I very rarely listen to Irish radio, for much the same reason that I very rarely listen to the gurgling of sewage outflow pipes in Howth – it’s out of my way, an outdated system and mostly produced by the middle class.
However, one of the downsides of moving to Dublin for work that they don’t tell you about is having to listen to the radio when you travel home. Radio is an occasional hazard of public transport, like public masturbation and body odour. So I’ve become an occasional radio listener. And it has been revelatory in its insight into Irish public life.
Take this evening’s Matt Cooper programme. Matt Cooper, who introduced every topic as if learning and pronouncing each word for the first time. ‘Tottenham Hotspur’ said with the same breathless naivety as ‘gangland crime’. Every moment is a tabula rasa for Matt Cooper, who seeks only to provide the nation with the bare facts necessary to tackle any issue.
There’s a comfort to radio. No one knows anything, just like us. But unlike us, they seesingularly unaware of this fact. Or perhaps merely not knowing anything about a topic doesn’t present the same barrier to opinion to these people as it does to us mere mortals. Groomed with the finest university educations and told they were the smartest boys and girls in class from the earliest age, merely not knowing anything is no barrier to holding forth on every topic.
Plausibility and credibility, neither of these are a concern, as sheer self-confidence propels talking heads through the show, slaying dead air with a specificity of opinion that beggars belief.
There’s an assumed familiarity. Everything is couched as if there’s a comfortable ‘Us’ that basically shares all the premises of every argument. The gangland crime segment looks at criminals as if they’re some kind of aberrant phenomenon.
‘Maybe these criminal gangs are benefitting from the recovery, just like everyone else’ is a phrase that’s uttered. ‘Just like everyone else’. The only interconnectedness between different classes in society that is even countenanced is a seconds long admission that middle-class cocaine users are helping to feed the gangs. There’s a comfortable middle-classness to the whole thing that’s just astounding. The atomisation of society is never more visible than on these programmes.
Because the comfortable ‘Us’ that comprises the assumed listenership is not part of the whole. The entire spectacle is an exercise in a Thatcherite death of society. The gangs are an Other. Kanye West and his listeners, the genre of hip hop, are an Other.
The Left is an Other, one section tells us. They fixate on telling stories of cruelty to individuals, whereas the Right concerns itself with process. There’s no ambiguity which the speaker thinks is the basis for proper governance.
The level of assumed familiarity is so staggering that often commentators will joke that they don’t know anything about a topic. I say joke, but that’s the extent of the joke. The joke is the absurdity that they, a respected media person, would know anything about the topic they are being expected to opine on. Presumably the hoi polloi have done some weird and wacky thing that’s forced one of their quirks into the news, and now they, the respected media person, must talk about it. Hilarious! Nowhere is this more clear than on the Marion Finucane show.
I remember getting a lift to Dublin with my parents and the Finucane show was on. One of the commentators said that ‘One of the things that’s not talked about enough with regard to the Troika is that it was good to have a body above politics to make decisions.’ No one one the panel disagreed. It was just accepted that the suspension of democracy, in the interest of the pursuit of anti-populist class interests, was a Good Thing. And yet these same commentators will laugh at Donald Trump and his popularity Stateside.
We Irish often pride ourselves that throughout our history there’s rarely been an organised far-right with power and influence. Why would we need fascists when we have talk radio.