Friday 15 November 2019

TV Review: Debate dream that still haunts me

The People's Debate (TV3)

Illustration: Jim Cogan
Illustration: Jim Cogan
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

I had this strange and disturbing dream the other night. A dream that was indeed so strange and so disturbing, I feel that I must share it with you. Perhaps you might identify with it in some way, or otherwise deduce its meaning.

In this dream, I was watching the new Vincent Browne show on TV3, The People's Debate, so, in fact, it should have been a happy dream.

I had considered it a fine thought for Vincent to bring some normal people into the studio and for them to express their feelings on the great issues. A grand idea.

No doubt it was this positive sentiment on my part that had filtered into my consciousness and somehow generated these energies which eventually mutated into such harrowing visions.

Because this Cubist version of The People's Debate, which now infested my dreams, had no people in it, not as I know them. It was as if TV3 had gone out to look for people, only to find that there were none of these 'people' left in Ireland at all. As if some alien force had swept them away, leaving only some old audience from RTE's flagship current affairs debate programme, Questions & Answers.

Yes, it was clear from the start, that for some bewildering reason we were back in that 'Q&A' zone, in which everyone speaks like a Fine Gael party hack or a Fianna Fail plant or a Labour sympathiser or a Sinn Fein shill.

Which would have been troubling enough in itself, were it not for the fact that in the depths of this hallucination, it seemed to me that this was not just one Questions & Answers audience, it was about five of them all gathered in the one place, about 200 of these characters surrounding the lone figure of Vincent Browne.

And, as we all know from our bad dreams, everything is just that little bit distorted.

Not only was this a much larger 'Q&A' audience than the one we used to know, many of them were allowed to indulge their party hackery and advertise their candidature in the local elections for an incredible two hours, not just the one.

They were also less inhibited than the 'Q&A' crowd, who would tend to read out their questions from a card, stumbling over some of the words and the phrasing, relying on the support of their kindred spirits to laugh their heads off at the 'funny' question: "does the panel think that....Jackie Charlton...would make a good President?"

In my dream they were talking more freely, without visual aids. In the most baffling scenes, I saw a long line of these hacks, auditioning for a part on the real Vincent Browne show, then, for no reason, the oddly familiar face of former Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews appeared – and is that a journalist there? Is that perhaps a Senator? Could that possibly be the Fine Gael TD who was manhandled in the Dail during that late night session on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill? Where have all the people gone?

Of course, it was only when I woke up in a state of deep exhaustion that the presence of Peter Mathews or these other vaguely familiar faces felt wrong to me. Though, in truth, it had not felt entirely right at the time either.

Anyway, the great thing is, that when you wake up from one of these horror films which are occasionally visited upon you by your own subconscious, you are tremendously relieved that such things can only happen in that intangible realm.

I am now very much looking forward to The People's Debate next month because in my life I have met people, and on the whole, I like them.

I find that they are interested in things like entertainment and football and sex, and that they will rarely detain you long with talk of how impressed they are by Sinn Fein's policy on afforestation, or to express the wish to stand in forthcoming elections.

Yes, I am still scarred by this episode. If any of you have been troubled by what you have read or find that it reflects your own experience in any way, I should add that I had taken no drugs of any kind before going to sleep, and that I haven't had a drink since 1995.

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