Another goddam hot take on the Rose of Tralee

Did this for the Examiner:

 

Is there anyone who doesn’t love the Rose of Tralee? The answer, obviously, is a resounding yes – there are many, many people who do not like the Rose of Tralee. There are many reasons why this is so – it is seen as an anachronism, a throwback to the 1950s era that spawned it, when Church and State worked hand in hand to create an atmosphere akin to The Handmaid’s Tale. Fr Ted may have thoroughly skewered the festival via the Lovely Girls contest, but perhaps we have come out the other side of it and can now appreciate the Rose festival for what it is – slightly awkward, relatively harmless fun.

The Rose of Tralee is a many splendored thing – here are just some of its wonders

It’s not a beauty pageant: From the outset it has never been a beauty pageant, because that might suggest humans feel desire, and that wouldn’t have gone over well back in the 1950s when we reproduced via pollination. The Rose of Tralee is meant to be more about the kind of beauty that doesn’t actually matter in the real world – inner beauty. The qualities they seek are those reflected in the song of the same name – that she be lovely and fair, like the first rose of summer. Or beautiful, as it is also known.

Escorts: Like a fringe festival of Lovely Boys, the escorts play a pivotal role by looking like they are going to a dress dance in Templemore training college, whilst making sure their Rose is assisted when alighting from buses or getting back onto buses, or that overseas Roses are taught about important aspects of Irish culture like why we hate the British, what a spicebag is, or how to sledge someone effectively at a puck-out.

The Build-Up: Even though the event is best known as a brief TV spectacle, the Roses actually have to endure a long tour of duty around the country for some awkward photo shoots. Nowhere is safe –  shopping centres, wildlife parks, self service filling station forecourts, public amenity sites, no space is too insignificant or bleak for the Roses to be herded off a bus, only to get assaulted by a llama while someone else takes 300 photos.

The host: From Gaybo, to Raybo, to Tubbs, to Dáithí, the key element to being the host is to be as awkward as humanly possible. This helps the Rose feel more normal, despite being trapped in an actual episode of Fr Ted. The secret is to be asexually bland, and not steal the limelight from the poor Rose – Ray D’Arcy caused consternation the year that he did a cartwheel across the stage as it was deemed much better than most of the Roses’ performances and almost saw him win the title.

The party piece: Some Roses are clearly destined for greatness – look at a pre-stardom Gabby Logan’s professional performance back in 1991. Then there are the Roses who look like they just found out they were expected to do a little party piece, and rattle out a bawdy Limerick or show how they can turn their eyelids inside out. Of course few can compare with the 2011 Dublin Rose, Siobheal Nic Eochaidh, whose wildly thrashing hip-hop dance routine looked like one of the scenes cut from The Exorcist.

The controversies: Somehow you would expect that this gentlest of events would avoid becoming a scene of controversies, but sadly it seems even the Rose Dome has become a sort of analog Twitter in recent years. There was the fathers rights activist who dressed as a priest and stormed the stage with an illegible sign that made everyone think it said Farmers For Justice (which no doubt got a few cheers from the Macra escorts), to last year’s Down Rose, who said the Roses were treated like animals in a circus, which was very upsetting as she had clearly never been to a circus. Those places are awful.

The Rose festival even had its very own Inception moment, when in 2013 a shot on Monday night’s show included cutlery with the crest of the eventual winner printed on them, suggesting that – shock, horror – the winner might be decided before Dáithí opens the envelope on the Tuesday night. Although it seems fitting, given that the winner is meant to have the rose-like qualities espoused in the song, and thus would need to be a plant.

The Rose Of Tralee may have its detractors – and many awkward photo ops on actual tractors – but it is still a very Irish affair. Until the organisers try to modernise it and turn it into some sort of reality TV Battle Royale, perhaps we should just appreciate it for what it is – slightly quaint, gentle fun, that is definitely not a beauty pageant.

 

In MySpace no-one can hear you scream

Sometimes I worry that I’m becoming one of those hot take guys, but then I remember that money of money and money money money #money. Anyway, this piece on Xennials went in the Indo today:

 

Is your name John Paul? Were you named after the guy from Led Zeppelin, or the artist formerly known as Karol Józef Wojtyła? Because if you were named in honour of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979, chances are you belong to a recently discovered micro-generation known as the Xennials.

Nestled between the wooly nihilism of Generation X and capitalism’s latest ground xero, Millennials, Xennials were born between 1977 and 1983 and are not to be mistaken for Xenomorphs, the monstrous creatures from Ridley Scott’s Alien, introduced to the world the same year the Pope came to Ireland. Unlike Xenomorphs, Xennials don’t have acidic blood, but they are strange beasts in that they came of age while the world transitioned from analog to digital.

