Tuesday 12 December 2017

We're doing up ourselves instead of houses

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Cosmetic Surgery (All Channels)

National Ploughing Championships (RTE1)

The Story Of The Jews (BBC2)

If we could divide the world of television into two parts, broadly speaking they would consist of sport and cosmetic surgery.

As we make our way through the digital wasteland, there is always a football match of some kind to be seen, and for those who mightn't be up for that, there's usually some sort of a face-lift going on.

I'm talking here about programmes such as Harley Street, a series in which we saw many cosmetic procedures being contemplated and then performed, mostly on women, but not entirely – there are men too, who feel a lot better about themselves after a bit of Botox.

There was How Not To Get Old, which again brought us through a range of treatments, testing them on grounds of quality and value.

And in the first programme of her series What Women Want, the excellent Maia Dunphy went into this land of enhancement and augmentation, invasive and non-invasive, with which we are becoming so familiar.

It is a land in which the dominant mood is one of tremendous excitement tempered by enormous anxiety. I suppose the same could be said of the property programmes that used to occupy this position of eminence, except instead of doing up a charming old house, these people are doing up themselves.

And as with the property shows, all this face-lifting is bound to tempt a few amateurs into the game. Though I have not seen as many of these operations as I would like, still I've seen enough to feel pretty confident that I could do you a reasonable trout-pout, or maybe one of those jobs that involve large amounts of fat being siphoned out of one part of your body into another part. For reasons best known to yourself.

Like the ploughing, I suppose, it's all about fractions. Normally when we hear highly skilled people saying that their particular game is "all about fractions", they tend to be snooker or darts players or golfers for whom the margins are obviously very thin.

So it was marvellous to hear the reigning World Ploughing champion John Whelan telling RTE's Ciaran Mullooly that "ploughing is all about fractions". It's about "tweaking here and tweaking there" and getting every little bit out of it.

That said, I feel that the Dublin media's annual celebration of the ways of Rural Ireland can still have uncomfortable undertones. A note of paternalism perhaps, a bit like those moments on the GAA programmes when Michael Lyster looks into the camera with a conspiratorial grin and announces a Great Competition with a Fabulous Prize which might well be a Trip To New York.

In reality, there are people in rural Ireland who probably couldn't be bothered going on a fabulous trip to New York, because they've been there already, and they actually built significant parts of it with their own hands.

Yet the Dublin media still has this way of presenting such attractions to the farming community as if they were speaking to a classroom full of easily impressed 10-year olds. It is indeed, all about fractions.

***

In New York, on the Lower East Side, we will also find Simon Schama in part four of his brilliant The Story Of the Jews. This section in which he describes the incalculable contribution of Jewish artists to our culture was always going to provide Schama with a daunting selection of narratives.

Skipping lightly past Irving Berlin and the Gershwins, he settled on EY 'Yip' Harburg, who co-wrote Buddy Can You Spare a Dime? and Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Again, there's nothing I can usefully add to Schama's own words, as he recalls that Somewhere Over the Rainbow almost didn't make it into the movie ... "But Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen believed in it passionately ... why? Well, because it summed up all of the history of Jewish yearning for deliverance from oppression, all that back history of their own families. But what they did was actually to channel that specifically Jewish-American sensibility and marry it up with something authentically American, the intense American faith in optimism. And by doing that they made Somewhere Over the Rainbow a universal treasure ...

"I wish the story could end there," said Schama, "with the collective success of America's Jews and the dreamworld of Oz, but it didn't. Remember the date of that triumphant night at the Oscars? – 1940."

Sunday Independent

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