From soap opera to sex on screen

The RubberbanditsTHERE was a programme about Glenroe on television last weekend.

Glenroe, remember it?

Ireland’s biggest soap opera throughout the eighties, it had characters with names like Biddy, Dinny and Miley, and story-lines about sick calves, broken tractors and mucky wellies. It was quintessentially Irish, a microcosm of what life was like during the Haughey years.

But people didn’t tune in every week to watch Dinny sink a few pints of stout down in Teasy’s, or to watch the local vet tangle with a vexatious bull in the back-field. No, they wanted smut. And smut was what they got. Or at least smut as it was back then.

The affair between resident silver-haired lothario, Dick Moran, and fly-by-night, blonde strumpet, Terry Kileen was probably the smuttiest thing to happen in Ireland during the nineteen-eighties. Scenes of them sharing breakfast in their dressing-gowns, touching one another on the arm and smiling lasciviously over a bottle of wine had the nation in uproar, culminating in death threats for Kate Thompson, the actress who played Kileen.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

We’ve moved on a bit since then though, and are now capable of withstanding all manner of naughtiness without batting an eyelid.

Love/Hate gave us brothels, rape and sodomy, we merely shrugged our shoulders and asked ‘what’s next’? Well what’s next is live sex, filmed on location in the RTÉ studios for our viewing pleasure.

The brainchild of local heroes The Rubberbandits this, as yet untitled, four-part series, will set out to examine Irish attitudes to sex and prove that coitus between people who “love each other” is “nothing like the misogynist stuff online”.

But, most importantly, it will feature couples having sex, live, on air.

Blindboy Boatclub and Mr Chrome have come a long way since first entering the public psyche as a novelty pop act. Elevating themselves to the status of social commentators and spokesmen for a lost generation they even played a part in Limerick’s ultimately unsuccessful Capital of Culture bid. As a result they have acquired the kind of mass appeal usually only afforded to successful sportsmen or venerated politicians.

Beloved of teens, the middle-aged and the elderly, The Rubberbandits are dangerously close to becoming national treasures – their roguish, every-man quality somehow making us forget that they portray themselves as a pair of drug-taking fiends with plastic bags on their heads.

However, should this programme – which is set to feature “porn stars” and “average-looking couples” having sex – go ahead the ‘bandits might find all that goodwill evaporating.

Despite claiming that “everyone’s private parts will be covered up with clip art” it’s hard not to see this as a gratuitous project designed to shock and appall.

Rather than use their public standing for the common good, they have chosen to take a lesser route, a crude route which guarantees widespread publicity, maximum exposure and a certain degree of notoriety.

And does anyone really need to be educated on sex at this stage?

Whereas in the Glenroe era, we were a repressed society unable to pleasure ourselves without resorting to self-flagellation afterwards, we’re much more liberated nowadays. Our children are guided through the minefield that is puberty by inclusive school curricula, and then there’s the Internet and all that’s contained therein.

Indeed it could be argued that we, as a society, are a bit jaded with sex.

Yes, we still enjoy engaging in it. That will never change, but reading about it, hearing about it, watching it?

There’s a time and a place for that, and it’s not on prime time television.

And if one really must examine our attitudes to sex then how about doing so in a rational fashion, without live examples to accompany the debate?

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll certainly be watching this documentary, it sounds like exactly the kind of thing I’d enjoy (ahem). And there is some merit in showing a generation brought up on turbo-charged online porn that not all sex has to be so, so…merciless.

But it’s not me or my kind the Rubberbandits need to worry about alienating.

In this era of outrage culture, there is, at any given moment, an army of naysayers waiting to destroy the careers of those in the public eye at barely a moment’s notice.

And this programme was made for those people – they’re probably drafting their diatribes as I write.

At best this programme will be voyeuristic, an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see what goes on in bedrooms like our own. At worst it will be professional suicide for the ‘bandits, a career move from which they may never recover.

Either way, I know I’ll be watching.