Sunday 22 September 2019

Poverty, watch out, Tubridy's on the war path

Hard-pressed Irish people give enough without millionaire celebrities nagging them for more, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Virtue signalling: Ryan Tubridy with pupils from St Margarets National School during the launch of St Vincent De Paul’s annual appeal at their HQ on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin
Virtue signalling: Ryan Tubridy with pupils from St Margarets National School during the launch of St Vincent De Paul’s annual appeal at their HQ on Sean McDermott Street, Dublin

Eilis O'Hanlon

Twelve hours of Ryan Tubridy on national TV? And they say that torture's illegal these days.

This week's announcement by the Late, Late Show presenter that he is ready and willing to appear on our screens for an entire half day uninterrupted, should he be called upon to do so, was eerily reminiscent of an ad currently doing the rounds on TV for the UK National Lottery, which cleverly features irritating media types such as Piers Morgan and Noel Edmonds buying tickets in order to fund some vainglorious project designed to give themselves even more attention. The slogan goes: "Don't let it be them."

The funniest probably features Katie Price, aka former glamour model Jordan, explaining her plan to start a TV channel featuring round the clock programmes by and about her. "How do I turn this off?" asks an executive as she fiddles with her screen. Jordan looks shocked. "Oh you can't turn it off," she explains.

Is this what Ryan has in mind? Picture it now. Tubs TV - tune in any time of the day or night to watch our hero have another awkward encounter with some guest of whom you've never heard, under the tag line: "Cheer up, at least it's not Ray D'Arcy."

All of which is hugely unfair, needless to say, because the TV presenter isn't suggesting this marathon mass immersion in Ryan's World for the sake of his career or ego. Perish the thought. It would all be for charity, as he explained this week at the launch of the St Vincent de Paul annual Christmas appeal.

His vision is to front a huge telethon event along the lines of BBC's Children In Need, as part of which he declared himself ready to "do 12 hours on the trot, just to get it going and to lead by example."

As Oscar Wilde once said of the death of Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop: "It would take a heart of stone not to laugh." Leading by example, indeed. Is this the way Ireland's officer class really talk, or was he doing it for a bet?

A psychologist might find it interesting that Tubridy singled out Children In Need rather than, say, Comic Relief or ITV's Text Santa appeal, neither of which are presented by Terry Wogan, in whose image the Dublin man seems increasingly to be moulding himself. Wogan was only a few years younger when he started presenting the BBC's annual telethon, and, because of illness, this year's broadcast was the first one he missed in 35 years. Popularity and longevity don't always go together, but it doesn't hurt.

Nor, as he prepares to take the reins for the next few weeks on Sir Terry's Sunday morning radio show whilst Wogan recovers from his recent operation, can it do him any harm to associate himself publicly with an event for which the Limerick legend became synonymous.

But no, we mustn't be cynical, since it's Rule No 1 in the celebrity handbook that any publicity is acceptable as long as it's done in the name of helping the little people. What's galling is that these same little people are expected to fund such glittery media vanity projects through donations, as if they haven't got enough financial worries right now without being asked to cough up for the dubious privilege of watching some over-the-hill "entertainer", who hasn't been a household name since Glenroe was the highlight of a Sunday night.

There are enough chuggers about without having to avoid them on television too. And to be fair to traditional chuggers, they're only trying to make a living. By and large, they're young, well-meaning members of the minimum wage, zero-hours contract generation, who'd much rather be doing proper jobs rather than stopping randomers in the street and asking politely if they'd like to cure world hunger.

On these TV charity mega-events, the chuggers are millionaires. It feels a bit like being asked for the lend of a fiver by Rockefeller, and, whilst it's something of a cliché to suggest of rich celebrities that, if they do want to save the world with cash, they should start with their own, it doesn't make it any less true.

Let the poor buggers at home at the end of a week's work keep their tenners to get a takeaway and a bottle of wine. It's not as if they don't already give enough.

Ireland is in top 10 most generous countries in the world when it comes to charitable giving. In Europe, only the UK and Holland give more than we do. In fact, if you want a shorthand method of knowing which countries give most to those less fortunate than themselves, here it is: they speak English. It's those nasty free-market capitalist countries which help out most.

That's probably the most objectionable aspect to what Ryan Tubridy said. It contained an unspoken implication that maybe people are struggling in Ireland because of an insufficiency of opportunities to donate money to good causes. That couldn't be further from the truth.

Quite what Tubridy hopes to achieve with an Irish telethon remains a mystery. "Children are doing their homework in a hotel room and it's not right. That's Strumpet City not Dublin city in 2015. It has to stop," he said.

It must have escaped his notice that Children In Need has been going every year since he was seven years old and children still do their homework in hostels in Britain too, and there are still food banks in the high street. Whether actual, as opposed to relative, poverty is as great a phenomenon in an age where households seem to have a smart TV and a games console in every room is debatable; but the point stands.

Charity telethons do not solve the problems which concern Tubridy. Saying "it has to stop" doesn't make it stop.

What's missing from the RTE star's approach is any sort of political dimension. It doesn't even matter what side of the fence he comes down on. Embrace "tax and spend" socialism, or learn to stop worrying and love the free market, but for pity's sake, take a stand one way or another, rather than talking like some Victorian benefactor who thinks charity can plug the gaps through which the most vulnerable still fall.

As the man from the charity said, people need "a hand up, not a hand out".

This, though, isn't about solving childhood poverty, it's merely another example of what's called "virtue signalling", a neologism coined to describe situations where sanctimonious, left-leaning middle-class people strive to find the most conspicuous way of indicating to other like-minded types that they share their morally superior world view. It's particularly virulent on social media, and never more so than in recent days, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, where it became a matter of politically correct social etiquette to first publicly deplore the scale of death, before immediately distancing oneself from any right wingers who happened to be around by blaming the West for what happened.

No problem is so great that it can't be made better by slapping a hashtag on it.

So whilst it's to his credit that Ryan Tubridy feels strongly about childhood poverty, and wants us to know it's #NotInHisName and that #SomethingMustBeDone, it's really not that big of a deal if his only answer to it is to propose appearing on television for a few hours with his other famous friends, all no doubt wearing specially printed T-shirts with the slogan "It Has To Stop", since that's what he does for a living anyway.

Sunday Independent

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