Monday 11 December 2017

Last night’s TV: Now It’s Personal

It wasn’t entirely clear what the purpose of the programme was says Diarmuid Doyle

On Now It’s Personal (RTE1) badly articulated principle came into conflict with cold, hard reality. There could only be one winner.

The principle came from journalist Emer O’Kelly, who believes that all women should be in the workforce and earning money – “a payback to the nation state”, she told a classroom of startled schoolgirls, “for the money invested in your education”.

Staying at home to bring up children is an indulgence, a luxury, a doltish refusal to “play a part in society”, O’Kelly says. Happily child free herself, she describes her beliefs as a “deeply held principle”.

Reality was represented by the people O’Kelly met during a week of having her opinions tested – the mother of six, Monica, who has stayed at home all of her post-college life to look after six children; the former journalist (Victoria White, wife of former Green minister Eamon Ryan), who has given up full-time work to look after her four children; a woman heading back to work after a year’s maternity leave on the day that O’Kelly came to visit, and a roomful of expectant mothers.

It wasn’t entirely clear what the purpose of the programme was.

Was it to make O’Kelly see the error of her ways, in the hope that she would throw off decades of prejudice against stay-at-home mothers and admit that she as wrong all along?

Or was it to show her, through the sheer magnificence of her rhetoric and the righteousness of her argument, successfully persuading mothers to dust down their cvs, apply for jobs, and fob their kids off on a Filipino nanny?

In the end, nobody was remotely moved by the other’s argument or experience, although from a viewer’s point of view, O’Kelly did herself no favours.

Didactic, charmless, humourless and only barely in control of her argument, she cut an unsympathetic figure compared with the warm, friendly and welcoming people she met while making the programme.

“Do you not feel humiliated at not having an income?” she asked Monica, who has raised what look like six pretty cool kids, four of whom are being educated at home. To which the answer was – obviously - well, no actually.

“She’s underusing an excellent brain,” O’Kelly commented afterwards, as though bringing up six well-adjusted kids and schooling most of them required no intelligence at all. It was one of many patronising comments sent down from the ivory tower during the course of the programme.

In fairness to O’Kelly, the documentary could have been edited to make her look like an ogre.

Perhaps hours of footage showing her make powerful points in favour of her argument were not included.

Maybe an unused scene exists in which she spoke about her beliefs, where they came from, how they developed and changed over the years, and how she thinks they hold up in the current economic circumstances when hardly anybody, male or female, can find a job.

Perhaps her views on the idea of choice – the notion that some women, as Victoria White put it, think child-rearing at home “beats sitting in an office any day” - lie on what used to be known in pre-digital days as the cutting room floor.

Let’s hope so, because in Now It’s Personal, it was very hard to get any sense of O’Kelly’s philosophy.

She kept coming back to the money argument, the idea that women owe the state a favour for educating them. She seemed to judge people’s worth, and the value of their lives and choices, purely in terms of the money they could generate.

“She’s giving the money too much power”, White commented in the programme’s most telling line, exposing O’Kelly – a self-declared “Fabian Socialist” – as a hangover from the Celtic Tiger years.

Ultimately, the message of the programme was that no amount of Christmas cracker sloganeering masquerading as principle can trump the reality of people’s lives.

For that achievement alone, it was worth tuning in.

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