Last Sunday our leaders finally admitted that those tanks on the lawn were the IMF. Later that day, two shifty-looking middle-aged Brians stood behind two podiums (looking for all the world like they were at the starting line of the world's lamest segway race) ready to explain. Most people who tuned into RTÉ, BBC News or Sky News to watch this live only got respite from the self-serving jargon when TV3's Vincent Browne laid into the Taoiseach (the gist: "You're a liability"). RTÉ cut away at this point, which has no connection whatsoever to the fact Browne works for a rival broadcaster.
Whereas Cowen specialises in combative shamelessness, his cabinet prefer to emulate Guy Goma, the taxi driver who in 2006 was mistakenly interviewed as an expert on BBC News. Like Goma, defence minister Tony Killeen looked shocked to be on live television on Monday's Frontline. After Fintan O'Toole argued for a referendum on the budget and likened the forthcoming election to "arguing over which brand of condom you want after you become pregnant", Killeen looked dazed and quoted from Kipling's If ('If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...'; I presume he meant to say 'seat' instead of 'head') and delivered hilarious one-liners (the studio audience burst into uproarious laughter when he said: "Brian Cowen is not finished"). Later as Pat Kenny interviewed Eamon Ryan about the Greens' slow withdrawal from government, someone started yelling from the audience. "This is not the place for political speeches!" said a stern Pat. Which is a bit like saying, "No fighting in the war room!"
Vincent Browne really thrives in a crisis. His hair looks glossier; his features more lustrous; his eyes brighter; his set redder. On Monday's Tonight with Vincent Browne he gave John Gormley a good shake ("It's not easy [being Green]", Gormley said). Then on Tuesday he and his panel of economists did hard sums. I didn't understand them. All I knew was that the figures were "calamitous" and "scary" and that Brian Lucey, Paul Sommerville and Peter Brown seemed very happy to be on television, talking about the inevitability of default and bringing down our buzz like a nightmare version of the Xposé girls. Browne stopped just short of producing a bottle of whiskey and a revolver.
The next day the Taoiseach, finance minister and John Gormley lined up for another segway race before the nation's journalists. "Those who have most will make the greatest contribution," Cowen lied, as he presented a four-year plan that should have been entitled 'Screw the Poor'. Behind them some big green screens were projecting the words: 'Plan for Recovery' and 'Securing Ireland's Future'. Clearly put there to suggest we were in safe hands, instead they made me wish that those soothing flat screen televisions were in fact our leaders.
Prime Time crunched numbers and Miriam O'Callaghan interviewed Lenihan who unfairly and untruly insisted that during the boom, "We all partied." It was an unfortunate choice of words which made Lenihan and Cowen seem like the leads in a 1980s teen movie. Afterwards Colm McCarthy sounded a positive note: "The good news is that we no longer have a deficit crisis," he said (Hurray!). "We now have a debt crisis," he added (Boo!). Michael O'Sullivan, a commentator in London, likened the IMF and the EU to visiting Vikings, and agreed that things were, indeed, quite bad. Then again, he would say that; he looked like he was waist deep in the Thames (turns out it was a backdrop). Michael Noonan looked wryly amused, gazed sideways at Miriam and gave strange coded hints about how Fine Gael might proceed. "We're being treated better by the IMF now than by our friends in Europe," he said.
"Surely we can play hardball?" O'Callaghan asked.
"Which is why I'm speaking like I'm speaking to you," said Noonan like Mr Miyagi or Yoda.
After Tuesday's Tonight with Vincent Browne, you might have expected Wednesday's to just feature footage of Browne weeping in the dark. But no, like I said, crises invigorate the man. He'd cheekily invited Pats Rabbitte and Carey on, hoping to recreate the moment on Prime Time when Rabbitte laid into the doe-eyed Carey. It was the programming equivalent of putting banana skins all over the room and hiding behind a chair giggling. But the Pats didn't rise to it (at one point Rabbitte even came to Carey's defence). So Vincent took it upon himself to berate Carey about his pay and perks. Carey just looked at him with his big sad jowly face and asked Vincent what he earned (€54,000, apparently). It was strangely unsatisfying to see Carey being savaged. "Can't you see he's already dead!" I felt like shouting.
On Thursday there was another Prime Time special in which O'Callaghan, Richard Crowley and co delved into how the forthcoming budget was going to affect the weakest in our society. Afterwards Eamon O'Cuiv and Joan Burton sparred away, while Philip Lane from TCD explained that the government's document was really just an 'indicative plan'. If you'd been watching telly all week, it felt like more of the same. Politicians keep politicking, economists keep doing inconceivable sums, interviewers keep getting exasperated, and the general air of disbelief just thickens. At this stage there's a gap in the market for a current affairs show that's just called For F**ks Sake. You could slot it into the schedule between Jaysus! and For the Love of God!
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