Updated: May 17, 2021
I cannot remember when or who started it.
My belief is that it was Jerry Springer.
Jerry’s tabloid talkshow of the early 90s had one of the best and most noble sign-off catchphrases you could imagine – ‘Until next time -take care of yourself – and each other.’
And it was delivered with such humility and compassion it surely brought tears to many as he rounded off his epilogue on that week’s programme.
With hindsight, I can see that unfortunately it was the calm after the storm that the host had himself whipped up.
I’m not going to suggest for a minute that I didn’t love it like everyone else.
I surely did, and if I didn’t get to see the shiny bald-headed-bouncer break up a fist fight between the guests – was it really worth my time in digesting it?
And now I am ashamed of how excited I was, how unmissable the experience became, because I became changed along with Society-at-large.
Our standards on what was acceptable discourse etiquette and more importantly what was -not got scrapped in favour of the ‘slanging match’.
I still embarrassed at how easy I can be encouraged to lose the plot when listening to the radio or TV or indeed being involved in arguing a point myself with those who hold contrary views. It’s a stimulant for that deep-seated immature yet instinctive trait that dwells within us all.
Prior to the televised bear-baiting of the Springer Show, I had only had one experience of debating -at a school event in Dublin in the mid-to-late 80s- and it was a truly civilised affair.
Each of the three speakers on each team read out their pre-prepared remarks and afterwards we adjourned to the dinner hall. Every person was seated opposite an opponent at those impossibly long tables I’ve only seen since at Hogwarts. We had a slightly awkward but friendly teenager-level chat about what we had been challenging each other on before we quickly moved on to the standard of the food, the time the trip had taken to get there and what time we expected to get home.
Jump ahead 25 years and where are we now – fuelled by the same type of hate-filled rocket fuel that got Springer to the top of the ratings, we in Northern Ireland but also the entire world, have had our own local and national experiences of talkshow participants being manipulated to have an ill-tempered go at each other for audience numbers.
It regularly is the case that what each side says is lost as the host and the speakers all talk over each other making it nigh on impossible to hear what is being said.
There is no opportunity given for a resolution to be found. The starting point seems to be that it is that the heated row that is the outcome everyone is seeking.
Last week’s US Presidential Debate introduced a possible solution to this problem – the mute button – something that I have long wished had been introduced into the media’s arsenal of tools for conducting interviews with contributors from opposing sides.
It is generally regarded as having ‘put manners’ on both speakers, creating a much better experience for the viewer – actually listening and being able to hear what is being said is the way forward.
The next thing is to be able to think and consider what each proponent of an idea is trying to achieve and to work out whether it appeals to our most basest instinct or our highest ideals.