Sunday 26 March 2017

John Boland: Making friends with Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook (BBC Two) Would You Believe? (RTÉ One) Scannal! (RTÉ One) Symphony (BBC Four)

I learned from Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook (BBC Two) that the average user of the social-networking site has 130 "friends", with one young man on a Manhattan street bemusedly conceding "more than I have in real life definitely".

That was a pithy summing-up both of the site's obvious appeal and of the bizarre sense of unreality that it encourages. "It's like living a second life," another user said, though it was unclear from his tone whether he considered this a good or a bad thing.

For most of its length, Emily Maitlis's report inclined to the former. Indeed, on her way to various Facebook events she was so giddy with the anticipation of it all that she couldn't make up her mind what clothes to wear and ended up donning a succession of eye-catching ensembles.

Mostly she went for the slacker look of T-shirt and jeans, though for her meeting with the 27-year-old billionaire -- inserted in soundbite form throughout the hour-long film but lasting, by my reckoning, no more than 10 minutes (Mark's a busy guy) -- she opted for an elegant black jacket that rather upstaged his geekish brown crewneck.

Indeed, only Barack Obama has ever persuaded Zuckerberg to dress up, an achievement of which the US president seemed inordinately proud in a clip featured in the documentary.

But that's what encounters with the super-rich and super-influential do to people, reducing even the most powerful person in the world to simpering sycophancy. (Who can forget George W Bush's star-struck courting of Bono?)

Emily learned nothing worth knowing from her meeting with Mark, though I cherished the latter's assertion that: "We don't want you to spare more time on Facebook; we want the time you spend on Facebook to be so valuable that you come back every day." So even more time spent on Facebook then.

But if Mark didn't come across as one of the world's finest logical philosophers, he seemed a nicer person than the manipulative little jerk brilliantly portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network -- or maybe he was just smitten by Emily and her little black number.

Towards the end, a Facebook executive was asked what he thought of an icon on the site which wonders if users like Coca-Cola and, if they click "yes", means that their page will forever be bombarded with ads for the soft drink. The exec seemed astonished at being confronted with this query about ethics, privacy and the demands of commercialism.

It was as if such grubby considerations had nothing to do with the brave new world invented seven years ago by Zuckerberg and currently inhabited by 800 million devotees. That's got to be worth something -- $100bn, actually, by the latest reckoning.

The Catholic Church in Ireland would love to have even a tiny fraction of such worshippers, but unfortunately the number of adherents is heading in the opposite direction -- a calamitous downturn that greatly exercised reporter Mick Peelo in this week's edition of Would You Believe? (RTÉ One).

"The church is in desperate straits," Fr Brendan Hoban, of the Association of Catholic Priests, glumly conceded, though Peelo chose to accentuate the positive by visiting parishes in which indulgent priests were encouraging the laity to take a more active role in church affairs.

Indeed, he'd been informed that, in the west Dublin parish of Porterstown, "something revolutionary is happening that has to be seen to be believed".

What could this mean? Could it possibly be that, in defiance of the Vatican, a group of women had ordained themselves and taken over the parish? Nothing so radical, I'm afraid -- merely that the local PP was on holiday and had allowed some women parishioners to conduct services in his absence.

Well, I suppose it was a start, but there was hardly a parishioner under the age of 60 to be seen anywhere in the film, which must be worrying to those who still care to worry about such things.

Thierry Henry's handball antics against Ireland were deemed worthy of a whole Scannal! (RTÉ One), which seemed somewhat excessive to me, though Laura Ní Cheallaigh's film was actually quite diverting, not least for the unique insights provided by RTÉ light-entertainment presenter Evelyn O'Rourke.

"I'm no football expert," Evelyn told us, "but I'd heard of Thierry Henry." This was reassuring to hear in a programme that was all about Thierry Henry, but there was more to come, with Evelyn revealing that she'd been struck by Thierry's "good looks" and by the fact that he was "such a strong and elegant man".

All the more a pity, then, that when the fateful foul was committed on that November night in Paris, "I have to be honest with you, it went right by me, I didn't notice anything".

But she was as deeply moved as anyone when, at the end of the game, Damien Duff broke down in tears because, she disclosed, "the whole of Ireland loves Damien Duff".

If I were John Giles or Eamon Dunphy, I'd be watching my back.

BBC Four's commitment to music, both classical and popular, has been wholly admirable and has resulted in many wonderful programmes. Symphony, though, has proved to be of no interest to anyone who knows the music in question, and of even less use to inquiring newcomers.

There was far too much travelogue nonsense featuring presenter Simon Russell Beale and far too little actual music, as if viewers might somehow get bored by it. Oh dear.

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