The evening before , I watched the latest version of Alex Haley’s “ROOTS” about the the black Mandika warrior Kunta Kinte who had been enslaved in Africa and brought to the Colony of Virginia in America to work and breed , as good as any horse ,on a tobacco plantation. A version of the story was originally screened some forty years ago after the publication of the book in 1976, but now of course , after Tarantino, we are inured to violence in film so that much ,more of the casual horror could be shown for our edification .At a cost of some $50 million ,this time we get the chance to watch the flesh being flayed from Kunta’s back by the cruel Irish overseer ,Connolly and later watched as half of his foot was axed off to stop the stubborn fellow from running away …yes “Gone With The Wind” and the Paddywhackery fantasy of Miss Scarlett O’Hara were never like this.If memory serves, this is essentially a truthful telling of a real family story.Kunte even joins with the British for a short time in a vain attempt to gain his freedom from the plantation but is let down by them and eventually re-captured by a slave -patrol.There’s much more of this and it’s worth a watch but as we wait for the next hour and a half episode next week there’s other entertainment afoot…..
There’s always something very disappointing in these supposedly” live “TV political debates. There’s a deadness in them.There is so much structure and no live audience to interact with so that it becomes a “canned” performance like a pasted -on laughter track on a television -comedy. Probably every politician struggles with a format like this. It’s the difference between scuba- swimming with fish, free and lively in the sea ,or watching them listlessly swim from one end of a glass tank to the other, tickling a plastic rock , nibbling at each other’s fins, or eating each other out of sheer boredom. Everyone made what they could of the format and played to their strengths.We all know their positions by now so it’s not as if they’ll accrue any really new converts at this stage anyway.Anyone with an interest in such things has already followed them all over the months and years and know exactly what they will be getting .This is merely a stage to see how well they can perform.It is where they might make promises or show their best made-up face .
I was reminded of a passage in a favourite George Orwell novel “Coming up For Air”. There’s an early scene-setting passage where the disenchanted hero ,George Bowling is seated in a shiny chrome cafe and has just settled his upper and lower sets of false teeth into the springy, rubbery carapace of a revolting sausage ….
“The thing burst in my mouth like a rotten pear. A sort of horrible soft stuff was oozing all over my tongue. But the taste! For a moment I just couldn’t believe it. Then I rolled my tongue round it again and had another try. It was fish! A sausage, a thing calling itself a frankfurter, filled with fish! I got up and walked straight out without touching my coffee. God knows what that might have tasted of.”
We’ve all had that experience when we ‘ve taken home some quickie ready -meal from Marks and Sparks , hoping for tea-time nirvana, only to shove it disparagingly aside and wonder why you’d been so lazy as not to cook something tastier in the first place.
Back to the television and political debate ….it all felt a bit like that……
Thurday night seems to be the chosen night on local television to unlock the cages and allow the politicians some exercise and playtime under the aegis of specific whip-wielding ringmasters.None of this would be seen beyond the plexi-dome of Norneverland , Ireland , so it doesn’t really matter one whit to the world beyond, but both local BBC Norneverland and Ulster Television ,Norneverland, screened on one hand a “debate” by the five leaders of the largest political parties and later Mark Carruthers appeared on ‘ “The View” to practice the art of political disembowelling on his latest patient. This is all in the run-up to yet another election .Last week his blades were directed at the newly -installed Sinn Fein northern leader .Michelle O’Neill appeared to acquit herself admirably enough on her appearance. She spoke quickly and managed to get her points across without too much deflection .The general consensus was that she had a good innings.This week it was the DUP’s Arlene Foster’s turn. She had earlier appeared on the aforementioned Leaders’ Debate, so she was having a busy day.
Arlene Foster , the ex-First Minister from the DUP, although ostensibly pretending to keep her cool and calm exterior , is very obviously feeling the heat after her abysmal one-year performance as First Minister and the RHI “Ash for Cash” scandal and debacle. .She had to be dismissed from that position and still appears to have no real idea as to why. Her followers probably do not care either way, if they even understand the nature of the foolishness at all. Betrayed each time by the tics and twitches and shuffles of body-language, hot flushes , throbbing arteries and popping nerves ,which makes her cold-eyed smile more like that rolling grimace of a predatory great white about to strike,while she seems also fixated on a recurring revolving nightmare of Adamsian proportions which is surely on the autism spectrum ; she mentioned Gerry Adams many, many times, even though he was not actually running for election at all; a form of political Tourettes that may never be properly treated, it seems but probably like a ringing bell to the Pavlovian paranoids who imagine being subsumed in a republican nightmare replete with many little popes in popemobiles. It also seems unfair to poke sticks into such a seemingly politically- deranged and psychically- damaged political creature, but that is the name of the game and she is the one chosen by her fellows for that invidious role; fitness for office is what matters, though. Sticks must be poked and reactions of some sort must be weeded out. If truth be told none of her political supporters will notice any of the huge flaws in this floorshow she is putting on and will accept it as their norm and rightfully due pittance, in any case. It is all that they require.If there is no Bogeyman available to make the trick work, it is best to invent one and then allow the magic to unfold like ectoplasmic plasma exteriorized and issuing from the darkness at a seance. It is what they have been conditioned to expect and they will probably be unable to accept any other. It will be left to the political pundits to wipe their scalpels, sadly shake their heads in wonder and stare into the nothingless in the empty entrails .
The two astounded television pundits who watched the performance from the side don’t really count at all, of course. They are there to assure us viewers as to what we have actually witnessed…..that’s all. They both nod their heads in agreement .”How much worse than that can it get ?” they wonder aloud. They are the viewers’ salve to stop us throwing our television sets through the wall in frustration.They provide our mirrorand we share their pain.
None of it matters at all.Any fine points of argument and reason from other “contestants”will be largely lost in any case and the punters who vote, will vote as they always vote.Outside in the world the land has already been salted with enough hatred in these past weeks, months and years to stifle political growth for another generation.If it pans out otherwise I will be as surprised as Orwell’s George Bowling was with his hideous ersatz sausage .
Politics have a constancy in Norneverland , it has to be said.