Saturday 19 August 2017

John Boland: It's not personal, but you're wrong

It's Not Personal RTÉ One Crisis: Inside the Cowen Government RTÉ One the Naked Presidential Election RTÉ One Imagine . . . Simon and Garfunkel: The Harmony Game BBC One

John Boland

Women who have children not only have the right to go out and get themselves a job -- they have an absolute duty to do so. That was the opinion of critic and columnist Emer O'Kelly on It's Not Personal (RTÉ One) and, boy, did she tell us about it.

Indeed, in Emer's view, what she was expressing was much more than an opinion, it was a "deeply held principle", and never mind the fact that some women might wish to stay at home and care for their children -- they were just plain wrong to harbour, let alone indulge, such feelings.

Never mind, either, that there are hardly any jobs out there for them any more (not to mention for their husbands or partners), or the fact that the cost of childcare precludes many women from taking up full-time employment, or indeed that the children might benefit from having a parent at home -- these were trivial realities that Emer, pondering her principles, didn't deign to consider.

The programme was too silly for words. At one point, the filmmakers installed an electronic bawling baby in Emer's house, though what insights a childless single woman of a certain age might be expected to derive from this experiment remained mysterious -- not least to Emer herself, who dismissed the stunt as stupid.

And Emer clearly has no time for stupidity. After talking to a woman who went back to her IT job a year after the birth of her daughter, she lauded her for recognising that "she's got a damned good brain and a very good education and that it's important to use them" -- unlike couples who couldn't deal with this work-life divide because they lacked the "mental or emotional ability" to do so.

"Lazy spongers" was her term for women who "don't play their part in the economy", though, given this, it was somewhat odd that she didn't focus at least some of her scorn on single mothers who collect social welfare benefits, but these were never mentioned. Instead, the women who featured were impeccably middle-class, though that didn't prevent them from being gratuitously insulted.

"Do you not feel humiliated at not having an income?" Emer asked mother-of-six Monica. No, she didn't, replied Monica.

And told by a pregnant woman in an ante-natal class that no outsider could care for a child as well its mother, she declared "You are actually wrong there" before going on to say that all a baby needed was someone to hug it, feed it, change its nappy and "sing to it".

On hearing this, another mother observed "She hasn't actually had children", which at that moment had been my own thought exactly.

Asked at the end if her viewpoint had been changed in any way by the women she'd encountered, she chuckled at the notion that "I could be persuaded out of my principles".

For some reason I thought of the Father Ted sketch in which Ted asks Dougal if he's learnt anything from what has just happened and Dougal, after reflecting for a moment, stoutly responds: "No!"

Brian Hayes was the producer-director of this twaddle and he performed the same dual function on Crisis: Inside the Cowen Government (RTÉ One), a two-parter whose first episode told us nothing we didn't already know but offered the spectacle of various Fianna Fáilers trying to distance themselves from the regime that ended last February.

The film's only interest lay in its soundbites, the most lethal of them emanating from Mary O'Rourke -- made even more lethal by being uttered in that sweetly wondering voice of hers. "We always heard of the good speeches he made," she said of her former leader, "but they were always at things we weren't at." Ouch. And a double ouch for "He was very shy, so maybe the drink helped him".

The Naked Presidential Election (RTÉ One) announced itself as "the true story" of the recent race for the Park, a story that would be "stripped bare of spin", but in truth there were no revelations on offer about a motley crew of candidates whose varying foibles had become wearily familiar to us during their two months of intensive campaigning.

It would have worked better as a comedy about seven egos on the rampage, but the makers never even strove for irreverence, and it was left to Fionnan Sheahan and Lise Hand of this paper and RTÉ's David McCullagh to provide the occasional much-needed note of sardonic scepticism.

BBC One's Imagine . . . Simon and Garfunkel: The Harmony Game told the story of the duo's triumphs in the late 1960s and both men were fascinating about how the various songs on Bridge Over Troubled Water were conceived, written and recorded.

They split up soon afterwards, Simon going on to forge a major career of his own, but they spoke with great warmth about each other. Curiously, though, they were filmed in separate locations and you were left wondering about the current state of a relationship that had started in childhood.

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