Issue 2 - 2024 200dpi

13 February 2003 Edition

Resize: A A A Print

Son of God routs false idols


There's a claustrophobic, turn-of-century vibe in the air, even three years on from the millennium (or two, depending on who you believe, or how many excuses you need to get drunk). We're acutely aware that things on our planet are going to have to change, drastically, if we are to survive. Fossil fuels are running out, and the "resource wars" this century has promised us are about to kick off with a vengeance in Iraq. The wealth and health of the world lies in the hands of greedy white men. The end of history is this generation's vision for the future.

The excellent two-piece drama The Second Coming (ITV, soon to be released on video) tapped this mood perfectly, charting the end of days from the revelation of the second incarnation of Christ in Maine Road, Manchester, to his self-sacrifice two and a half hours later (or 3 hours and 10 minutes, if you include the ridiculous amount of ads). In the meanwhile, his miracles and declarations divide the world, and create havoc on the streets. One of the neatest touches is the snapshots of TV news we get to see, and newsflashes like "Iraq condemns hoax, accuses UK" add immeasurably to the authentic atmosphere, while also painting the world in its divided religious colours.

The fantastical setting allows the creators to pursue the "final taboo" to its logical conclusion - 'Judgement Day'. As a scenario, it's irresistible, and in its realisation it's impeccable. Chris Eccleston excels as Stephen Baxtor, Son of God. The handling of good and evil is subtle; one of the characters noting that "evil is such a lazy thing", creeping into the complacent lives of desperate people.

Stephen Baxter is held in a police station, leaving only to reunite with his friends in a local pub. He makes a speech outside of the station bellowing that we have destroyed the world, "heaven is empty and hell is bursting at the seams". His miracles - creating daylight for eight hours inside Maine Road and protecting his friends from a bomb blast - leads the Emergency Council of World Churches to declare him the real deal. He delivers the world an ultimatum - create a Third Testament or Judgement Day will come. The bulk of the drama is concerned with the countdown to the end of the world, and in the end the moral is that religion, and the heaven and hell notion, has to die before people can live their 70 years of life in a worthwhile way. To my mind the ending falls flat, but after an imaginative tour de force, that hardly matters.

The unrelenting negativity of the tabloid news stations is amplified and striking, feeding the frenzy of the mobs, driven by soundbites and anonymous behind a wall of faces as they reach out to touch or destroy an idol, acting viscerally and manically. Much like the intended fanbase for the second American Idol.

American Idol 2 (TV3, Fri, Sat), as the name suggests, is the second instalment (Irish viewers were spared the first) in the US version of Pop Idol. By now, everybody must be familiar with the concept, but for the uninitiated it goes something like this: a panel of three judges travels around the major US cities hearing audition hopefuls, who are then filtered down to 32, who perform on TV in groups of 8, and are then subject to a popular vote, before being whittled down to a final panel of 10, from which one "idol" will emerge, to be managed by Simon Cowell (one of the three judges), with their guaranteed 15 minutes of fame.

The standard of talent is woefully bad, and the open auditions attracted all manner of wannabee stars - from Christina Aguilera/Britney Spears look-a-likes to mentally unstable celebrity chasers. Combine this with the legendary US inability to take criticism, and you end up with rivers of tears. That, of course, is the point. Not only does the audience get to witness the misery, it also gets to inflict it, by way of the public vote. The idea is that the victor will have moved enough gullible, premium-rate phone-voters that he or she can shift truckloads of whatever bad cover version is released.

It's also a metaphor for US society. Everything on the surface is glossy and ever-grinning, while under the surface the tension is so palpable it leaves you squirming in your seat. Here are a group of people forced to share the same space, party at the same houses, and smile for the camera, when - in reality - only one of them can win. There is no camaraderie, but they pretend there is anyway, hugging each other with one eye on the camera. They would all gladly stab each other in the back, but they have to applaud each other's performances.

It's not necessarily their fault, but the system is brutal, and they are in direct competition. The parallels with life in an increasingly vicious US capitalist system are unnerving. It's plastic, it's nasty, and it is the personification of the lowest common denominator. And it's sponsored by Coca-Cola and Ford, naturally.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1