Parts of Donal Óg Cusack’s RTÉ’s documentary make for uncomfortable viewing, writes Michael Moynihan.
The usual opining gambit when you preview a documentary is to isolate a particular sequence and assign it more importance than anyone else, opening its significance stems from the very fact it’s an apparently throwaway line, a nondescript scene.
That may say more about your own exquisite sensitivity than it does about the work you’re describing, of course.
As an approach to Coming Out Of The Curve, which airs on RTÉ One Monday night, it would be fatally reductive, never mind plain wrong. Here’s a show that needs examination in its totality.
The documentary features former Cork hurling goalkeeper and Irish Examiner columnist Donal Óg Cusack looking at gay rights around the world, ranging from Russia to the US and including Ireland, of course.
Cork ladies football star Valerie Mulcahy featured heavily in the media earlier in the week when Cusack mentioned her as the real star of the documentary and her rationale for appearing in the programme is “to help others” who are setting out on a similar journey.
She isn’t the only sportsperson who appears in the documentary, with rugby player Brian Amerlynck also discussing his homosexuality, though Mulcahy’s iconic status within the ladies’ game was always going to attract plenty of headlines.
A caveat: this observer is fond of quoting Stephen Jay Gould’s observation all you’re owed from a sports star is sporting excellence — anything extra in the form of behaviour fitting a role model, for instance, is literally that: a bonus, something in addition to the basics.
Cusack and Mulcahy are articulate spokespersons, but in general terms, sports stars as avatars of social change don’t have a glowing track record.
Any US sports fan worth his salt, for instance, will instance the arrival of Jackie Robinson into professional white baseball in 1947 as the harbinger of social change and acceptance in America.
Any student of US history will point out it took a good 20 years for events in Selma and Montgomery to advance the cause of African-Americans to any significant degree.
Is anti-LGBT really the last prejudice of our time, as Cusack claims in the programme?
That might come as a surprise to, say, a Muslim going to meet his or her Irish partner’s family for the first time, but the real unhappiness glimpsed in the experiences of some of the youngsters interviewed in the documentary suggests homophobia is as real now as it ever was.
Certainly the contribution of Cork youngster Chris McCarthy would bear that out. In the documentary McCarthy says: “The word faggot and queer are thrown at you on the pitch sometimes. If the refs could maybe pick up on it …”
When Cusack asks if that’s been said to him, McCarthy’s response is philosophical: “It’s been said to me a few times.
If the refs could take a harder ruling on homophobic bullying on the pitch, well … but I just put that [the abuse] down to frustration [of opponents], to me getting to a ball first or whatever.”
It’s a sequence which will make uncomfortable viewing for those involved in legislation and enforcement in field sports.
In addition, the online reaction to Mulcahy’s news wasn’t one of universal acceptance, and while access to a Twitter account or a comments section is not restricted to the sane or sensible, it’s a barometer of public opinion.
It might not be your version of the public, and it might not be a wholly representative barometer, but there are people who shudder and sneer when homosexuality is mentioned in their company. Chances are you know a few yourself.
Clearly this is a conversation that needs to continue, though in doing so there are a couple of fatal traps it’d be worth avoiding along the way. One is the fool’s pardon offered by comments like, ‘well, a dressing-room can be a homophobic kind of place’. Of course it can. And of course it needn’t be, and it shouldn’t be.
Aspirational? Not if you go by Brian Amerlynck’s experience.
He says in the documentary that while training as a Garda in Templemore he experience casual homophobia, which he describes as “par for the course in any macho working environment, which the Guards can be at times”; yet Amerlynck adds when he came out in Templemore, the reaction was very positive.
He also credits his rugby teammate for their support at difficult times.
Another trap is the last refuge of the reactionary, the hoary old ‘well, considering where we’ve come from’ when discussing any sort of development or innovation; as though the slow pace of change could be justified simply because we no longer believe the sun revolves around the earth.
In that context an unwelcome shadow hanging over this programme is the willingness of a vocal minority of people to be offended by anything in this area, and the likelihood an impending referendum on gay marriage will produce an entirely unsurprising reaction when it’s broadcast.
Or maybe not: a recent documentary on pornography screened on RTÉ was frequently a graphic and uncomfortable viewing experience yet at the time of writing it attracted just the one complaint — a telling detail that some people may have overlooked is that both that documentary and Monday night’s are from RTÉ’s Education slate, by the way.
There’s a certain nostalgia in the air for the recent past, unsurprisingly given the big production on RTÉ, the dramatisation of the life of Charlie Haughey.
That seems to be building for some weeks now to his exit stage left to those well-known words of Othello:
I have done the state some service, and they kno‘t.
No more of that.
Cusack, Mulcahy and the others could claim the same, maybe. Or perhaps it’d be better to move on to what Othello said next — though feel free to delete the word ‘unlucky’.
I pray you, in your letters,
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am.
Nor set down aught in malice.
* Coming Out Of The Curve, RTÉ One, Monday January 19th, 9.30pm.
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