While RTÉ holes up in a tech firm’s cosy casa, Sheriff Browne roams the land bringing justice and truth
At the Facebook Election Special (RTÉ2, Sunday), the male politicians are tie-less. This is to indicate that they are dashing men of action who are down with the kids. It’s a young-looking audience, and if the politicians are listening to what they’re saying about mental health, the cost of education and the need to repeal the Eighth Amendment, they’ll realise that these kids are feeling very down indeed.
So extraordinary measures are called for. Aodhán Ó Ríordáin is doing well with three buttons open. The Green’s Eamon Ryan has at least two buttons open. As does Fianna Fáil’s Timmy Dooley, although in his case it looks like during each ad break an assistant rushes out to apply a medicinal Windsor knot. Leo Varadkar has his shirt entirely open, his shoes off and shaving foam on his face. Okay, I made that up. He also has a couple of buttons open.
It’s a strange programme. As well as the aforementioned politicians, there’s Averil Power, Mary Lou McDonald and Adrienne Wallace from People Before Profit. Everyone is a “young” politician (any politician under the age of 50 is “young”). But the weirdest thing is the Facebook connection. I know we’re only a decade or so away from being officially renamed Irebook: As Brought to You By Facebook or Googleville or Ebay on Sea or, possibly, Airstrip One, but even so, having RTÉ broadcasting an election debate from a tech giant’s international headquarters feels a little like they’re trying to tell us something.
Sporadically, the camera pans to an area where a woman from Facebook explains how the debate is being discussed on Facebook and says things like: “Irish voters have traditionally turned to Facebook to share with their friends and families the issues that are on their minds.”
This, of course, reminds me of the Facebook updates my great grandfather wrote during the war of independence, the “Lolz” we had at Daniel O’Connell’s monster meetings and the Facebook “like” that started the 1798 rebellion. I feel instantly patriotic.
It creates an odd dynamic. When Eamon Ryan raises the issue of corporations such as Facebook not paying their fair share of tax in return for our expensively educated workforce, he feels obliged to add “I don’t mean to be rude”, because he’s well brought-up and he’s in their house (of course they’re also in our house, using our stuff).
In general, the tone is more respectful than other election debates I’ve seen. This may be due to powerful contributions from remarkable audience members. Cat O’Broin speaks about the system’s failures to protect her late, mentally ill brother and Vanessa O’Sullivan speaks about having to travel for an abortion after she was raped. Or it may be due to the selection of politicians (it’s a thoughtful crop, to be fair). But more likely it’s because Facebook has put a chip in everyone’s heads in order to regulate their moods.
Browne roams the land
Things are very different on The People’s Debate with
Vincent Browne (TV3, Monday). Before each episode the audience members are starved, shown violent film clips and injected with monkey hormones – or, alternatively, made live in a small rural town during a recession. Episodes often play out like the political debate version of the fight scene in Johnny Cash’s A Boy Named Sue. While in the high-tech Facebook Election Special, Keelin Shanley employs the moderating precision of Robocop, Vincent Browne is more like Lugs Branigan, enforcing the rule of law (his law) with baffled sighs and whacks from a broken table leg.
For some time he has been roaming the land, going from constituency to constituency, seeking a life of quiet contemplation but constantly becoming embroiled in internecine feuds and having to cut up rough. He gazes at politicians with thinly veiled disdain. Oh, the things those eyes have seen.
Browne has now been to all 40 constituencies. The quest concluded this week with Castlebar, in the home constituency of Enda Kenny, who chose not to come to the debate, but to watch it instead from the safety of his rejuvenation sarcophagus. Browne is incensed by this and there are dark references to Kenny’s comment about his constituents being whingers.
While the concerns of the youthful audience members on the former programme are national, those of the People’s
Debate are, for good reason, local. Audience members are concerned with the closure of post-offices and Garda stations and the general depletion of local services. They ramble. They pontificate. They go off point. They make sense. They make no sense. They shout contributions when no microphone is on them. And the politicians do likewise. They make Browne say “I have no idea what you’re talking about” more than once. But for all its messiness, the People’s Debates have been a great achievement, putting faces on regional and national problems to a soundtrack of sighing from the high priest of disgruntlement.
On Des Bishop’s Election (RTÉ2, Monday), Bishop does a good job of channelling his own warm-hearted comedy into a US comedy-news-style analysis of what he feels are the core issues of the election (climate change, mental health, fair taxation). We could do with more of this sort of thing to offset the (admittedly hilarious) nihilism found elsewhere in Irish satire. The best bit was Blindboy Boatclub’s recreation of a dream he had involving Gerry Adams appearing as a small dog to explain how Irish mental-health problems derive from Catholicism. It made more sense than anything else I’ve seen all week.
Sometimes, I think we chose the wrong political system altogether. On The Royals (E!, Wednesday) the queen of England (Elizabeth Hurley), distracted by her heartbroken, drug-addicted and Australian-accented children, realises there’s a new bitch in town, the glamorous soon-to-be prime minister, Rani.
Rani is having none of the queen’s plans to change the rules of succession and even refuses her gift of new Jimmy Choos. “It’s a pair of shoes, not Northern Ireland,” cries queen Elizabeth Hurley. This is the first time The
Royals has explicitly dealt with Irish politics and the analysis is compelling. Indeed, they go on to engage in some excellent trashtalking that Irish politicians could learn from. “Don’t get too comfortable,” says queenie to prime ministerie. “These are shark-infested waters and those fake tits won’t keep you afloat for long.” I feel like our national debate is impoverished slightly because I can’t imagine Michael D saying this to Enda Kenny.
Actually, maybe I can.
We’re only a decade away from being officially renamed Irebook, Googleville, Ebay on Sea or Airstrip One
Des Bishop’s Election has a Rubber soul