Sin é?

I watched the Cathal O Searcaigh documentary on RTE this evening. I thought it was terrible, though at least it didn’t have any Father Ted in it. The baleful voiceover and gloomily sinister atmospheric music would have been laughable if they weren’t such key components of what was a malignant hatchet-job.

I don’t have time to write at length on this at the minute, so just a couple of points:

  • A technique used throughout the film was for the camera to linger long enough on the face of the subject until the moment in which the subject’s facial expression changed, for a smile to fade, or features to harden. The intention appeared to be to give the impression that all was not as it seemed: that the camera was unearthing something beneath the surface. In reality, everyone’s facial expression changes at some point. The film-maker seemed to identify some significance in the fact that a boy appeared uncomfortable when sitting beside O’Searcaigh. Presumably the camera trained on him had nothing to do with this.
  • There appeared to be no allowance for the fact that many of the boys did not speak fully fluent English. For instance, there was one boy who said that O Searcaigh had ‘expected’ him in his hotel room. This gave the impression that O Searcaigh had commandeered his presence: that the relationship was unambiguously exploitative. But the boy may have just meant ‘waiting for’. I don’t recall any clarification sought from the film-maker from the boys on any of the things they said. There was the other moment where the boy said that he loved O Searcaigh with ‘his whole body’, and that he was ‘a God’. I was expecting some sort of prompt from the film-maker so that the boy would elaborate on this in some way, but none came.

Dermod Moore has more.

Update: the O Searcaigh affair is front page news in today’s Independent.

On the online edition, the headline is:

Revealed: how poet set up ‘charity’ fund

In the printed edition, it’s:

Revealed: how gay poet set up ‘charity’ fund



6 Responses to “Sin é?”

  1. 1 Kevin March 12, 2008 at 1:27 pm

    I wish I knew how to leave trackback. But I don’t. So, like an idiot, I’m announcing that I’ve linked to this piece.

  2. 2 Tomaltach March 12, 2008 at 3:19 pm

    I have to say that I don’t agree. You mention the facial expressions suggesting all isn’t what it seems: exactly. That’s the point. Here is a man who professes to admire the innocence of Nepal, it’s open, tactile, pre-prosperity feel. It’s his spiritual home and he comes to give alms. Yes – all of this in his fantasy. In reality he is an exploitative, sexual preditor here on a sex holiday. The brutal collision between reality and the facade is shown with no little skill in those forlorn, sullen faces.

    About the language. Point well taken. However, there is no confusion when the talks about his penis being touched. Whatever the language used by the boys, that used by the poet is clear: he had sex with some of these boys. He relutanctly takes on board the point about exploitation and the power imbalance too.

    Look, I am not here to demonise O Searcaigh. In my eyes his actions were morally wrong. But he has broken no law and should not be hounded. My thoughts are expanded here:

  3. 3 Hugh Green March 12, 2008 at 4:33 pm


    Let me illustrate with an example what I am talking about here when I mention the camera shots.

    There was a scene where O’Searcaigh is playing with the child of his adopted son, Prem, and Prem’s wife is looking on. The camera focuses on her, and eventually, her face becomes serious.

    When you edit and present a scene like this, you are making a series of deliberate decisions. It is wrong to think that the camera is seeking out the reality of the situation. Think of the scene as a form of sentence: a sequence of images that produce a concrete expression of an idea. The final image in this particular expression is the wife’s serious face. The fact that the scene ends on this image is a conscious decision on the part of the film maker, and has a specific function in terms of what is intended by the documentary.

    Now it seems to me that the connoted meaning of this scene, for your average RTE viewer in a society obsessed with paedophilia, is pretty clear: O’Searcaigh is not the type of person whom a mother could trust with her child.

    Yet in reality, it would be quite normal for a mother’s facial expression to change as she watches other people playing with her child, and it may have nothing to do with the other people: the expression may have something to do with what the child is doing, or she might have remembered the bet she placed on the 3.25 at Newmarket. The point in the case of the documentary is that any such possibility is eliminated, and the woman’s facial expression, obtained after a concerted effort on the part of the camera holder, is placed in service of the story the film-maker wishes to tell.

    There were other such instances. In light of these, and in light of the subsequent revelations made by the young Nepalese men, I don’t think that the documentary is a reasonable starting point for judging O’Searcaigh’s actions, and I see no need to do so, since I don’t even know what the precise nature of those actions were, or the precise nature of the power relations of which many people appear to think they have a clear picture.

  4. 4 Tomaltach March 12, 2008 at 4:56 pm

    I take your point about the language of the film. And of course, I agree fully that a film is not a snapshot of the truth. That is not the same as saying it cannot contain a truth.

    But I have to say, I did not come away from the film with any hint that Ó Searcaigh was a pedophile.

    And there is nothing wrong with erring on the side of caution and reserving judgement, as you have chosen to do.

    It is true that extra care is required with the moving image. You have pointed out some of the traps into which an unwary viewer might slide. Suppose the allegations in the film, together with his admissions, were written as a piece of investigative journalism. You still, might say, well, I’d reserve judgement and I only listen to the pronouncements of a Judge or jury.

    But the reality is we make judgements every day about people. I know a couple of people who do hard drugs. I have passed a judgement on them. No court, no jury, just facts that I ascertain to my own satisfaction and then judge. No punishment of course. Just a mental tick and move on.

    The key claim of the film is that Ó Searcaigh exploited young, vulnerable, men for sex. He paid them. I accept this claim based on the main section of the film and on Ó Searcaigh’s admission that he had sex with some of them. He admitted on camera the exploitative nature of their relationship. I have made my mental tick.

  5. 5 Hugh Green March 13, 2008 at 8:24 am

    Suppose the allegations in the film, together with his admissions, were written as a piece of investigative journalism. You still, might say, well, I’d reserve judgement and I only listen to the pronouncements of a Judge or jury.

    No: I would reserve judgement until I had a reasonably complete and balanced account of what O’Searcaigh was doing. I don’t think that the documentary provided this, and I would contend that it would be impossible to produce a piece of written journalism that reproduced the allegations and admissions in this documentary, since the person operating the camera is a key protagonist in the events recorded.

    Lest you think I’m trying to evade the question of O’Searcaigh’s responsibilities, I would say this: if he deliberately maintained relationships based on exploiting the precarious situation of others as a means of satisfying his own desire, then that would be clearly wrong. But especially in light of the subsequent claims made by some of the young men who were subjects of the documentary, I’m not altogether convinced that this was the case. The only thing I feel able to conclude, based on the documentary material, is that he was certainly foolish and naive, but as Dermod Moore rightly observes in his review of the film, desire makes fools of us all.

  1. 1 Dublin Opinion » Blog Archive » Demystifying the Fairytale of Kathmandu Trackback on March 12, 2008 at 1:08 pm

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