Reality lost in translation
Harold F. Schiffman
haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Mar 20 14:37:53 UTC 2006
>>From The Sunday Times March 19, 2006
Television: Liam Fay: Reality gets lost in translation
For people who claim to be devoted to promoting a love of language, the
makers of Ni Gaeilgeoir Me (TG4, Sun-Fri) displayed remarkable disdain for
words and their meaning. Throughout this would-be educational reality game
show, an incoherent effort to marry the format of Celebrity Big Brother
with the curriculum of a Gaeltacht summer school, the programmes
contestants were repeatedly described by presenter Aoife Ni Thuairisg as
stars. Occasionally, she would even use this term when the contestants
were within earshot, much to their apparent approval. The glittering stars
of whom Ni Thuairisg spoke included such international household names as
Philip Magee, a pub singer from Larne, Co Antrim, whose claim to fame is
that he once appeared on ITVs The X Factor. Among the other luminaries
were Jenny Kelly, a producer with Today FM, and actress Sheila McWade, who
plays barmaid Kay McCoy in Fair City. Oh starry night! Several
participants were drawn from that stagnant pool of bold-type nonentities
who became well-known by taking part in other reality TV programmes. Step
forward Gavin Lambe-Murphy, the party animal who thrived among the
livestock on RTEs Celebrity Farm, and Jeanette Cronin, the brassy Cork
diva who put noses out of joint during the recent series of Youre A Star.
The illustrious line-up was completed by chick-lit author Marisa Mackle,
impressionist Alan Shortt and John Linehan, the comic brain beneath the
bloomers of Mae McFettridge, Northern Irelands most beloved panto dame.
Starry, starry night! Though presented as a populist new approach to the
teaching of Irish, Ni Gaelgeoir Me may actually have been among the most
damaging things to happen to the language since the introduction of the
penal laws. Produced by Green Inc, the series had the distinction of being
a shambles in both conception and execution. As a promotional tool for
spoken Irish, it was worse than useless, and is likely to have repulsed
the discerning youth audience it so desperately wanted to attract.
Showcased in such an amateurish, confused and shamelessly derivative
programme, the Irish language itself started to appear amateurish,
confused and shamelessly derivative, a crude imitation of whats to be
found on English-speaking channels.
The programme's central conceit reads like a send-up of dumbed-down
educational television. Eight minor irritants from the foothills of
domestic media notoriety were invited to live together for a week as they
attempted to learn basic, conversational Irish. The workload was not
exactly punitive. In the nightly round-up of the days events, for
instance, the contestants were each asked to designate their favourite new
word. Nimhneach, said Lenihan on Tuesday, nominating the Irish term for
painful. Unfortunately, he couldn't put the word in a sentence. Under the
circumstances, this would not have been a problem for most viewers.
As the shows title suggests, the primary requirement for involvement in Ni
Gaeilgeoir Me was possession of little or no working knowledge of Irish,
though possession of little or no working knowledge of just about
everything else was also evidently a prerequisite. Even before
translation, the conversation between the contestants was often
unintelligible. There was much giggling, but scant indication of anything
worth giggling about. Despite the wholesale borrowing of rules,
conventions and even logo imagery from Big Brother, the producers of Ni
Gaeilgeoir Me have learned little from the prototype series. The best
reality TV is a slow-burn, a narrative gradually unfolding before
unblinking fly-on-the-wall cameras. On the TG4 show there was no
surveillance footage and, consequently, no unfolding narrative.
Instead, we were treated to staged set-pieces trips to a beauty spa and a
go-kart track recounted in jump-cut sequences comprising what somebody
naively imagined were action highlights. Most celeb reality shows are set
in exotic locales, such as Fijian resorts (Celebrity Love Island) or
Australian jungles (Im A Celebrity . . . Get Me Out Of Here). Ni
Gaeilgeoir Me, however, took place at the Ulster Folk & Transport Museum,
at Cultra, near Belfast. Lost amid the sterile stillness of a folk park
the contestants seemed even further removed from the advertised reality
than they would have done in a studio.
Nevertheless, the Ulster setting was no minor detail. As even casual
observers of TG4 may have noticed, the station has latterly adopted a
distinctly Norn Iron accent, primarily in its drama output. Much of this
genuflection towards the north stems from the gushers of British taxpayers
cash which have been pumped into Irish-language TV production through the
Northern Ireland Film and Television Commission (NIFTC) in an initiative
established under the Good Friday agreement. Not surprisingly, funding for
Ni Geailgeoir Me was provided by the NIFTC, which explains the shows
blatant Northern Ireland bias. It also explains, but does not excuse, the
prominence accorded by the series to Northern celebs.
For viewers in the republic, therefore, the shows attempt to unite north
and south though the magic of educational reality TV backfired badly. To
paraphrase George Bernard Shaw, Ni Gealgeoir Me merely proved that we are
two nations divided by a common unfamiliarity with the same language.
Incomprehension is also the customary public reaction to the stunts
perpetrated by the crew of Naked Camera (RTE2, Mon), the series of
secretly-filmed hoaxes, written and performed by PJ Gallagher, Maeve
Higgins and Patrick McDonnell, which returned for a new series.
Though steeped in the traditional candid camera lineage that stretches
from Americas Alan Funt to the UKs Dom Joly, Naked Camera has managed to
develop a recognisably Irish twist to its surreal sadism, and is therefore
probably most indebted to Mike Murphys hidden-camera japes in the 1970s.
The show remains sporadically hilarious and, thus far, the writers display
a commendable ability to find amusing new settings and set-ups for their
characters. The one sour note in the show is the inordinate tendency of
its pranksters to pick on foreigners, people without sufficient English to
get, rather than be, the joke. The worst offender in this regard is
Gallaghers newest creation, a nymphomaniac Moore Street trader with
wandering hands, a voracious appetite for fruit double-entendres and an
eye for eastern European toyboys. The character is so dated and tiresome
that she could almost be a distant Liberties relative of Mae McFettridge.
End this filth now!
Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.
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