No …I can’t really do it . It simply doesn’t work for me. I’m talking about the “Nolan” television show on Wednesday nights on BBC 1 , Northern Ireland. Yes, I know Mr Nolan has a very popular radio show every morning on Radio Ulster and he calls it the” Biggest Show In The Country” in a brash ,ebullient way.So what? My late Uncle Paddy was a baker and he would say ,without any hint of cynicism, but possibly a sly chuckle,that when you get right down to it , you can talk about quality while awaiting the return of the cows to home -base, but what Mr Joe Public out there really wants is a bun as big as a duncher’s cap. That would be one of those old flat newsboy -type caps that were very popular with the working man a generation ago.He would say that if you made the cake as big as said chapeau and filled the pastry with sugary ,cinnamon sweetened sawdust and sold it for tuppence, quality would not be a consideration and the mythical Man On The Street would buy the sugary comestible by the barrow -load. For the most part , I think he made a good point there. A lot of people don’t really care about quality so long as there’s a Good Big Feed for the right money. Why else would McDonalds have conquered the world?
You might call that the lowest common denominator in action. The Nolan radio show works very well at times , in that it allows the public to vent their frustration at our local politicians and of course it allows the same politicians a platform to expound on the topics of the day. It usually ends up in a lot of ranting and when there is a “conversation” , people tend to talk unfettered and drown each other out. Mr.Nolan has a propensity for butting into a conversation but sometimes is a very reticent chair-person when it comes to untangling two vying conversations.He certainly is popular and he does appear, for the most part, to be defending that same Common Man in the Street from the shenanigans of errant politics. I think his heart is in the right place in many ways. The radio show has more space to develop conversations and arguments because it runs for an hour and a half.
The television show is a slightly different beast. In much the same way that radio forces the mind to create the pictures to go with the dialogue and the personalities, television, by providing the visuals, strips the combatants of any illusory, unseen glamour. It exposes them as emperors with no clothes .The body- language , the ill-fitting clothes, the dodgy make-up and bad haircuts are all exposed in the glare of the studio lights . There is also the fact that the audience’s various biases are presented in how they laugh, smile , grimace and applaud their various champions on show. There is no real time to tease out a proper debate and there is much face-pulling, sound-bite and rough comedy on show.
I watched last night, for example and the complacency of the politicians faced with the possible breakdown of local government, was only shattered by Naomi Long of Alliance, beaming in onscreen from London with an acerbic critique of the stasis ,bitching and prevarication of Northern Irish political development . Her perfectly clear-minded take was lucid, concise and constructive in its brevity but not one person in the audience joined their hands in appreciative acknowledgement that Naomi’s bitter medicine was actually the unpalatable, unvarnished truth. it doesn’t matter what your politics are .The truth is still the truth.She is a sharp knife in a kitchen full to the cribs with mush. . It seemed to illicit no response whatsoever, as if it had neither been understood or even heard and was quickly dismissed by Mr Nolan who was anxious to push on with the show.Nancy Soderberg, key advisor to President Bill Clinton during the peace process was similarly presented in a filmed interview and her reading of the situation was all but dismissed as interfering . Given the fact that without her input we would all still inhabit a rancid war zone, this appeared both disingenuous but also unappreciative. The unionists in particular appeared to have developed political and social amnesia as to the real play of politics that they had been given ample time in this past twenty years to get right. The show was otherwise weighted in favour of the utterings of the two unionist politicians on the panel. Their every banal utterance applauded by their camp followers.They had the floor pretty much to themselves. The seemingly sidelined SDLP was an irrelevance in this noisy format, sniping half-heartedly between two strains of unionism, each vying to out- do the other. Sinn Fein were a no- show in light of another potential sex- scandal involving some of their old republican companions in the pre-Agreement and now defunct IRA. The coming Non-Talks that are brewing were mostly, seemingly felt to be immaterial, the public having long-since decided that the unionists are not up to the job of cutting deals. Their track record of breaking promises and reneging on agreements already stinking up any validity they might have had.
I imagine that if Sinn Fein actually refused to attend any future Nolan shows, the show itself would eventually expire outright.Without that Pushmepullyou -that Yin and Yang of competing political opposites, the show would literally wither on the vine. It would consume itself.