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Saturday 22 October 2016

Being paid to find out you're an asshole

Published 19/09/2016 | 02:30

"When there is war, nobody eats" ... wise words from Ciro in Gomorrah

If you haven't seen Gomorrah, the Naples-set gangster series, you should watch it. I'll warn you though. It's grim. I'm watching Season 2 of Narcos right now and it feels like a light-hearted romp after the darkness of Naples. Gomorrah is grim through and through. Even when people are not being murdered and betraying each other, even when they are allegedly enjoying the spoils of drug dealing their lives are grim. They live in cold houses with lots of Versace-esque gilt on everything. There is no joy in those homes.

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There is one very important message in Gomorrah Season 2 that they keep hammering home. As Ciro, one of the characters puts it, when there is war, nobody eats. And he's right. When there is war the cops are everywhere and everyone is dying. So nobody is focussed on the day-to-day bread-and-butter issue of selling drugs and making money.

When there is peace, when we are just getting on with life, we always find petty moans and gripes, but it is a life of luxury really, compared to when there is not peace. When we get sick, or injured, when bad things happen, when there is conflict or battles to be fought, these unnecessary extras take up far more time and energy than the day-to-day stuff we all do. How often has something bad or unexpected happened and you've thought, 'if only things could go back to normal, I would appreciate normal so much. When this is passed I will never moan again'.

Someone who worked in broadcasting and who is well paid for it told me recently that at he doesn't actually feel he gets paid for the job itself, he gets paid for all the other bits. He gets paid, he says, for when things go wrong. And he has a point. Any time I've been involved in controversy or conflict in work, even if I was in the right, and even if it was positive, there has always been a small part of me that wished for peacetime.

This guy told me that in media he thinks you are also paid because you have to find out how much of an asshole you are. Most people don't ever have to confront how much of an asshole they are. Indeed, it's often the biggest assholes who have no idea what an asshole they are. This is what enables them to continue being such assholes. The rest of us look at them and wonder, "How can you live with yourself, knowing you are such an asshole?" But of course they don't know it. Life protects them and they protect themselves through delusion. Sometimes, at night, it might flicker around the edges of their consciousness. "Am I an asshole?" But they quickly dismiss such unproductive thoughts in the comforting light of day and get on with being an asshole.

But as George Hook says in his memoir, which I still maintain is the one book all Irish men should read, TV is like X-ray. There is no hiding place. Radio, in a way, is worse, because some of those poor people are on air for hours on end. It's too much time to be able to keep up the pretence. Their inner asshole will be exposed. And even if they manage to stay in denial, the nature of the modern world is that people will tell them anyway. Producers might tell them in a careful way that maybe they shouldn't say certain things, and the audience will tell them too. Because when you are in the media, and forcing yourself on people, the normal rules of polite society are suspended. In the media, everyone is your customer, so they are entitled to call it as they see it.

And of course none of us are 100pc non-asshole. The best you can hope for is to only be a bit of an asshole. The critical thing is that you yourself don't start to think you are an asshole. Because exposing yourself publicly exposes you to yourself as well. Anyone who has done any TV or radio will have had occasions when they have lain awake, wondering why they did or said something assholey. It is usually something that no one else will have noticed. But that doesn't matter.

Recently I've noticed what I think are people on TV or radio realising themselves that they might be assholes. Live, on air. It sends a chill down my spine. Because the thing is: you just don't know. You're the last one to know. Right now is a time of relative peace in my life, and everyone is eating - me especially - but soon I will be back at war again, sometimes wishing for peacetime, for normality. But then, war has its charms too.

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