Tuesday 19 September 2017

John Boland: Wide-eyed Stacey puts our most acclaimed economists to shame

Empathy: Stacey Dooley
(centre with long hair and
scarf) with evacuated
Priory Hall demonstrators
protesting outside the Dail
Empathy: Stacey Dooley (centre with long hair and scarf) with evacuated Priory Hall demonstrators protesting outside the Dail

George Lee, Richard Curran and other grim-faced chroniclers of our fiscal woes could learn a trick or two from 25-year-old Stacey Dooley, who favours touchy-feely empathy rather than stern solemnity when confronted with economic meltdown.

In last week's opening instalment of Coming Here Soon (BBC3), Luton-born Stacey was in Greece, where she commiserated with the disenfranchised and disenchanted young population of that failed state; and this week she was in Ireland, from where her father had emigrated, similarly aghast at the plight of her generational neighbours.

Stacey made a name for herself a few years back when, as a self-confessed shopaholic, she was asked to front a BBC3 probe into the iniquitous child labour practices that her consumerist tendencies entailed. Suitably stricken by what she discovered during that investigation, she then went on to fret about child soldiers in the Congo and to bewail sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Appalled wonder is Stacey's stock-in-trade and she brought her usual furrowed-brow astonishment to her sojourn in Ireland, where she found it hard to credit what she was encountering, not least when she found herself subjected to the untender mercies of the gardaí during a street protest. "I've been pushed by a policeman," she gasped outside Pearse Street station. "I can't believe what's just happened".

Then she went for coffee with some of the protesters, where she learned about property bubbles, reckless lending and bank bailouts. "I feel a lot more in the know," she confided to the camera after this instructive meeting, "I feel all clued up and I can't wait to learn more."

She learned more in the midlands, where property agent Fintan took her on a tour of ghost estates. "I've never seen anything like it!" a goggle-eyed Stacey said. "It's mind-blowing! I'm now starting to understand how Ireland almost bankrupted itself."

Outside the Dáil, she joined protesters who'd been evacuated from the Priory Hall development and couldn't believe that Taoiseach Enda Kenny wouldn't do "the decent thing" and meet with the protesters. "It really winds me up," she said furiously.

She'd also heard that emigration, which apparently had been "a big deal in the 1980s", was on the rise again and so she accompanied a departing Ciara from Athenry to the airport, where she gave her a tearful hug, as if Ciara had been her best buddy since childhood.

But if Stacey's wide-eyed wonder, woebegone reactions and sing-song delivery were hard to take, the film had a visual and emotional impact that was altogether more raw and desolate than you'd encounter in the more forensic exercises favoured by George Lee, Richard Curran or David McWilliams -- and for helping to communicate such stark reality Stacey probably deserves some credit.

Although seldom less than watchable and frequently quite amusing, the two-part Labour's Way (RTé1) was deeply unsatisfying. Trading on tittle-tattle, this superficial trawl through the Labour party's hundred-year history never once engaged with ideas, opting for soundbites rather than proper scrutiny.

Thus, the attempted heave by the militant tendency in the late 1980s was glossed over as merely the posturing of malcontents, while the party's subsequent embrace of Democratic Left was left entirely unexplored -- and, in fact, unexplained.

Nor would viewers forgetful of recent history have gleaned exactly why the party pulled out of government in 1994, while Adi Roche's calamitous bid for the presidency in 1997 was also left unexamined. Indeed, the way this documentary chose to see things, no one was really accountable for anything. A badly missed opportunity.

The week's best documentary -- in fact, one of the best documentaries of recent months -- was BBC2's 7/7: One Day in London, in which filmmaker Ben Anthony recorded the reminiscences of survivors, emergency workers and bereaved family members and edited them into an enthralling, and often deeply moving, 90 minutes.

In the aftermath of one of the bomb blasts, Martina found herself lying on the floor of her tube carriage and disconnectedly wondering what her recently bought Adidas running shoe was doing dangling from the ceiling above her. It took her a few more moments to realise that her lower leg was still in it.

Another survivor wondered why the man on the floor in front of him was only visible from the waist up -- only to discover that the man had been sliced in half. He closed the man's eyes and gave his reason for doing so: "It seemed incongruous to me that he was still looking at a world he was no longer part of."

A father recalled advising his daughter to avoid the chaos by taking a bus -- in which she was blown to bits a few minutes later. Five years after the event, a mother still clutched her son's clothes. "It means I've got him here," she said forlornly.

Another mother read out an angry letter she'd written to Tony Blair about her daughter's death and also the mealy-mouthed reply she finally got when she threatened to publicly denounce his lack of concern. A bewildered Indian man lovingly held his daughter's damaged bag and travel card as he falteringly read out his heartfelt tribute to her.

This was an intensely affecting film and a privilege to watch.

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