Monday, 6 February 2012

auntie Beeb cops out again

The latest example/victim of the compromises that the cop-out mentality involves was a play last Saturday night in the regular weekend drama series – The Wire, on Radio 3. The Radio Editor of the BBC's official Radio Times magazine selected this play, Zurich, as her Choice of the Day, ending her mini-essay with the words "it's an ultimately uplifting story". This, along with the play's title, was the giveaway that must have tipped off many listeners to the cop-out ending. Why then bother to listen, albeit incredulously, to a threequarter hour play trundling towards a foregone conclusion?

We stuck with the play, however, because the "issue", (ghastly overworked word) which it tried none too well to dramatise, was, and remains, an important one, and not just for older generations. Two fortyish Irish guys – Paul wheelchair bound, paraplegic for 16 years after a car crash, accompanied by his longtime best friend Aidan – travel to Zurich for an AC/DC concert. Paul has told neither mother nor friend that he's decided to end his life at a Swiss clinic. (Did we hear 'Gravitas' substituted for 'Dignitas'?) In the course of the play Paul tells Aidan and us quite insistently that his life is limited, painful, humiliating, lonely and depressing; he feels as a severely disabled person that he has not had and cannot have, any meaningful relationships, and has absolutely nothing to look forward to except more long years of even worse suffering.

But Aidan ducks out of doing the brave, moral and decent thing – to comfort and help his friend get to the clinic and offer support on that final journey; instead, he angrily lectures him and promptly takes a taxi to the airport. Then, in a completely unlikely last-minute volte-face, Aidan dashes back to the clinic and arrives in the nick of time before the irreligious cynic can quaff the hemlock. Aidan bursts in without demur and persuades Paul, in a couple of preachy minutes flat, not to persevere with his long-considered and courageous decision to put an end to what's been a meaningless continuance rather than a meaningful existence. And so back they go to Ireland, no problem. "Just like that", as Tommy Cooper would have said.

Well, how nice and neat and safe and heartwarming! We can all switch off and feel better. But what of proper, serious debate – what price good sense, humanity and reason? 'Dignity in (not) Dying' it certainly wasn't – more like 'Humiliation in Going-on-living, or Larkin's "Man hands on misery to man". (Incidentally, Zurich came across as predictably patronising and sanctimonious towards disabled people. But noticing the preponderance of Irish names involved – author, production credits etc – one rather suspects some religious pressure somewhere behind the scenes and the unconvincingly pat and moralistic 'argument'.)

On another note, if you ever listen to Feedback on BBC R4 you'll rapidly conclude it's a waste of time contacting Auntie with even the slightest whiff of criticism. Listeners invariably get fobbed off with some statement that exudes defensive smugness, rather than any logical explanation, apology or (gawd forbid!) admission that a programme, producer or presenter might possibly have got something wrong, might perhaps have been partial, biassed or mistaken. Political correctness, waffle and avoidance of what the managers perceive as potentially controversial, will always win out.

It leads to a feeble style of broadcasting – driven by a seemingly general dread of causing offence to somebody somewhere, to anybody anywhere! – and it has its inevitable consequences of fudging and cant. These are exemplified by numerous trailers and warnings about the strong language and possibly distressing issues raised in the programmes to follow. When there's a really important issue – life and death – to deal with, we deserve more honesty or at least something better than what we're currently being fed.

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