Monday, 16 April 2012

The simple beauty of Reeling in the Years.

There is nothing quite as Irish as Reeling in the Years. Not Guinness, not Tayto, not GAA, not mass. Not even referring to English people as "Tans", a charming idiosyncrasy handed down from generation to generation since 1920 and completely exclusive to us can claim to be as quintessentially gaelic as an episode of Reeling in the Years. For Reeling in the Years combines the three emotions Irish people love most, namely nostalgia, sentimentality and patriotism, into one condensed, half-hour body. 

Nostalgia and sentimentality are probably what us Irish do best. Thanks to years of imperialism and oppression, us Irish have conjured up some utopian image of Gaelic Ireland, the Ireland before the British came, the Ireland of Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Na Fianna where everyone spoke Gaelic, lived in tribes, wore garish robes and wrote in ogham. Our misguided attempts at recreating this Fenian utopia have only strengthened our love of nostalgia. It's almost a national sport at this stage with our wonderfully maudlin ballads and fleeting attempts at retaining our quickly disappearing heritage perhaps conveying best our love of nostalgia. Reeling in the Years provides us with oodles of nostalgia. It practically seeps from the television screen, it does.

Reeling in the Years is quite an interactive programme also and this helps with its appeal. It has no spoken narrative, the footage is subtitled with short, terse descriptions of what is happening which is there to inform you on the basics of the situation at hand without giving any insight into the consequences or causes. This allows people to form their own opinion on the events. The unobstructed and simple way that it is presented helps jog people's memories and arouse the emotions they felt about the particular subject or event the programme is covering. Reeling in the Years doesn't tell you what to think but it does, in its own lovely, benevolent way ask you to think. It asks you to consider the topics on screen and to evaluate and then possibly re-evaluate your feelings regarding them.

Naturally I'm too young to remember the vast majority of the years that Reeling in the Years has covered but this does not inhibit my fascination with the programme in the slightest. It is a fountain of primary sources, a magnifying glass on the past and a wonderful taster of life in pre-Celtic Tiger Ireland. Of course now that they have released episodes covering the Noughties, I can engage in the same lachrymose and romantic reminiscence as my elders. And I do thoroughly enjoy it. 

Perhaps the most alluring aspect of Reeling in the Years is indeed the music. The soundtrack to the programme is wonderfully quaint and always apt. They don't just play songs from that year; they play songs that best convey the overriding sentiments of the public that year. For instance, the 1984 edition featured "What Difference Does It Make?" by The Smiths playing while images of unemployment, striking, social deprivation and hapless politicians roared across the screen. The song summed up the desperation, the futility and the hopelessness of that era quite pertinently. And that was no accident. They do that for effect and they do it very, very well. 

Indeed the point of Reeling in the Years is not to provide a description of the year it is covering, no, if it were the show would run chronologically and would put particular emphasis on the more important and newsworthy stories of the year it's covering. Instead, Reeling in the Years affords the same time to sometimes humourous, local stories as it does to massive, international scandals. For instance, I watched Reeling in the Years: 1974 last Wednesday and the same time was afforded to a report on an oil spill in West Cork as was to the Watergate Scandal. But that is merely part of the appeal and beauty of Reeling in the Years; the wonderful colloquial and local feeling that it emits.

Watching Reeling in the Years is almost a form of escapism. It transports you back to a different time, with different values and different beliefs. Modern life constantly frustrates and disappoints us. So sometimes, it's just nice to be able to relive some old memories thanks to a wonderfully crystallised view of the past. Reeling in the Years might not be RTE's most lavish or experimental production, it could be argued that it is quite anodyne, but therein lies its beauty. Its gorgeous simplicity is what makes it such easy viewing and can elicit all sorts of emotions and feelings. It is a programme with no agenda other than to inform. 

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