TV & Radio

Animated conversations and loaded terms

Owen Suskind features in Life Animated (BBC4) 

Has Political Correctness Gone Mad? - a documentary with a name to draw in the curious, on  Channel 4 last Thursday night. 

It was billed as an authored programme, an opinion piece, by Trevor Phillips, and despite advance warnings about bad language and racist terms, it was actually a reflective and relatively moderate programme. I have to say I’m against political correctness when it’s taken to extremes, but opposing it should not be an excuse for bad manners and gratuitous offence giving. 

Philips had been pro-remain in the Brexit referendum and was also anti-Trump/pro-Clinton, but “fell out of love” with his ‘tribe’ over how they weren’t learning lessons from their defeats but were trying to censor those with opposing views – trying to ‘protect diversity by stifling debate’. 

He thought the liberal establishment needed to look in the mirror and see why they got it so wrong. 

He wasn’t happy with ‘non-extremists’ being silenced, and “perfectly legitimate points of view” being ruled out of order (though that does beg the question about how it’s decided what’s legitimate). 

One man said he tried not to cause offence but was reprimanded for a term he didn’t even know was offensive (apparently the ‘nitty gritty’ has something to do with slave ships). Another contributor, a young man, felt that if you expressed ‘old-fashioned views’(!) about marriage (i.e. that it was between a man and a woman), you’d get “buckets of slime”.

While not an admirer as far as I could tell, Phillips reckoned that Nigel Farage of UKIP had read the times accurately, and Farage himself decried people with “decent Christian views” getting abuse. 

When it came to sensitivities around Islam, Phillips thought that authorities weren’t so much concerned about protecting Muslims from offence, but were symbolically demonstrating how they were “hip to diversity”, looking good in the eyes of the “right-on brigade”, in other words ‘virtue signalling’. 

Raising concerns

The issue of political correctness also surfaced on that night’s Prime Time (RTÉ 1) when the topic was transgenderism in children. It was uneasy viewing, and I wondered what we were being softened up for now. It was driven as usual by personal stories, genuine and affecting, but presenter Richard Downes did ask some challenging questions and there was a diversity of views, with some commentators strongly questioning the notion of gender reassignment therapy in young people. 

One of those raising concerns was Bob Withers, a psychoanalyst from Bath, who thought that political correctness was stifling criticism of such therapies, while psychiatrist and author Theodore Dalrymple found that doctors were afraid to disagree with medical orthodoxy.  

Downes noted that activists dismiss the concerns, but also acknowledged reservations about ‘unhappy children immersed in the echo chamber of internet affirmation’. Some new (to me) information that Downes presented was the higher-than-average level of autism in affected children. 

More centrally focussed on autism, one of the best programmes of the week was the Storyville documentary Life Animated (BBC 4 Monday night of last week). It told the fascinating story of autistic young man Owen Suskind. 

His parents described how he had changed at age 3 – had become withdrawn and stopped speaking. They described it as him disappearing or being kidnapped. 

The heartbreak was palpable but the breakthrough a few years later was amazing – Owen became to communicate again through lines and scenes from his favourite Disney-animated movies. 

The show was a masterful blend of interviews, home movies, scenes from the Disney films, new original animation, and fly on the wall filming as we followed Owen to independent living in his new assisted living accommodation. 

It was an absorbing tale of family love, communication, empathy and artistic endeavour. There was even a touching romance, though the awkward sexual advice from Owen’s older brother didn’t seem helpful. 

Robust discussion

Finally, from the same night, it’s worth looking back on Clare Byrne Live (RTÉ 1) for a robust discussion on the so-called ‘Baptism bar’ in Catholic schools.  

On the panel Maria Steen of the Iona Institute, rightly took issue with that loaded term, while actress Norma Sheahan told of how she opted for baptising her child just to have the piece of paper in case she needed it for school. In the end, it turned out she didn’t.  

The item was too short and became rather fractious. I’d say those conflicted or confused remained so, while those with strong opinions found articulate support for them. 


Pick of the week


RTÉ RnaG, Sunday, March 5, 11am Broadcast from Rann na Feirste in northwest Donegal.

EWTN Monday (night), March 6, 4am
Diane Bish and guest, Joy Brown Wiener, perform at St Mary’s Pro Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland.

RTÉ One Wednesday, March 8, 11.20pm
Repeat showing of documentary about Fr. Peter McVerry’s 40-year campaign against addiction and homelessness.