Monday 27 May 2019

RTE makes a pointless song and dance out of tired news

Television: John Boland

Garth Brooks' fans
Garth Brooks' fans
Rich Hall

Two weeks after the rest of the country had stopped caring, RTE1 came up on Tuesday night with Garth Brooks: Tomorrow Never Came - a bitty and pointless rehash of the would-he-wouldn't-he controversy about the now-aborted Croke Park concerts.

Indeed, you got the distinct sense that RTE had hurriedly cobbled together the programme merely to get in ahead of TV3's Garth Brooks: What Went Wrong?, which was screened the following evening.

And so, you got the familiar old sound bites from disgruntled householders in the Croke Park area, the same old self-justifications from the concert promoters and the GAA bigwigs, and the same twaddle from Brooks himself in his televised pledge to crawl across the Atlantic to the Taoiseach and beg that this momentous cultural event be given government approval.

And, lest we'd forgotten, we were also reminded of the singer's all-or-nothing ultimatum, with footage of promoter Peter Aiken arguing that if Brooks had agreed to do the originally-announced three concerts, he'd be letting down the 160,000 people who'd bought tickets for the extra two. So what about the 240,000 fans whom he was now letting down?

Aiken didn't say, and the programme never bothered posing the question, or indeed, probing any of the key issues raised by this sorry controversy.

Happily, the week came up with better factual programmes, none more so than Clothes to Die For, which was transmitted in BBC2's This World strand. Indeed, this was one of the most arresting documentaries of the year so far.

Zara Hayes's film began with YouTube footage of teenage English girls raving about the clothes they'd just bought from high street stores. It continued with a Bangladeshi girl, Shopna, who was of much the same age, expressing the wish that the teens who were purchasing the clothes she and her co-workers made "will remember us one day".

She was referring, not just to herself and friends, but also to the 1,134 other garment factory workers who didn't survive last year's collapse of a ten-storey sweat shop on the outskirts of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The tacky concrete building, to which three floors and heavy generators had been added, was erected by a politically well-got property thug called Sohel Rana, who, only the day before the catastrophe, had told local media that the cracks that had appeared in the building's pillars were nothing to worry about.

The film's underlying story of corruption and exploitation was guaranteed to make any viewer feel very angry, but the director eschewed easy editorial tut-tutting, relying instead on the testimonies of the factory workers, all of them framed in medium close-up as they eloquently recounted their personal stories of that horrific April morning.

Observing that "no one in Bangladesh" wears the clothes that she and her colleagues have made, 18-year-old Shirin recalled being rescued from the rubble after some hours. Many of the other workers weren't so lucky - one young woman revealed to the camera the arm she'd had to amputate herself in order to escape; another recalled how those who'd been buried for days had to drink their own urine and blood for sustenance. "Those who couldn't," she noted, "didn't survive."

Rana himself was arrested a few days later as he tried to flee across the border into India, but he hasn't yet been put on trial. Meanwhile, although the minimum wage for garment workers (whose clothes account for 80pc of Bangladesh's exports) has been doubled to £40 a month, there's no evidence that the industry's widespread corruption and exploitation have been meaningfully confronted.

Nor is there any indication that the Irish, English, European and American buyers of Bangladeshi-made clothes really give a damn, though any of those who saw this superb film can no longer claim ignorance.

Unlike this exemplary documentary, Jacques Peretti's three-part series, The Men Who Made Us Spend (BBC2), is full of finger-wagging from the presenter, who portrays us all as zombified slaves to consumerism. What happened to free will and freedom of choice?

Still, it was hard not to share Peretti's point of view when he asked a man who'd been queuing for three nights outside an Apple store in London what the latest iPhone could do that the previous model couldn't and the man sheepishly confessed: "Probably not much."

In the first instalment of Child Genius (Channel 4), psychologist mother Shoshana said of her nine-year-old daughter Aliyah: "She's not profoundly gifted, as I was." Shoshana then haughtily confided that her own IQ was "on a par with Einstein".

You couldn't make Shoshana up, or indeed most of the parents who featured in this coverage of the annual Child Genius of the Year competition.

Not that some of the kids themselves were more endearing - 11-year-old Rubaiyat proudly declaring: "It feels really nice to be better than other people." Way to go, Rubaiyat.

The RTE1 continuity announcer gaily told me last Saturday evening that I was about to watch "a new series" of Shakedown the Town. Had there been a previous one and, if so, how had I been so fortunate as to miss it?

I'll be missing this one too, having endured an hour of two sets of parents frantically running around Dingle in search of treasure-hunt clues, while being egged on by their assorted offspring. Maybe it's just not for me.

And nor, probably, is Reign (RTE2) - a drama about Mary Queen of Scots that appears to have no basis in actual historical fact, indeed, inventing key characters purely for the furtherance of its teeny-bopper storyline.

This is in the tradition of a Knight's Tale and other confections made for a young audience that knows nothing about history and cares even less. And it comes replete with lithe bodies, tanned skin and all the other requirements of a lifestyle far removed from the grime of a time that existed long before our brave new world.

But, even its intended audience might baulk somewhat at the cardboard characters and the almost uniformly wooden acting of all the principals, even if they don't find it incongruous to hear Queen and other bands belting out their stuff on the soundtrack.

A rich comedic account of California Dreaming

The best line in Rich Hall's California Stars (BBC4) came right at the outset when the dishevelled American comedian asked: "How can a place with so much breathtaking beauty spawn a twit like Miley Cyrus?"

Hall, who has made England his home and who has enlivened many BBC panel shows and other programmes, is always good value, and if his account of the western American state went on a bit, it was full of droll observations.

"Its state flower is a poppy; an opiate" he observed. "So really, what do you expect of its people?"

Not a lot by his reckoning.

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