They made mixtapes that were recorded on actual tapes, later they owned a first-gen iPod, and now have a retro fetishistic turntable and accompanying cool vinyl record collection. Unlike Millennials, they don’t need what LCD Soundsystem called ‘a borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered Eighties’, as they were actually there.

Coming of age at the dawn of the digital era means Xennials made all the mistakes so Millennials wouldn’t have to. Look at Tom Hardy – born in 1977, his MySpace page was still accessible until recently and was a treasure trove of terrible selfies and awkward braggadocio. Xennials also remember who Claire Swire was and why nobody says things like that in emails anymore (that’s what Facebook messages are for, and also, nobody really cares now). And thanks to the wonders of globalisation – a process accelerated by digitisation – the signs that you might be a Xennial are almost universal:

  1. TV: Your teenage years were shaped by the emo struggles of My So-Called Life, Party Of Five and Buffy, before you were cheered up by the humorously bourgeois debacles facing the guys in Central Perk. You transitioned from not having that many TV channels in your youth, to having too many TV channels, to Netflix removing the need to ever know how to Sky+ anything ever again. You remember when your parents’ outrage over Fr Ted’s sacrilegious take on the clergy became softened in the face of various reports into the fact that some members of the clergy might not actually have been a great bunch of lads after all. You also think that watching Nasty Nick get his comeuppance on Big Brother 1 was your generation’s moon landing.
  2. Internet giants: You once owned or possibly still own a Hotmail account, a sure sign that you are a Xennial. You remember the first search engines, when Ask Jeeves seemed like a sophisticated AI as opposed to the clunky mess you learned it was once you started using Google. You connected with people you didn’t really like on FriendsReunited.com, and people (and bands) you did like on MySpace. You remember the banshee’s screech of a dial up modem, the strange thrill of stealing music via Napster, and opening the floodgates of filth and wonder on the internet. You possibly even owned a Geocities page dedicated to Boyzone.
  3. Communications: You knew someone in national school whose dad had a phone in his car, and this was the most amazing thing, as anytime you weren’t at home you needed to queue up to use a payphone. You got your first mobile at the end of the Nineties and even though older people told you that using it was the equivalent of sticking your head in a microwave oven and setting it to high, you soon became utterly addicted. You transitioned effortlessly from making calls, to sending texts, to WhatsApp, but draw the line at Snapchat as you suspect it may be something like the voyeuristic tech in the noir sci-fi Strange Days.
  4. Consoles: You disobeyed your parents to go to the local arcade, when you blew your pocket money playing low-res Konami classics like Double Dragon, inputting your name as ACE (there were only three spaces) when you got a high score. But then you segued effortlessly into the age of the console, where you didn’t have to hang out with the school bullies in the local arcade, as you play 8-bit classics at home, learn the basics of computer programming, and become the geeks that inherited the earth.
  5. Attitude: The Xennials are mercifully spared the cynical mindset of Generation X, but also avoid the alleged ‘special snowflake’ mindset of Millennials, a generation who supposedly believe they can be anything, despite the fact that robots are about to take all their jobs. Having lived through the birth of digital and the dot com bust, followed by the 2008 global collapse, the Xennial is cautiously optimistic that things work out in the end, despite not being able to afford a house anytime soon.
  6. Music: As a Xennial you grew up on Spice Girls, Offspring and Blink 182, which explains why you found it easy to never pay for music again once you discovered Limewire.
  7. Movies: Every time you see a Millennial wearing a Goonies T-shirt you feel the urge to shout at them that you were there, you saw it first time round in a small town cinema with sticky floors and it scared the bejaysus out of you. You did not see some 75mm restored version on Imax at some festival of postmodernity curated by 16 year old hipster who owns an ironic Zune.
  8. Consuming: Just as Deliveroo has taken over from actually going out to eat, your trips to the shops and the shopping centre, once a central part of your socialising, have been flung into the dustbin of history.  Every day you are wearing a path to the sorting office or Parcel Motel to pick up your latest online splurges, secretly yearning for the days of the shopping trip so that you could control your relentless clicking and collecting.
  9. Chain reactions: You remember the first time you read Naomi Klein’s No Logo, your idealistic young mind being quite concerned by the idea of Starbucks outlets spreading like a virus. Now you claim Ireland is a Third World Country if you don’t have a Starbucks on every street corner, and cite the Geneva Convention if the baristas don’t write a humorous interpretation of your name on the cup so you can post it on Instagram.
  10. You feel like the before and after photos in an academic paper on how technology has dehumanised us. You remember real news, eye contact, speaking, and putting effort into writing letters. Now you can’t remember the last meaningful real-world interaction you had, and wonder sometimes if you are becoming less human, or just obsolete.

