Okay, maybe we need to stop waving at the TV

Give an Irish person an RTÉ camera and Marty Morrissey and any sense of decorum goes out the window

Awesome: squeezing into shot at Fianna Fáil’s 2009 ardfheis

Awesome: squeezing into shot at Fianna Fáil’s 2009 ardfheis

Sat, Aug 2, 2014, 01:00

Television was invented 90 years ago. Irish television is more than 50 years old. As far back as the 1950s people could make home movies. By the 1980s camcorders were increasingly commonplace. The 21st century put a camera in everyone’s pocket, and today we live in a world where we see our own image recorded and played back constantly.

Cameras are almost always being pointed at us. By other people. By ourselves. By the shopkeeper. By the State. We live in front of the camera. It just seems normal now.

Except when a bainisteoir is being interviewed by Marty Morrissey and you happen to be standing in the background. That’s when it’s time to gawp at the camera, shove a little kid out of your way, but still attempt to look like you just happen to be standing there minding your own business when your stare and giddy grin scream one thing only: “Look at me, I’m on the telly!”

Except if you’re in the audience of an RTÉ chatshow and using one arm to wave and the other to dig into your companion’s ribs to tell them: “Look at us, we’re on the telly!”

Except if you’re a political candidate trying to get into shot with the Taoiseach for the evening news, when you must stand so close to his shoulder that you look like a particularly irritating boil. You are attempting to convey a sense of your importance, your proximity to power, when actually you are silently yelling, “I can’t believe all the hopes and convictions of my early political career have been reduced to the sad sight of me hustling for a few votes simply by cramming up to the Taoiseach on the telly!”

Except, basically, if you are an Irish person within the frame of an RTÉ camera.

A gang in Semple Stadium last weekend gave a masterclass in the Irish fashion for getting into shot. Some fellas made loser signs on their foreheads and guffawed. A few tykes ran around wildly, as they should be allowed do.

But most obvious were a couple of older men who hogged the shot, trying to play it cool while actually leaking nothing but the conviction that this was one of the single greatest moments of their lives.

The peak of such behaviour, never to be surpassed, remains the 2009 Fianna Fáil Ardfheis, at which (this is the collective noun that somehow springs to mind) a yahoo of councillors squeezed into a live report in the manner of a most-people-in-a-Mini world-record attempt. That awesome display will never be repeated, but smaller sideshows are commonplace. And the question remains, why?

Is it to do with the size of this country? There is barely a person in the US that you couldn’t put in front of a TV camera and expect to speak with an ease that, if they lived in Ireland, would qualify them to present a midmorning TV3 show within the week.

You can watch the news in most western European countries without every vox pop being interrupted by some awestruck passerby.

But in Ireland, when you’re on the telly, everyone knows it, everyone sees it. You can’t sneak on and off Irish telly unnoticed. The phones in the pockets of those lads in Thurles were probably buzzing like chainsaws from two seconds in.

Why is it still an act of great consequence to appear, in any fleeting way, on RTÉ TV? Is it because of the national broadcaster’s power and its ubiquity in Irish homes? Or is it just that Irish people have been waving and mugging and standing frozen with fear in front of cameras for so long that we don’t know any other way?

The silliness does add to the gaiety of the nation on otherwise grim news bulletins. And is the the kind of thing that gets added to those occasional lists of what it means to be Irish.

After all, the sight of cowboy-hatted rubberneckers at a postmatch interview is simply part of the summer. Younger members of the Late Late audience now seem to go there having prepared winks for the camera. And election candidates are never going to hover out of shot if it means ceding TV space to a rival.

And yet cameras are everywhere now. Maybe it’s time for the adults of this country to just calm down, relax, to treat RTÉ cameras as being no different from the ones in their friends’ pockets – although, granted, their friends are unlikely to have Marty Morrissey in there too.

shegarty@irishtimes.com
@shanehegarty

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