During yesterday's TV broadcasts, BBC Northern Ireland seemed to be doing its best to dress up the annual Belfast Twelfth of July parade as a fun-filled carnival. Presenters, Joe McKee and Clifford Smyth wittered inanely as fat, tattooed, corner boys swung their drums and beer bellies along the wet Belfast streets to the whining strain of flutes. Lord Mayor, Jim Rogers was there, spouting delusional rhetoric about how Catholics and ethnic minority people could enjoy the parade. As if to underline his foolishness, the Ulster Special Constabulary Lodge marched by.
The Ulster Defence Regiment was also represented. One banner displayed an army checkpoint. Others showed images of churches and unionist political leaders and announced their adherents as 'Bible and Crown Defenders' from various regions. Vans draped in union flags crawled by, sheltering geriatrics. "There's a great atmosphere here," said Clifford Smyth, attempting to convince himself that his trite comments had any bearing on reality.
Impartial BBC reporter, Helen Mark, talked to bystanders about how it's all wonderful for Northern Ireland. A DUP counsellor spoke of the parade as one of Europe's best folk festivals. Tourists from various nations were paraded before the camera to impart positive sound-bytes, although this tactic backfired somewhat when a man from Slovakia said that it all reminded him of the communist parades of his youth.
To listen to the voice of the BBC, you could be forgiven for thinking that the whole spectacle was akin to a Notting Hill style knees-up. All rational and objective analysis went out the window.
It was much the same over on UTV where, amid last year's recycled, cost-cutting graphics, tourists were similarly thrust before cameras and children danced on bouncy castles. "What's really nice is that for the first time in Hollywood, King Billy is leading the parade," said the announcer as a portly gentleman in a wig and period dress perched himself atop a white horse.
Back on BBC One, Sarah Travers strutted out onto a virtual, techno-set to preside over a montage of lobotomised reportage. The tone was jovial, light-hearted and filled with cliche.
"At times it seemed more like Glastonbury," said one BBC commentator, as the camera roved across a field hosting predictable, political speeches from the backs of lorries while church bands played from beneath rain-blasted tents. Here is a world where balding, municipal officials, draped in sashes, mouth Biblical platitudes while women with bad haircuts make the sandwiches and praise The Lord.
At the heart of this empty spectacle, the Orange Order was reconfigured as a family-friendly, tourist interest with the local, broadcast media as its unquestioning cheerleaders. The emperor wasn't wearing any clothes but no one on TV was prepared to admit it.