Thursday 17 October 2019

Kirsty Blake Knox: A woman's place is in … the audience?

This week, MacGill Summer School was in the firing line for it's "male, pale, and stale" line-up.

Eamon Dunphy and Jacqui Hurley, one of our four female pundits on RTÉ's World Cup roster
Eamon Dunphy and Jacqui Hurley, one of our four female pundits on RTÉ's World Cup roster
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

It's funny how there can be so many showboating, highfalutin festivals every summer, and still the same problem crops up - de wimmim.

This week, MacGill Summer School was in the firing line for it's "male, pale, and stale" line-up.

Three quarters of its guest speakers are men, and no one had planned discussing the recent referendum repealing the 8th Amendment. Oh, dear.

In case you don't know, the Donegal summer school bills itself as a group of highly qualified contributors analysing today's "issues in a dispassionate and informed manner". It's not the buzziest elevator pitch is it?

Perhaps it's just me, but I'm hard-pressed to think of anyone who would voluntarily choose to spend a week in high summer listening to suits discuss corporate tax systems, political policies and industrial stagnation. That time could be spent doing something much more worthwhile, like seeing how many Loop the Loops you can fit in your mouth at once.

The director of the festival, Joe Mulholland, admitted he had "failed from the point of view of gender balance".

He vowed to change the line-up of guests and introduce new sessions on the 8th and gender balance, and announced he will step down from the festival next year as a result.

He also acknowledged that as a retiree in his seventies he was probably "out of touch" with societal shifts. Which was, by any standard, a full-hearted and candid admission.

It seemed strange to me that everyone got so het up about MacGill, when other 'manels' seem to get no flack at all.

Let's take RTÉ's World Cup coverage, for example. Last week, an article online effusively praised RTÉ for its World Cup gender balance.

It was so important to have parity on screen, the writer argued, bully for RTÉ for doing so.

Except it isn't balanced at all. At the launch, the ratio of male to female pundits/commentators stood at 22 men to four women.

In the fella's corner there was Darragh Maloney, Peter Collins, Eamon Dunphy, Liam Brady, Damien Duff, Didi Hamann, Richie Sadlier, Keith Andrews, Shay Given, Richard Dunne, Michael O'Neill, Keith Andrews, George Hamilton, Ger Canning, Adrian Eames, John Kenny, Hugh Cahill, Stephen Alkin, Ronnie Whelan, Ray Houghton, Jim Beglin and Brian Kerr.

While on the women's side we had Jacqui Hurley, Stephanie Roche, Louise Quinn and controversial US soccer star Hope Solo.

This week, an RTÉ spokesperson said it is trying to incorporate more female pundits as the tournament progresses, but admitted it was doing so on an 'ad hoc' basis. (Translation - it's a bit of a last-minute scramble).

People were right to get worked up about MacGill and the lack of female voices, but it's arguably worse that RTÉ's coverage has gone uncriticised.

MacGill receives no state subsidies, and the festival organisation seems pretty much a one-man show, run by Joe on his laptop.

RTÉ is a state-funded organisation with literally scores of managers. Why so critical of one, but forgiving of the other? I think it all comes down to distraction. RTÉ have placed Jacqui Hurley front and centre in their press push, and astutely chose Hope Solo as a pundit - despite the fact, by the broadcaster's own admission, she has no obvious ties to Ireland.

She is, however, a 'firebrand' - and firebrands are supposed to make good telly. Solo was arrested on domestic assault charges in June 2014 for allegedly assaulting her sister and nephew. She denied the charges and they were ultimately dropped.

And in 2016, she was suspended for six months by US Soccer for calling the Swedish team "a bunch of cowards". If you were being cynical, you might suggest that RTÉ hoped selecting such a provocative pundit would detract from the clear lack of female voices, and create an easy distraction from a pretty unbalanced slate. More fool us, it actually worked.

Bad news for bona-fide wimps - elevated horror is here


Fellow cowards - lend me your ears.

If, like me, you cannot stomach horror movies then you will know we are now living through troubling times.

The era of the elevated horror movie - modern fright fests that happen to be quite good - has arrived.

Following on from the success of Get Out and It Follows, we now have Hereditary - the most horror-y horror film that ever horror-ed.

Sadly, being genuinely terrified by horror films comes with an age limit.

You can only credibly be scared up until 17, after that you're expected to catch yourself on.

Once you turn 18, you must train your brain to stop being babyish and enjoy watching a disgruntled poltergeist/ killer clown/ possessed videotape wreak havoc on an unsuspecting neighbourhood.

This is a challenge. Especially if you find watching horror as appealing as paying your boss to scream in your face for two hours.

The introduction of the elevated horror has made things more complicated still.

Previously, scaredy-cats and bona-fide wimps could shrug off their fear and hide behind shoddy production values.

"Did I find it scary!?" we could say. "Of course not! I was sobbing about the lousy jump cuts."

Now we have nowhere to go. Horror films have become an unavoidable reality.

If you find yourself watching something frightful this summer, here are ways you can make it out of the theatre alive. And hopefully avoid any nightmares.

Use your hair as a shield from the action on screen, pretend to have a UTI and keep running to the bathroom, try and remember all the lyrics to 'We Go Together' from Grease, toss a piece of jewellery on the floor and frantically search for it on the ground around you, think of Marty Whelan chasing his dog Alfie around Montrose.

Also, talk ad nauseam - it defuses tension, reduces the likelihood of frights and ensures your friends will never ask you to the cinema again.


Will Ferrell's Eurovision movie

A Euro-dream in the making.

Granny knickers

The 'sexiest summer lounge wear', according to US Vogue. So now.


Round-the-clock drinking

First, Ryanair called for a pre-10am airport booze ban. Now Paddy Power are considering bringing their 'Drunk Tank initiative' (above) to the Galway Races to stop the festival from being besieged by intoxicated punters.

Papal Perimeter

Parking restrictions mean it's a 2km walk to see El Papa in the Phoenix Park. Better pack the blister plasters.


I am looking for you, I will find you and it will be a sorry day for you that you decided to mess with me

TD Michael Healy-Rae goes full Liam Neeson as he issues a warning to a thief who stole his bicycle

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