Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Why are young people so damn nostalgic nowadays?

In 2006 the American R&B singer Mario released a song entitled Let Me Love You. It was a major chart hit around the globe, topping the charts in seven countries. As I was an impressionable and naive 13 year old, who had not yet discovered The Beatles, Van Morrison, Indie Rock or Motown when it was released, I was rather enamoured by it. So this week I decided to scour Youtube for it and give an ol’ listen for, y’know, old time’s sake.

It’s not a fantastic song. Its melody is quite enchanting but thematically and lyrically it leaves a lot to be desired. Though that was not what bothered me when I listened to it. The highest rated comment on the video, as voted for by Youtube users, was what did it. It was the seemingly innocuous comment; “Back when music was good”.

This perturbed me. It really did. The implication that in the last 7 years music has gone belly-up and lost its way, that back in the mid-noughties the charts was only the preserve of “good music” and that now it is only the preserve of substandard bile  irritated me (It is the preserve of substandard bile now but it was too back in the 00s).

This is not an anomalous occurrence on the internet or indeed in real life. This unabridged and frankly uninformed nostalgia has long been pervasive. It sickens me. The assumption that somehow the world was a better, more moralistic and more cultured place in the past is not only untrue but morbidly stupid.
It is most commonly associated with older people. You hear it from your grandparents when they’re discussing the youth of today – They begin their sentence with the classic dictum “Back in my day” or the equally hackneyed “When I was a youngster” and then launch into a sanctimonious tirade about how people today have no manners or no respect.

It’s worth pointing out that our grandparents are part of a generation that started and finished two world wars. If it’s a choice between poor manners or world wars, I’m afraid I’m going to have to go with the poor manners.
But there is a new trend now. It has its roots, perhaps unsurprisingly, on the internet and it’s just as pervasive and just as annoying as ordinary nostalgia – it’s nostalgia perpetuated by young people. Yep, you heard me. People in their teens are now as nostalgic as people in the twilight of their lives.
There are a myriad of examples to back this up but I shall provide you with the most prominent and, coincidentally, the most annoying example of what I like to call “Youthful nostalgia”. It is the 90s kids craze.

Ah, the 90s kids craze. I’m sure some of you are at a loss. Some of you may not be familiar with it. Let me explain. It’s a movement on the internet which celebrates the popular culture and fads of the 1990s. It celebrates things like 90s TV shows, 90s music and 90s fads such as Tamagotchis and Furbies - and berates everything “modern” as if the 90s were the time of Wordsworth and Keats.  

What makes it so mind-numbingly stupid is that most of its patrons are in their teens – i.e they were only born in the 90s. They spent their formative years in the 00s. Like me. I am apparently a 90s kid. I was six when the 90s ended. Six. I was but an overgrown foetus. And there are younger people than I who celebrate the 90s as if the entire decade was some sort of eternal and perpetual utopia.
So why is this? Why do kids today insist that the current generation is nowt but a bunch of uncultured chimps and try to claim membership of a generation that was only a fleeting part of their lives?

 Maybe it’s thanks to our parents and the media. You know the way that the Pre-9/11 world is held up to be some everlasting bastion of endless peace? Or maybe every generation since the 60s habitually hates itself and longs to claim membership of every preceding decade? Tis debatable.

While it’s always fun to look back on past generations and enjoy their music and popular culture we could do well to remember what makes our generation very special indeed. We’re the first totally digital and interactive generation.  We’re revolutionaries in every little thing we do online.

I’m not saying we’re perfect. And I’m not saying we’re necessarily better than any other previous generation. What I am saying is neither are preceding generations without their faults. They weren’t paragons of virtue like some like to claim.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

A short piece on my problem with students' unions

Couldn't think of a relevant pic so I just used a stock image.
 He looks a bit pissed off. It'll do.

In the garishly ornate St. Peter's Basilica this week a conclave is being held to decide who should be the next leader of what is left of the Catholic Church. Cardinals will talk, talk, bicker, debate and talk some more before voting. And voting again. And possibly even again. Then a plume of white smoke will emerge from a small chimney signalling to the world that a week and a bit of uncertainty and angst is over and that a new pope has been elected.

Unbeknownst to those cardinals and the vast majority of the world, there is a another election taking place this week. It is slightly less elaborate and less ritualistic but just as annoying, as obtrusive and as wonderfully pointless. It is the University of Limerick Students' Union election.

This election is being held to elect a new SU president, welfare officer and entertainment officer. Or something like that. There are parallels to be drawn between this election and ordinary political elections - similar amounts of hyperbole, cringe-worthy attempts by candidates and campaigners to 'get down' with the electorate and an a potent sense of vanity and self-indulgence pervading through the air. "Hyperbole" is just a fancy word for "bullshit", by the way.

Similarly there are also parallels between the SU itself and actual political institutions - even more hyperbole, vexatious bureaucracy and feelings of resentment and apathy towards it amongst its electorate. 

Some of you reading this may attend UL and may be thinking "Last week was RAG week and it was DAY-CENT and the SU organised that. Why the overt contempt, man?" Let me explain. I do not think the ULSU is particularly rank in comparison with other students' unions nor do I have any personal gripes with anyone in ULSU (Most are actually rather affable). I just dislike all Students' Unions. 

You see, I view students' unions the same way I view political institutions, namely with  suspicion. In my eyes, students' unions are, or at least seem to be, empty vessels used by self-serving, overly desirous persons to further their own personal advancement and get a good reference on their CV while feigning an interest in students and their issues.

 Now I don't see anything particularly wrong with that - in this ecnomic climate everyone needs a good CV and I'm not particularly fond of my fellow students either - it's just the way they go about it. 

