Sunday 18 February 2018

Television: Vogue proves a model student

Vogue Does Straight A's, RTE One
* Vincent Browne Live from The George, TV3

Vogue Williams goes back to school
Vogue Williams goes back to school
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

Well, it's that time of year again.

It's the time of year when tens of thousands of Irish teenagers are forced through the sausage-making machine that is the Irish educational system; where they will discover if the last five years of their life have been spent judiciously and fruitfully, or whether they're destined to become so much dole fodder because they forgot their declensions, or they couldn't get their head around a theorem.

It's all incredibly unfair and a rather reductive, punitive ordeal which takes the whole sum of a young person's scholastic achievements and spits them back out in cruel black and white.

Of course, it's that very cruelty which makes the whole slog so entertaining to the rest of us.

That's not born from a particularly malicious streak but... well, actually, it kinda sorta is.

After all, goes the mentality of many of us adults, we had to study, fret and worry about those bleedin' exams, so why so shouldn't the young 'uns?

Honestly, kids today and all that...

Of course, there is more pressure on young people now than there was when was I stumbling wildly around the Leaving Cert back in 1989 (memo to younger readers, 1989 was an actual year in the calendar, it's not just the title of Taylor Swift's latest record, although it's undoubtedly a mighty fine album).

After all, when I was sitting those exams, I simply didn't bother turning up for the second Irish paper, I walked into the Honours English exam convinced we had spent the last year studying a different play and my oral French test involved an excruciating attempt to chat up the unfortunate examiner (well, if you're going to fail, you might as well go down in flames, n'est ce pas?).

No, my parents' fury and the general disdain of those poor souls who were employed to teach me, I decided early on that school and studying and the tedious exams that came with that just weren't for me. So I simply displayed the kind of cavalier stupidity and arrogance that only a 17-year-old gobshite can manage.

Of course, other kids are more responsible and that's why Vogue Williams' latest reality doc, Vogue Does Straight A's (as opposed to Vogue Does Straight E's, which would have been an entirely different show) should have come with a trigger warning for its teenage target audience.

As much of a bothersome inconvenience as the Leaving may have been to many of my now decrepit peers, apparently school leavers these days also have to balance studying with bullying each other on Facebook and sexting each other. But I don't know anyone from my generation who would put ourselves in their shoes.

Williams has been busy carving out an increasingly successful career in reality TV (she recently won Bear Grylls: Mission Survive) and has managed something quite remarkable - for a woman who came to 'fame' as part of the execrable Fade Street, who had that unfortunate habit of pretending to be a DJ and, lest we forget, who married Brian McFadden, she still seems almost normal, which is an achievement in itself.

Having only achieved 300 points in her own Leaving Cert, the producers decided it might be a good idea for the model to go back to school to try her hand at some exams and, while they were at it, to have a go at getting into Mensa.

That last task, particularly, seemed to indicate a rather sadistic desire of the production company to see her utterly humiliate herself but what makes Williams interesting(ish) is a natural ease and curiosity in front of camera.

Amidst the usual and almost infuriating interviews with junior boffins who collected A-1s the way the rest of us picked up detention, the most interesting interviewee was undoubtedly Lynn Ruane, who gave birth when she was 15, never sat the Leaving and is now, as a mature student, president of TCD Students Union.

Also featured was homeschooling mother Marian O'Connor who seemed to have raised normal kids, although the fact that the mother of five was also arrested and spent some brief time in jail in a row over how she was educating her kids was deemed unworthy of mention.

But there was one salutary lesson for all those kids who study hard and get a grand slam of A-1s.

Just look at the terrifying case of Christiane O'Mahoney, who was one of those brainiacs who managed a clean sweep.

So what is she now? A brain surgeon? A billionaire tech geek? Um, not quite. In fact, Christiane is a stand-up comedian who uses a harp as her musical prop.

Ah yes. They don't warn you about the perils of studying really hard and being successful and then ending up as a harpist telling jokes for a living, do they?

Vincent Browne Live From The George isn't a phrase that immediately jumps off the screen. Nor is it an image that is easily banished from the mind's eye.

The Mardi Gras atmosphere was undeniable and The George was certainly hopping and this live programme will probably grow in value as history moves on, but its value will be in reminding people just how hysterical everything became in those last few days and hours before the vote.

We didn't repeal slavery here, a bit of perspective never harms anyone.

Irish Independent

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