every syllable of news is proclaimed at the top of the voice, the truly important gets drowned out in a collective bout of national tinnitus. This obsessive desire to micro-cover the crisis is not only diluting the story, but eradicating all relativity and perspective.
The media and in particular the broadcast media can at its best can be an agent of incredible nobility; it can inform, educate, entertain, amuse and enthuse. But if they really want to be agents of seeing us through these “tough times”, there are a few words of advice they should take heed of every now and then: just shut up for a while.