Rejoice then that there are some aspects of Irish society that weren’t affected by the digital transition, for just as you listened to your parents droning on about the X Case as you drove to Knock a quarter of a century ago, you find yourself listening to the exact same rhetoric now. So at least that hasn’t changed.

Ken?

As in, the Scottish for ‘y’know?’. But also a popular toy that got a makeover, promoting this work of genius in the Indo:

 

Is there any toy more tragic than Ken? Since his creation back in 1959, his life has been one tragi-comic misadventure after another. Initially created with authentic felt hair, he had to suffer the embarrassment of many follicularly challenged men when it turned out that his lush head of hair fell off when it got wet. Physically, he has the rigid upright stance of someone with a slipped disc, or perhaps one of the guys from Kraftwerk, but it is his personal life that is most rigid of all. Ostensibly created as a love interest for Barbie, poor auld Ken has been boxed off in the friend zone for decades now, with his creators Mattel never precisely specifying the nature of their relationship, leaving Ken to ponder his place in her life – gay best friend, purely platonic pal, or creepy flatmate she mistakenly let out the spare room in the dreamhouse to?

After a life of loneliness (even lone-wolf hero Action Man has his life partner, GI Joe) and confusion about his role in life, the death blow to traditional Ken was dealt by Toy Story 3, in which he was thoroughly lampooned as a preening narcissist. There was no coming back from it. So the good news is that Mattel have relaunched Ken for our modern times, with a selection of fresh new looks, body shapes, styles and, ultimately, lessons for the child of today.

Masculinity: The old Ken was a sexless prop in Barbie’s world. While his arch nemesis Action Man had a walk-on part in the war, poor Ken took the lead role in a cage. Granted, neither of them had any trace of genitalia, but while Action Man was out destabilising governments and having rocks thrown at him, Ken’s passive existence was a pity to behold. Not so now – the reboot takes him from ‘Ken doll’ to ‘Ken playfigure’, a huge leap forward for the toy world’s least popular eunuch. New Ken comes with attitude, and his fresh new looks show that he is more than Barbie’s accessory. He is still, of course, unrealistically perfect, but then living with no genitals means he has a lot more time to dedicate to sorting out his eyebrows, trimming his ear hair and treating his fungal nail(s).

Body image: Old Ken’s body shape was just as alien as Barbie’s; a study in 2005 showed that for the average man to have Ken’s physique, he would need to grow 20 inches taller and add nearly eight inches to his neck circumference, 11 inches to his chest and 10 inches to his waist. Thankfully new Ken has scaled back these unrealistic ambitions, with three new body types – slim, broad and original. Presumably slim suffers from Marfan syndrome, while ‘broad’ is that same euphemistic term that your mam used when she couldn’t fasten the cape for your CBS school band around your neck. Broad Ken – or Fat Ken as he will most likely be called by the other toys – is probably the best Ken of the new breed, as his portly frame teaches young girls that some day their prince will come, then get settled, then get fat, and that golf is not really exercise.   

Relationships: Ken’s new body confidence, man-bun, corn rows, and general swagger means he has his pick of partners, but given that he is still a child’s toy, he will presumably continue to be a bit part in a vague storyline about Barbie going shopping, standing around changing rooms while she tries on a selection of hats, like that scene in the hit romcom Sleeping With The Enemy. Ken is the non-threatening asexual longtime companion for Barbie, endlessly shifting and then perfecting his appearance in the hope that she will fall in love with him, but since he first met her back in 1959, she hasn’t shown the slightest interest. Perhaps it’s time for Mattel to release the poor guy from his loveless hell and issue a Tinder Ken – or Grinder Ken – because it doesn’t matter how many times he suggests they watch When Harry Met Sally, Barbie has no interest. It’s almost like her dead plastic eyes don’t even see him anymore.

Career goals: Most people would say that the only job Ken ever had was as bag-minder for Barbie, but he has had almost 40 occupations since his creation. Many of them are more hobbies than actual jobs – bodybuilder, beach bum, and fraternity member being the bottom scraping of Ken’s less than illustrious career. This in itself is a positive message for girls, as they can’t all marry princes, astronauts or even guys with actual jobs that pay. The new Ken comes in a selection of looks, all of which make it seem he is either a digital marketer or aloof clothes-folder at American Apparel, neither of which pay enough for Barbie to get that Malibu beach house, or even a mobile home in Bundoran.

