Over and over, and over, and over, and over Like a monkey with a miniature cymbal…

For me, the most interesting revelations in the Irish News Stephen Nolan story were how performative elements of his show are. Many of us long suspected it is basically a pantomime, where you have an assortment of revolving characters designed to elicit an emotional response from the audience. From the article:

Messages and testimony do reveal one codename in the office was “ra ra”, described by sources to mean delivering a row on a show.

Nolan Live had what was referred to a “bear pit” in the audience. Junior members of the radio show staff would be placed in the audience to relay to the production team if they spotted “someone feisty”.

None of this will come as a surprise to the many people who put the Nolan Show firmly in the entertainment category. But it raises questions about how appropriate this approach is to a divided post conflict society like ours.

My view of Stephen Nolan is he is a talented guy who is capable of good work, but he is too addicted to the sensationalist stuff. It seems to be all about numbers and impact for him, it is all about being the ‘the biggest show in the country!’.

I know on Slugger, we could run posts about bonfires and the Orange Order every week, and readers would never tire of it, but we don’t because we feel it is not in the interests of our society to keep poking each other continuously in the eye. Also, to be honest, it is a bit lazy and boring. As a recovering wind-up merchant myself I do acknowledge the fun of it, but it is not very helpful.

I have issue not just with the Nolan Show but the performative nature of much of our media. It’s like a calendar. In July, we discuss bonfires and parades, in August it is Wolfe Tones and Féile. And yes, Slugger is just as bad.

Then they are the stories about Troubles victims. Are we giving people a voice or re-traumatising them? You can argue that many of these people struggle in silence every day and they want the recognition of their suffering or a spotlight to keep their loved ones in the public eye. I can see both sides.

News and entertainment have merged over the past few decades. To stay relevant in the modern world, news has had to become ever more sensationalist. News has to appeal to people’s emotions and unfortunately, negative emotions get more of a reaction than positive ones.

Ultimately, the question our media must ask, and I include Slugger in this, is, are we helping this situation or making it worse? It is an even more crucial question for the BBC, who have a public service remit to inform, educate and entertain. Lately, it seems it has been steering more towards the entertainment remit. I understand why, it is the conflict that gets the attention. A reasonable discussion with reasonable, polite guests does not get much traction on social media. You don’t see many clips on Twitter of here is a reasonable point this person made in a calm and rational manner.

But we need more boring. We must eat our media vegetables and forgo the cheap dopamine hits of media junk food. Unfortunately, in a competitive media landscape, the incentives are all there to do the opposite. It seems modern news has one basic aim – to scare the absolute bejesus out of us all to hijack our attention. The most rational response is to switch off all the noise and go for a walk, read a book or listen to some music.

There is a lot to be said for not being better informed and embracing a state of constructive ignorance. How wonderful would it be not to have an opinion on something or even better not even being aware of its existence? Bliss.

In retrospect, we were probably a little zealous in policing the Stephen Nolan comments yesterday. There were all kinds of crazy allegations flying around social media, and we did not want to get caught up in the maelstrom of it all. So comments on this are open but remember to stick to the facts. I also ask that you not give more publicity to professional attention seekers on Twitter. Lastly, take a breath, and try to step back and look at this situation in the round rather than get caught up in the salacious nature of it all (as entertaining as that is). 

PS: The post title is from a Hot Chip song if you are curious…

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