Per aspera ad astra: At what point do we stop reaching?

The news came to me earlier, of the passing of Brian Farrell, an RTÉ current affairs frontman and academic who dominated the airwaves for many a decade back in Ireland. More of his story, and mine, later.Brian Farrell

I don’t necessarily mix with those in Croatian media – or at least those in the mainstream (humblebrag? hipsterbrag?) – if only because a cursory glance at any of their websites makes it abundantly clear that the only thing which matters to these companies (some of them even State owned) is the bottom line. Selling advertising space. Creating enough shock in a headline to encourage someone to buy a copy of tomorrow’s fish wrapper (a term which probably has little resonance around these parts), to get people clicking link after link in search of some added titbit of news to make their interpersonal banter seem that bit more informed. There’s also a little problem of regional and national politics and history having tainted the general media here – post one story and you’re a Communist, another and you’re Ustaše. It’s an impossible task and means that the real issues can rarely be dealt with… I might expand on this point at a later date, but I fully expect the media to fail to cover the real story behind a bank default induced eviction turning sour earlier today, with shots being fired by the besieged occupants. And when I say real, I mean everything other than “shots fired, oh the drama of it all.” But being Irish I suppose I’m more in tune with how the banking system can create its own problems.

Back in Ireland, however, it always seemed as if the journalist caste had that je ne sais quoi, that added class about it. At least it seemed that way having left school, having spent some years in a fine University. Over the years the established doyens and doyennes of Irish media dwindled in numbers, and in time it must be expected that they will be all but gone from the TV, limited to some meagre column in the dead-tree-press. Perhaps, again, a lament for another time.

A recent article in The Guardian suggested that we dispense with the arbitrary RIP hashtags and all-too-often maudlin responses. Yes, someones passing may well be a loss, but what does that loss mean to you and to those around you? If it was someone famous, or at least well known, then what constitutes a right to append RIP to some Facebook thread? In the world of music it’s a simple matter I suppose – you probably liked their music, or perhaps you had strong feelings as to their claim to fame such as was the case when Amy Winehouse kicked the bucket, largely her own fault… Ditto for Wacko Jacko who wheedled a fierce Marmite reaction from the general populace when his time came to an end.

But even then it must be argued that these people left nothing of note. Jackson was no Robert Johnson… Winehouse was no Fitzgerald. Anything I might appreciate from the former’s backcatalogue was likely his early work…certainly nothing after Bad, but let’s play it safe and say that his best work was Off the Wall and Thriller, and leave it at that. Winehouse, for me, was a nobody, in professional terms and ultimately in personal terms. The woman might have had a singing talent but she chose to waste it wantonly… as was her wont.

And lo’, like many a keyboard warrior I have managed to derail myself a tad, turning a tangent into a larger object than it warrants. The main idea of this rare posting is to tell but a small story.

It must have been in the late 90s, when I – a student of history at University College Cork – was making my way down the Western Road, presumably to either The Thirsty Scholar or Jumping Jacks (both, in spirit at any rate, long gone). I stopped into Reidy’s Wine Vault to see if any of my la-di-da acting friends were within but indeed they were not. The only face of any familiarity was that of the aforementioned Brian Farrell, all decked out in his penguin suit like a latter day James Bond. In hindsight I imagine it was a bespoke tuxedo, because the man looked a million dollars in it. Or should I say a million punts, such was the currency at the time? I, the impetuous jumped up would-be debater, journalist, historian, intellectual, engaged him in conversation, and rather than dismiss me he instead insisted I join him for a pint of Murphy’s Irish Stout. Alas, since I could not prevent him from heading to the Opera House – for it was there I believe he was himself headed – I was unable to procure an anecdote of note…although not many my age can say that they have met the man. And so, upon hearing of his death, I choose to share this tale, not that it’s much of anything, but it is a tale and not three letters interspersed by periods.

TV’s The Newsroom started back last night…with Jeff Daniels’ anchor attempting to ensure that the news is just that. No leading headlines about Paris Hilton, about some Z lister and what they did out on the tiles the night before. But real news. Our own lives aren’t being written by Aaron Sorkin, but that’s no reason to think that we can’t effect some element of change… why must we, the younger generation of journalists, be forced to grub around in the dirt in order to get our names in print? Can we no longer reach for the stars? Per aspera ad astra… Through hardships to the stars. Today we have lost a man who had such gravitas as to be a heavenly body unto himself. Would that we could all look to unravel the truths of our own lives such as Brian Farrell did with his career.

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