Monday 22 January 2018

Pop will eat itself - will our Independent TDs do the same?

* Independent's Day, TV3
* The Brink, Sky Atlantic

Toilet humour: Jack Black and Erick Havari star in Sky Atlantic's latest HBO offering, The Brink
Toilet humour: Jack Black and Erick Havari star in Sky Atlantic's latest HBO offering, The Brink
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

One of the many misunderstandings of the public mood in this country over the last few years is the adage that people are angry.

Well, sure, people were and are angry and they have plenty to be angry about.

But behind the shouting, the roaring, the furious demonstrations, the angry chanting and the general sense, on several occasions, that the country was about to erupt, there was a much more toxic emotion at work - fear. Anger may be, as the great John Lydon says, an energy, and it's one which everyone needs.

Fear, on the other hand, is a corrosive, toxic and frequently paralysing state of mind which is all consuming and, despite all the hype about the public's anger, fear remains the dominant emotion of the last 10 years - people were pissed off, but they were also scared.

Scared people make bad choices and that is something we are currently seeing all across Europe, where that mixture of impotent rage and abject terror of the future has driven voters into the hands of extremists.

Let's put it this way, Syriza may have won the Greek election this time, but the next time it could just as easily be the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn. That's what happens when people panic.

We don't really do such extremism in Ireland, thankfully, although that's not for the want of trying by some of the fringe political movements who have been benefiting from the economic catastrophe that still threatens to engulf us all.

So, if we don't do extremism, what do we do? Well, independent TDs is what we do, I suppose.

Pat Leahy, presenter of Independents' Day, has established himself as one of the most authoritative and entertaining political analysts around (his book, The Price Of Power is essential reading) but this was one occasion where the guests were always going to be more interesting than the host.

As he charted the remarkable proliferation of independent TDs in the last election, the viewer was faced with some confusing arguments.

Are we, as one contributor opined, finally breaking away from rigid, duopolistic civil-war party politics that has smothered the democratic process? Or, as another talking head suggested, are people more likely to vote for individual candidates than for any particular party?

When even the experts seem baffled by the kinks and foibles of the average Irish voter, it's no wonder everyone else is equally baffled.

Coming from opposite sides of the political spectrum, the two best contributors were Ivan Yates and Mick Wallace.

They probably don't share much in common, but they both had a refreshingly honest take on Irish politics.

A former Minister for Agriculture, Yates was open about all politicians being self-serving, which certainly made a change from the usual politician-speak about the great sacrifices.

And then it hit me - my God, this former politician may be shy and retiring, but he's a really good talker. So why doesn't someone give him his own show? (Oh, wait.)

Wallace, on the other hand, was withering in his assessment of the traditional role of independent TDs who seem to see their job as simply being about getting the most for their constituency. That kind of pork-barrel politics is the bane of many democracies, but as Wallace pointed out, he was elected to the national, not the local and his disdain was evident, not least when he laughed that the current crop of Independents 'would eat each other alive.'

Honestly, strip away the politics, and Wallace is a fascinating bloke. The problem is that you can't strip away the politics as long as he is in the Dail, although his mischievous suggestion that he would like to become Minister for Justice will certainly give nightmares to some people.

If all politics is local, a Third World War, by its nature, would be global. Which is where The Brink comes in.

The Brink comes with numerous trigger warnings for the viewer, not least the presence of the increasingly insufferable Jack Black.

HBO's latest comedy has been on the receiving end of an absolute kicking from numerous TV critics, but they all seem to be reviewing a different programme to the one which airs.

Centring around Black as a racist, lazy, dope-smoking US official in an increasingly unstable Pakistan ('the anal cavity of the world', as he calls it, showing that cultural appreciation classes aren't high on his list of priorities) any show which opens with an American Secretary of State (Tim Robbins) being asphyxiated by a Cambodian prostitute is going to provoke wildly differing reactions.

But despite the controversy that scene caused, the joke comes when he complains that all her fantasies "involve you escaping Cambodia on a boat," to which she replies: "That's not my fantasy. I was telling you my life story."

Inevitably, the show has been unfavourably compared to Veep, and that's understandable. After all, Veep has become one of the best American comedies in a great era for comedy.

But as Pakistan is hit by a coup by a General who is also delusional and a paranoid schizophrenic, the more obvious comparisons would be Dr Strangelove and, particularly, Whoops Apocalypse, the sadly neglected 80s British satire that plumbed similarly WW3 themes, primarily that the people with their fingers on the nuclear trigger are inherently mad and shouldn't be trusted.

Apart from that rather obvious political point, The Brink works as a series of set-pieces that are scurrilous, deliberately obnoxious and extremely funny.

When two pilots are dispatched to bomb some Pakistani nuke sites, an already complicated matter is made more difficult because the two of them are completely mashed on morphine - prompting the weapons officer to accidentally shoot down an Indian drone as he wipes vomit from the trigger.

Maybe it's the marriage of dark political satire or the unashamedly lavatorial humour that has enraged so many critics. But since when were geopolitics and puke jokes such a bad thing?

Irish Independent

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