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6 February 1997 Edition

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Television: Afternoon traffic accidents

Don't accuse me of getting all Millennial, but in the `90s gossip has superceded news.

A secret shared is a buck in the bank and all that. My schedule has changed somewhat in recent months, with the result that for a couple of days each week I find myself at home in the early afternoon, which turns out to be a televisual Twilight Zone. There is an endless selection of cheap chat shows on offer, with varying contents, ranging from straightforward celebrity interviews to the personal problems of people resembling the cast of Deliverance. You know the shows I mean - Sally Jesse Raphael, Ricki Lake, Jenny Jones, Montel Williams, Oprah Winfrey etc from the US and offering competition from the British side, Vanessa.

These shows bring new meaning to the word `humiliation'. Dirty laundry and personal problems, real and imagined, and mostly best left unshared, airs daily in front of avaricious millions. The public appetite for this dross is insatiable. These shows are like traffic accidents. No matter how tasteless and damaging to all concerned, they hold a horrific fascination. Just this afternoon (Tuesday) I watched as couples shared secrets with Sally Jesse on Sky One. But these were not your common or garden secrets. A woman broke the news to her husband of just two months that she had been ``lifting the curtain behind his back'', ie. fooling around. Not only that, but she explained that this behaviour was inevitable because he hadn't lost enough weight to make himself attractive to her. The guy's name was Noble but there was nothing noble about the sordid scene that followed, as the audience turned on his partner, Sally Jesse affected shock and the TAM ratings no doubt soared in response.

Another negative is that these shows seem to breed an endless stream of pop psychologists, many of them touting useless self-help manuals for the gullible and the desperate.

It would be comforting if the main characters were paid actors after all but I fear that the five minutes of fame syndrome provides too strong a pull. Some people will willingly stoop to whatever depths the studio bosses require in order to get on the telly. The rest of us just watch. It may be lowest common denominator stuff but for the networks it's cheap to produce and, unfortunately, very popular.

Over on UTV, Vanessa was also poking the open wound of affairs and betrayal. The victim sat between her husband and her ex-best friend. The husband smirked as he insisted that he had had an affair with the friend. The friend smirked and denied everything. The woman in between just looked victimised. Why had she agreed to appear? Why do the studio audiences get so involved in other people's misery? Why do so many people watch this rubbish? One thing's for sure, neither Vanessa nor Sally Jesse are short of a few drachmas. The same cannot be said for most of the guests. Sure, they probably get paid to appear, but the vast majority are not exactly life's winners. Poor White Trash in the main and the equivalent in the race or colour of your choice.

It's not often I say this about my beloved box but the best colour scheme for these sad displays of western culture in crisis is the white dot receding into the black screen.

If you are stuck in the house of an afternoon, may I suggest Fifteen-to-One (Channel 4, weekdays, 4pm) which will test your general knowledge or the evergreen Countdown (Channel 4, weekdays, 4.30pm), still going strong. It's worth a look, if only for Richard Whitley's fashion sense but I like to get a pen and paper and be humiliated by the contestants.

 
While I am wasting my afternoons at home and pretending to myself that I am doing it all for your benefit, and indirectly, for the revolution, another programme demonstrated some of the harsher realities for participants in popular liberation movements.

People's Century: The War of the Flea, looked at three successful guerilla wars, those fought in Cuba, Vietnam and Afghanistan. What irritated was the assumption that the Afghan conflict, because it was fought against a nominally communist regime, provided some sort of balance for the Cuban and Vietnam experiences. Any sort of overview of guerrilla warfare in the latter part of the 20th Century must record that the major motivating force for liberation movements, whether in Africa, South America or even here in Ireland, is national liberation.

The interviews with participants from different sides in these wars were interesting, but overall there were no new insights in a programme which merely skimmed the surface of history. People's Century is a series which hits the mark more often than it misses but this effort was disappointing. A deeper analysis of the worldwide explosion of guerrilla movements was really needed. Guerrilla war was initiated by the underdog as a tactic to break colonial bonds or to challenge unjust post-colonial regimes. What would have been fascinating would be a comparative documentary about the motivation of individual guerrilla fighters, an examination of the principles and tactics of guerrilla warfare and of the value of propaganda to guerrilla movements.

But that kind of programme might have to address unfashionable modern struggles which do not have the benefit of a 20-year cooling off period to bestow legitimacy to their guerrillas.

BY LIAM O COILEAIN

An Phoblacht Magazine

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