Sunday 21 January 2018

Ireland's Call: a show of two halves

* Ireland's Call, TV 3
* Horizon: Are Video Games Really That Bad?, BBC 2

Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Ireland's Call

TV 3

Horizon: Are Video Games Really That Bad?


Where do you stand on Ireland's Call? When Ireland's Call is played, do you stand at all? Or do you pull a Jeremy Corbyn and brood mutely like a sullen teenager who wants to make a point of not participating? Few songs have caused such rancour in Irish sporting history and the argument about this compromise anthem always seems to forget that, in the words of the great Kevin Rowland, compromise is the Devil talking.

Commissioned by the IRFU in 1995 in an effort to placate Ulster players and fans who felt uncomfortable with Amhrán na bhFiann, the song has indeed managed to be a uniter rather than a divider, if only because most people were united in horror and disgust at such a terrible dirge.

That was always rather unfair on both the song and the composer, Phil Coulter.

After all, anthems are meant to be simple to the point of being stupid, they are meant to be easily sung even by those who don't know the words and, the central role of any anthem, they are meant to unite the fans and players in a sense of common purpose.

When two countries exist on one island but are represented by only one side, as happens in the likes of rugby, hockey and tennis, the idea of alienating half your own team before kick off seems, to put it mildly, spectacularly counterintuitive.

Largely immune from the sectarian schisms which so polluted football on this island, the policy of Don't Mention The Troubles came to a brutal and bloody end in 1987 when three Irish internationals were caught in an IRA bomb blast while driving down to Dublin to train.

It effectively ended the career of Nigel Carr but it also meant the Corinthian spirit of Irish rugby, which chose to ignore the political chaos of the time, and had to change and the anthem of the Republic, translated into English as 'The Soldier's Song', as it was unfit for purpose.

Which is where Coulter comes in.

TV3 have the rights to this year's Rugby World Cup and have a raft of egg chasing programmes planned, such as The Sin Bin, which features Joe Molloy and Andrew Maxwell. It's too early to tell after one episode if that live show will work, but Monday night's documentary, Ireland's Call, was the ultimate programme of two halves.

The first half was, in truth, a fascinating bit of social history that will have come as news to many people under 30.

The late 80s and early 90s saw parts of Eastern Europe collapse into sectarian bloodletting and there was always a rump of nutters on both sides of the divide in Norn Iron who would have been quite happy to Balkanise this island if they got the chance.

So in the context of those times, changing the away game anthem made, and still makes, perfect sense.

The great Keith Wood was open and honest enough to admit that he sang it even though he couldn't stand it because, as he pointed out, it was just the right thing to do.

The right thing to do is seldom the most exciting thing, and Woods' stoic acceptance of the reality of the time was a refreshing change to those southern alickadoos who still say that any Irish team which takes to the field without Amhrán na bhFiann isn't an Irish team at all.

But the second half?

Good God, it was like watching the most boring episode of Classic Albums ever recorded as Coulter noodled about in the studio, messing with faders and levels and trying to get some terrible trad outfit to sing the song.

They say you should never see sausages being made because it will turn you off them. The same could be said about watching the painstaking re-recording of Ireland's Call.

Following on from the rather flat and widely derided The Game Changers, which provided a fictionalised account of Rockstar's efforts to make Grand Theft Auto the biggest game in the history of everything, the Beeb's 'Horizon' strand explored the impact of games on people.

Are Video Games Really That Bad? actually ran the risk of being the shortest documentary ever made because the obvious answer is 'no, no they're not.' That would have been a rather unsatisfactory and brief programme, but while there was plenty of data and research quoted in the show, it remained just as unsatisfying.

Video games are the great moral panic of the age, alongside sporadic outbreaks of hysteria about movies or music.

But while even the most ardent critic of popular culture will have seen movies and listened to music, most of them seem to remain in complete ignorance of gaming, which remains a source of frustration mixed with bemusement.

Conducting a bunch of standard experiments, some neuroscientists came to the conclusion that prolonged playing of violent shoot 'em ups made people more aggressive while, quelle surprise,other neuroscientists did some standard tests and came to the conclusion that, actually, they had no impact on players at all.

It's quite remarkable to note that the biggest earning sector of the entertainment industry, which is worth double the money made on movies and saw Irish people spend the guts of ¤300m last year, is still treated as if it was a sullen teenager who was obviously up to no good.

Ultimately, they decided that games can actually be good for you, but it's probably best not to spend 24 hours a day playing them.

Who knew?

But there was no mention of Gamergate, or the numerous myths which have spread about gaming, which was surely a wasted opportunity.

Irish Independent

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