I suppose somewhat self-referentially, this podcast is mostly about reacting to new events of the current week or day. Hosted by Tony Groves and Martin McMahon, the Echo Chamber podcast is the origin for the larger and very fine podcast boutique, the Tortoise Shack. As media output, Tortoise Shack deserves an entire set of reviews of its own, so varied is the output. But in my mind at least, the Echo Chamber is the flagship for the hub. Tony and Martin, sometimes just on their own but also with various guests, compile reactions to whatever is happening in Irish politics, public and policy and media generally. It purports to cut through the PR fog and spin often solely misattributed to politics in Ireland (as if there is something exceptionally opaque about our political class). They’re up to show number 466 as I write this review. To me, this volume of content is a weakness of the show, not a strength. Here’s why.
Listeners in Ireland badly need media content that is not drawn from the Tubridy / Prone school of media output. Too often we hear the same voices giving the same views, echoing the same talking points across formats and feeding into each other’s productions. What the morning news shows do not get to, Liveline will pick up. What generates heat during the lunchtime show will bleed into the drivetime radio schedule. As for subject matter, the court politics of Merrion Square are often interesting but only as a backdrop to helping us to identify how it connects with actual real life, you know, workers and carers and students. Far too much time on Irish radio is devoted to the He Said / She Said format where the best that can be conjured up is to attach the suffix -gate to the latest ‘scandal’. By the end of the day, the pained expression of Miriam O’Callaghan or Matt Cooper administered on some unlucky minister is all we get.
The Echo Chamber, conversely, does get beyond these voices and extends its focus to wider international issues, a little bit like Off the Ball does with football and Gaelic games. I appreciate that we hear about Palestine and Spain and other issues of broader relevance but (and this is meant as constructive criticism), the reaction gets in the way of connecting the dots.
Tony will usually open an episode with a brief introduction and Martin soothes his way in, usually having been wound up by his co-host. From there, it is often wall to wall reaction to the Events of the Day. In other words, where the Echo Chambers fails is in its unstructured reaction to what some tweets said earlier that day in response to a tweet from Leo Varadkar. The reappraisal of content from other channels has the tiresome effect of making every political issue being reacted to seem like a media event, and little else. Most politics is boring, grounded in drudgery and weekly grinding procedural application. What occurs through media channels is often just a fifth of what gets discussed. Echo Chamber takes that 20 per cent of content and heightens its effect, with little distinction made as to why some politician saying something in a very specific way is really not that important. The structural and highly relevant issue is rarely connected. The other wheels are turning but no one is looking.
The podcast’s shows are frequently a rehearsal of this type. Something blows up that afternoon (and, let me be clear, there are a lot that dissenters and critics like me and you can blow up about right now) and the Echo Chamber takes that issue and reacts to it. Episode after episode shows us how outrageous something is, how contemptuously we are treated by elected politicians of the ruling class and how callous official Ireland can be. What are we left with? A sense that politics is the continuation of outrage. And damn it reader, call me an advocate for politics-as-boring-procedural-application, but outrage alone gets us not very close to the major inequalities and structural problems we face right now. Tony and Martin give us plenty to outrage about but it is often not informed by a sense of what might change were we to get organised. Politics as a parlour game is done well by the mainstream media. What we need on our side is a narrative about how we change things for all of us. Let’s get doing that, in a well-produced and pacey way that sticks to a per-episode schedule. We need the Echo Chamber podcast to be an engine of change, not merely a rehearsal for pointless outrage.