There’s an old saying at my house, and that’s that you can’t spell “disheartening” without the letters R-T-E. And our esteemed public broadcaster seems determined to prove this idiom more true every day.
In the latest licence fee-funded attack on the Irish public’s will to live, RTÉ has posted a generously-named climate change “comedy” routine, performed by self-described activist Diane O’Connor. The clip can be watched in full below:
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) November 12, 2022
Now I know what you’re thinking – you’d really despair to think of how your licence fee is being spent when you see things like this. It’s physically painful to think that we, as a nation and people, contributed to this being in the world. It’s the kind of thing that leaves you staring at the ceiling at night thinking “Couldn’t they have just taken my money and burned it in a furnace or something instead?”
However, after viewing the clip in full, and recovering from the pounding headache it gave me, a few thoughts do come to mind about the broadcaster’s overall direction.
All sarcasm and hyperbole aside, this routine is, objectively-speaking, bad. If you were in the audience in person, you might titter or smirk to be polite, because the deafening silence would be so awkward. But it’s definitely not anything that most people would consider funny – it just isn’t entertaining content.
In all fairness to Diane O’Connor, the bizarre format of having a comic speak to an empty auditorium doesn’t help either. The setup is so unusual that it nearly tips over into being mean to the person speaking – it’s almost designed to be low energy and uncomfortable. I don’t know that most people would do much better under those downright weird circumstances.
The whole thing was so poor, that things like this are actually like an argument for not paying your licence fee. It’s like a reverse ad, for why you shouldn’t consume a product. Why would anyone want to put money behind this?
The reason that this is so notable is that this is the same RTÉ that’s constantly complaining about how they’re financially crippled and dying. And they’re dying, mind you, despite the fact that they are guaranteed hundreds of millions of euros per year in State funding and ad revenue.
They could literally broadcast white noise static all day every day, or have a 24 hour livestream of Tubridy doing the Gangnam Style dance and the Harlem Shake, and they would still rake in tens of millions. Because the funding is guaranteed – people will literally go to jail for not paying them, regardless of the contents’ quality or how few people want to watch it.
And yet even still, they can’t survive or stay afloat in the market. Because what they produce tends to be – sorry now – unwatchable swill. You literally have to threaten to have armed men in uniforms take people away and lock them in prison to make them fund this crap, because so few people in their right mind would do it willingly.
But that’s the funny thing about the market economy: you don’t have to force people to watch stuff that they actually enjoy.
Whether you personally like it or not, Game of Thrones is wildly popular – tens of millions of people want to watch it, and will eagerly pay good money to do so. Same goes for Breaking Bad, or Amazon’s the Boys, or the Office. You don’t have to threaten people with jail time to consume this stuff – they want to see it eagerly.
What they don’t want to see is jokes about COP27, sectoral emissions targets, and the joys of eating lettuce rather than steak. They don’t want to be preached at and recruited into joining the Manson Family climate revolution while they’re trying to relax and crack open a bleedin’ can after work. Piss off, like.
But they literally can’t help themselves – the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill is going to see a commission which requires broadcasters like RTÉ to put out programmes about climate change and “sustainability.” And as yours truly reported before, RTÉ is the only state broadcaster which is partnered with a climate change activist group.
Rather than being this impartial, market-driven entity that just gives people what they want to see, RTÉ is explicitly trying to drive public opinion around certain pet issues and spoonfeed the public what they believe the public should want. It’s the equivalent of Fanta saying “We don’t care that you don’t like our new maple syrup flavoured Fanta! You’re going to drink it, and if you don’t, you’ll be arrested!”
And yet when asked about the idea of scrapping the licence fee, and letting the broadcaster sink or swim based on public demand, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that doing so would be a “danger to democracy.”
Democracy, at root, is about the public deciding what they want for the country’s future. If the Irish public decide that they don’t want to pay €160 per year for the privilege of owning a TV, so that Luke O’Neill can play Wonder Wall strumming an acoustic guitar to promote the 43rd jab dose, that’s their choice. And if RTÉ goes under as a result, that is, in a certain sense, democracy in action. People have voted with their wallets, and RTÉ came out the worse for it – tough.
Whatever case you want to make in favour of keeping this organisation around, you definitely can’t argue the point based on quality.