Monday 16 September 2019

What if there is no such thing as this Middle Ireland?

Rose of Tralee (RTE1)

Limerick Rose: Sinéad Flanagan wins the 2019 International Rose of Tralee. Photo by Steve Humphreys
Limerick Rose: Sinéad Flanagan wins the 2019 International Rose of Tralee. Photo by Steve Humphreys
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

What is Middle Ireland?

It's the place in which people apparently like watching Rose of Tralee and Up for the Match and other such traditional entertainments, and yet I doubt the people who supposedly live in Middle Ireland are aware of the existence of that place, that state of mind.

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Rather, it exists in the minds of TV and other media executives who are always musing on such matters when they might be better off putting their vast collective intelligence into the task of making better TV programmes, or just getting better in general at whatever they do.

Because inherent in this deeply flawed concept of Middle Ireland is the notion that in order to please the simple people of this mystical land, you have to make whatever you're doing a bit worse - apparently in Middle Ireland they want all the usual things that other people want, except they don't want them to be as good.

So if, say, you're producing a music show on RTE radio, you'll always be mindful of the fact that the good record you'd want to be playing, if it was just for yourself, must be replaced with a bad record in order to satisfy the needs of the folks in Middle Ireland - or what you imagine those needs to be.

Nor can we exclude the print media from these considerations - there has always been a school of thought in our industry that you're "writing for the man on the 26B" or some such fictional character who supposedly likes his articles to be less intelligent than they might otherwise be, who doesn't like big words or that kind of thing.

Usually this mythical reader in the mind's eye is reading his paper on the bus in an urban setting, though if the bus were to keep going it would doubtless find its way to the heart of Middle Ireland, where they are said to share this desire for badness over goodness.

The idea that you would just make the best TV programme you can make, or play the best records that you know, or write the best article that you can seems too simplistic for these media visionaries - personally I would be one of those uncomplicated souls who is only trying to do his best, oblivious to any man on any woman on any bus, in any imaginary part of Ireland, except to hope that whatever I'm doing is working for them in some small way.

Likewise, if I was working in television, I wouldn't be trying to make programmes that I wouldn't want to watch myself, or inviting suggestions from people on Twitter about what programmes I should be making.

So when we are having that traditional moment in which people wonder why RTE is still putting on programmes like Rose of Tralee and Up for the Match, I have nothing to say about either of these programmes, as such. I don't wish to comment on what they contain, on who is presenting them or any of that.

All that matters is that they exist because there is this body of TV executive opinion which decrees that this is the sort of thing that Middle Ireland wants and therefore Middle Ireland must have it.

These great thinkers themselves might be devoted to Curb Your Enthusiasm but they believe that others, who have not had their advantages, would prefer to be watching shows in which it is regarded as utterly hilarious that a GAA star comes from Dublin whereas his wife comes from Co Kerry. Or who would be laughing their heads off at the tremendously funny accident of birth whereby a Rose who was born in Co Laois is representing Co Offaly.

Freud might have been on about this when he formed his theory of "the narcissism of small differences" - though on these big nights for Middle Ireland it's more the narcissism of no differences at all.

And if he looked a bit closer, Freud too would see that it's all in the mind.

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