The saddest part of Ken’s story is that this complete reimagining of him is Mattel’s last ditch attempt to make him and Barbie relevant. Kids today just aren’t interested in playfigures like Ken and Barbie, and they are fast becoming relics of a bygone age. Ken’s new look is really just a midlife crisis, as he tries to save his crumbling relationship and thus himself, because, like a lot of men, without his significant other, he is nothing.

 

Authoritarian

I did a steaming hot take on the Clinton/Patterson book for the Indo, and here it is: 

 

When it was announced that Bill Clinton was writing a book, most people assumed it would be a cross between 50 Shades and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas. Sadly, our hopes of a steamy memoir about Slick Willy Clinton polling the electorate were dashed when it was announced that human bestseller machine James Patterson would be co-authoring. Patterson is what you might call box office, one of the most successful – and richest – authors in the world, even if he has his critics – as horror maestro Stephen King bluntly put it, Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very successful.

So the book will be a hit, no matter what, even if the title – The President Is Missing, which according to the publishers is about a president that goes missing – doesn’t suggest a gripping, unputdownable page-turner. But not every politician has had success when dabbling in the creative arts.

Painting – Churchill painted to alleviate depression, Hitler was a failed artist, and Franco was  better than you would think. But beyond all those were the paintings of George W Bush, whose portraits of world leaders – and himself in the shower – were startlingly poor. Of course, art is completely subjective, but when a 14 year old entrant in the Texaco Art Competition makes W’s works look like a potato print, it is time to retire the easel. However, he did exactly the opposite – he released a book of portraits, this time on a subject that meant nobody could criticise his work: War veterans. Frankly it was the least he could do after starting a war himself.

Acting – It should set off alarm bells for all of us that so many actors become highly successful politicians. Reagan, Schwarzenegger, Glenda Jackson; it is a surprisingly smooth transition from pretending to be someone, to being a politician. Perhaps the oddest transition was that of Illona Staller, known by her stage name la Cicciolina. The Hungarian-born model (and porn star) stood for the Green Party in Italy and served one term, one of the most memorable moments of which was when she offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace in his country. Perhaps if George W had painted that scenario he might sell a few more copies of his book.  However, he would have to compete with the talents of conceptualist artist Jeff Koons, who married Staller and created a series of massive portraits of he and his wife engaged in explicit sexual acts. So politics isn’t all paperwork.

Music – Wyclef Jean ran for president of Haiti, Youssou N’Dour ran for office in Senegal, Sonny Bono became a US congressman, and our own Bono seems to have more influence with world leaders than our politicians do. It’s not surprising to see idealistic musicians attempt to turn their lyrics into actions. And then there’s former TD Paul Gogarty, who brought his baby to a Green Party press conference calling for a general election, and on another occasion shouted ‘f**k you’ across the floor of the Dáil at Labour TD Emmet Stagg. If he was to record music, you would assume it would lie somewhere between The Sex Pistols and the theme music from In The Night Garden. But Gogarty’s project, His Sweet Surprise, is a very sweet surprise – synth-heavy pop songs with catchy choruses. His time in politics may have been brief, but his music (and swearing) definitely made more of an impression than his party colleagues, such as the lightbulb guy or the other guy, you know, the one who cycled everywhere.

Writing – Clinton’s foray into writing is unusual in that it is a work of fiction. Most former presidents just churn out a memoir or three, along with several impassioned books on how they could make the world a better place if only they were still in charge. The only previous work of fiction Clinton was affiliated with was the Chinese counterfeiting of his memoir, the imaginatively titled My Life. The Chinese version of it – which came out before the book was actually released – featured countless anecdotes of Clinton talking about how great China was and how their technology was vastly superior to America’s. It also included a scene in which Bill informs Hilary this his nickname is Big Watermelon, which somehow seems entirely plausible.

But when it comes to forays into the world of creative writing by politicians, few come close to our own Alan Shatter. His one novel, Laura: A Story You Will Never Forget, shot to prominence when a complaint was made to the censors office about it. Fittingly for a man born on Valentine’s Day, Mr Shatter included a few scenes of the protagonists engaging in the physical act of love – which is what they called sex back in 1989 when the book was first published. After the complaint to the censors board and subsequent furore, the book was republished, proving that the old adage of ‘no such thing as bad publicity’ is true in the arts, if not in politics.

While Mr Shatter is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant minds to have graced Dáil Éireann in modern times, one does have to wonder if the much talked-about sex scenes in Laura would have been better if he was a little less brilliant – perhaps a little less mind and a little more body would have turned his well-written, sterile prose into top-notch filth. He does, however, get bonus points for including this classic Irish chat-up manoeuvre:  “She knew that she had been foolish for not taking the necessary precautions herself, but Brannigan had assured her that he always withdrew in time and that she was not at risk.”

It was either that or tell her his nickname was The Big Potato.