Mary keeps faith with fam­i­lies, while Roses are starting to wilt

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - CULTURE - John Boland

When this week’s World Meet­ing of Fam­i­lies re­moved any men­tion of LGBT re­la­tion­ships from its pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial, Mary McAleese de­cided not to at­tend its pas­toral congress in Dublin. “We re­alised”, the for­mer pres­i­dent said to­wards the end of Mary McAleese’s Mod­ern Fam­ily (RTE1), “that we were just not wel­come”. That’s be­cause she has a gay son, and it led her fur­ther to won­der if, given these cir­cum­stances, the cur­rent pope would be wel­com­ing, ei­ther.

That, though, was the only rad­i­cal stance she took in a film that gen­er­ally was so mind­ful of Catholic be­liefs as to be al­most pietis­tic in its ap­prov­ing ref­er­ences to the role of faith in fam­ily life.

It was also full of lit­tle hom­i­lies and epipha­nies, with var­i­ous of the in­ter­vie­wees be­ing granted the pre­sen­ter’s per­sonal stamp of ap­proval. “God bless you, you’re just fan­tas­tic”, she told the fi­nan­cially-strug­gling mother of four autis­tic chil­dren, while in­form­ing the viewer that “she has so much to teach this coun­try, this church”.

Sim­i­larly, a cou­ple who had chil­dren from ear­lier re­la­tion­ships along with their own would have been pleased to learn that they had “cre­ated a won­der­ful fam­ily”, while it must have been grat­i­fy­ing for the fam­ily of a Zim­bab­wean man and an Ir­ish woman to dis­cover that “you’re part of the new Ire­land”.

I like and ad­mire the Mary McAleese I’ve ob­served as pres­i­dent and as elo­quent tus­sler with a hide­bound Catholic church, but this earnest film was full of bog-stan­dard ob­ser­va­tions and thread­bare in­sights that were no more than wor­thy plat­i­tudes.

“Ir­ish so­ci­ety and fam­ily life have changed dra­mat­i­cally since 1979”, she gravely in­formed us, and in The Whole World in His Hands (TG4), a 1989 film about Pope John Paul II’s visit a decade ear­lier, we saw some of those dra­matic changes.

Here was a long-haired Colm Toibin re­call­ing the “glam­orous” oc­ca­sion, a much younger Michael D Hig­gins fret­ting about the “re­duc­tion­ist” as­pects of the oc­ca­sion, and a star-struck Nell McCaf­ferty en­thus­ing about the “gor­geous, good-look­ing and vir­ile” John Paul II.

That pon­tiff also had many fans in The Pope and I (BBC1), filmed in Belfast and fea­tur­ing devo­tees from that city of all things pa­pal. “He was like a rock star”, one man re­called. “I’d put him next to Elvis”, a woman said.

Even in its early years, The Rose of Tralee (RTE1) has al­ways looked parochial and pa­tro­n­is­ing and fun­da­men­tally sex­ist, though in ways that weren’t al­ways easy to de­fine.

Now, though, we’re in the time — in­deed the year — of #MeToo, with male as­sump­tions un­der fierce scru­tiny and de­mands about fe­male en­ti­tle­ment to the fore, and sud­denly this con­test reg­is­ters not just as quaintly old-fash­ioned but as pos­i­tively bizarre.

Watch­ing it over two nights this week, I tried to imag­ine a con­test in which 32 young men were brought on stage to talk about their mam­mies and dad­dies and girl­friends and jobs and then were re­quired to sing a song, dance a jig or lift their fe­male in­ter­viewer on to their backs.

And I fur­ther tried to imag­ine that when all the in­ter­views were fin­ished, these men would then be re­quired to troop on to the stage, four at a time and hold­ing hands with each other while si­mul­ta­ne­ously wav­ing at the cheer­ing au­di­ence.

It could never hap­pen, of course, ex­cept per­haps in a Pythonesque skit, but it’s at the heart of a show that, for all its laboured ges­tures to­wards the so­cial me­dia age, acts as if noth­ing re­ally has changed since RTE started broad­cast­ing it 51 years ago. In­deed, the con­tes­tants are still coiffed and clothed as if they were in a 1950s fash­ion show.

And the re­cent prac­tice of invit­ing far more con­tes­tants to Tralee than are needed for the tele­vi­sion con­test and then culling al­most 30 of them be­fore that tele­vised event is grotesquely un­fair to these par­tic­i­pants and their fam­i­lies, many of whom have trav­elled from afar, and should be ter­mi­nated im­me­di­ately.

So, in my view, should the show it­self, though that won’t hap­pen, and in the in­ter­ests of bal­ance I should say that I watched part of the sec­ond night in the com­pany of five-and-a-hal­fyear-old Sylvia, who was of the firm opin­ion that most of the lav­ish ball­go­wns were only divine and that the jigs and reels be­ing danced by some of the con­tes­tants were the ab­so­lute bee’s knees. I didn’t dare ar­gue.

In Bol­ly­wood: The World’s Big­gest Film In­dus­try (BBC2), I learned that In­dian stu­dios pro­duce three times as many movies as Hol­ly­wood and that the top ac­tors are “the wealth­i­est and most wor­shipped stars on earth”.

This ex­trav­a­gant claim came from pre­sen­ter Anita Rani, who fur­ther in­formed me that al­most half of In­dia’s 1.3 bil­lion pop­u­la­tion are un­der the age of 25.

The in­dus­try also has an ob­ses­sion with fair skin, with whiten­ing cosmetics fly­ing off the shelves in a bid to cre­ate a more western­ised look. Hence the de­mand for western white per­form­ers — young women from Bri­tain can earn £1,000 a month and have all their living ex­penses cov­ered just to ap­pear as bit play­ers in song-and-dance se­quences.

Mean­while, Bet­ter Call Saul (Net­flix) is get­ting darker with each new episode, this week’s lead­ing off with a vi­o­lent scene in the New Mex­ico desert.

Back in town, Jimmy is re­duced to or­gan­is­ing the theft of a Hum­mel fig­ure just to get a bit of cash, while Kim is be­com­ing ever more wor­ried about him.

The way things are head­ing she’ll have cause to be con­cerned, though the viewer’s con­cern is for her­self. Af­ter all, Jimmy ended up as Saul in Break­ing Bad, but Kim was nowhere to be seen in that se­ries.

McAleese’s earnest film was full of bog-stan­dard ob­ser­va­tions and thread­bare in­sights that were no more than wor­thy plat­i­tudes

Crowd pleaser: Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to Ire­land was the sub­ject of two films this week while (be­low) Mary McAleese was mind­ful of Catholic be­liefs in her doc­u­men­tary

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