You see them on Twitter. You see them around campus. You see their Facebook groups urging you to vote for them around election time. They're the type of irritating busy-bodies who treat their Twitter account as if they were a journalist at The Irish Times, discussing current affairs with the sort of discernment unbecoming of them. Discussing people and news they've never heard of as if they're experts in the field. Their profile pictures are always excessively formal and on Facebook they encourage their friends to "get involved" in the Student Union. Their sense of humour is restricted to the occasional meme. They see themselves as future leaders and thinkers. Some of them, indeed, it seems are being groomed for a future in politics.

And then they wonder why they're so unpopular. Not them personally, but the Student Union itself. Why do so very few students take an interest in it? Why do they consistently fail to reach quorum in their AGMs and EGMs? Why the low turnout for voting despite the fact that it is remarkably easy to vote? (You just need to log in to ANY computer in the University - and there's quite a few of them). Now, of course, I can only discuss the ULSU here but I'm sure this scenario replicates itself in many other students' unions around Ireland. 

Is their unpopularity down to the natural and irrevocable apathy towards anything that doesn't involve consuming copious amounts of alcohol among most students? It most certainly has a big part to play but there are other factors too. Students' unions claim to represent students but they're so out of touch it's laughable. The campaigning that takes place during election week is exceedingly annoying and it seems the promises they make are exact same each year. This, of course, is very similar to politicians' campaigns but with the difference being that we can (or should be able to at least) hold politicians to account when they're acting like divs - not exactly the same with students' unions officials. 

The only time students' unions really raise their voice is around November time - just before the Budget. With fee increases and grant levies expected in the Budget they organise a few buses to the Capital and take part in a collective "letting off of steam" exercise or "protest", if you will. Protests are valiant causes but, come on, is one poxy protest going to make a difference? Or would a sustained campaign be more practical in actually combating fee increases? Of course it would but the students' unions don't seem to care - they just want to make it appear that they do. And therein lies the problem. If I were to bestow a collective motto upon students' unions it would be that - "We don't really care but we'll pretend to."  

I can be challenged on this subject and I would welcome a rebuke. It's just as an observer of my own students' union for a year and a half now I have already formed a well-set opinion on them and their dealings. Indeed, this opinion took root very early on in my academic life and nothing since has convinced me to change. Students' unions, like the Catholic Church in this week of concurrent elections, could do with a reevaluation of what their role exactly is. 

Friday, 1 March 2013

Gerry Adams' Twitter account - Stroke of genius or publicity stunt?

Following celebrities on Twitter can be an arduous task. Indeed, it is often what line of work a celebrity is involved in that determines how interesting/uninteresting their tweets will be. Footballers tend to be boring and anodyne (Unless of course they happen to be Joey Barton). Musicians can be intriguing and engaging (Johnny Marr) or absolutely off-the wall insane (Tyler, The Creator) though many others can be depressingly cliched and woefully vapid (Ed Sheeran/Any teen sensation). Actors, rather surprisingly, are usually your best bet for stimulating and/or humorous tweets (Anna Kendrick being my personal favourite). 

Politicians then (And yes, they are celebrities) are rather pointless to follow on Twitter. All you get on your timeline is hyperbolic propaganda and contrived attempts at patriotism. Twitter to most politicians is, I assume, a necessary evil; something to connect with younger voters but given the choice, they'd rather leave it to their secretaries or aides. And many do, of course. 

This was until Gerry Adams came along. His Twitter account is less than two months old but has already amassed over 16,000 followers. Now that's not a fantastically huge amount - but for a 65 year old Irish politician who has only tweeted 181 times (That sounds like a lot, I know - it isn't really), it's pretty damn impressive. It ain't hard to see why so many people have chosen to follow him - his tweets are works of scattered, chaotic and often times incongruous art. 

The question remains though; is Gerry Adams really this eccentrically brilliant? Does he really sleep with a teddy named Ted? Does he really bathe with a rubber duck? Or is this a publicity stunt by Sinn Féin? A chance to capitalise on the growing support of him personally and the party on the whole and to perhaps even expand it? I'm going to have to stop asking questions that I can't possibly answer conclusively and just present the evidence. You, the reader of my modest blog, can be the judge. 

I'll just lay out a few of the (many) highlights so far:

                            Trouble in paradise with Ted (Who is a teddy bear)     

"Tiocfaidh Ár Latte"

Wacky happenings in Leinster House

Martin McGuinness joins Twitter

Discussing the marital status of teddy bears Ted and Tom

Charming anecdote

His rather lovely dog, Snowie

It's difficult to decipher, ain't it? In some people's minds, Adams will always be intrinsically linked to the IRA and the Troubles and they may see this as a cheap attempt to create a new identity - a sort of bumbling, bubbly sexagenarian who seems like he just happens to be a politician, that it doesn't define who he is. Such protests are not inane. Accruing support in such a hostile and divided political environment is difficult and of course remarkably important - political parties will (And have) stoop to anything to attract voters. 

Those assumptions will remain just that however - merely assumptions. 

Adams has always struck me as a peculiar sort of character though. Not quite as aberrant as he comes across on Twitter but still peculiar. He is the very first politician I remember being aware of as a child - probably because my early childhood was the mid to late 90's, i.e. peace process time. His eminent beard reminds me so much of the 90s it's almost zeitgeist-y. His Twitter account however, really did surprise me. In a good way. For the first week it existed I was convinced it was a parody account. Convinced. Then the Sinn Fein press office confirmed its validity. Oh. So he actually did tweet "Tiocfaidh Ár Latte" about a good cup of coffee. He actually does sleep (or claim to, at least) with a teddy bear. He actually does have a near-comical love/hate relationship with his advisor RG (Real name - Richard McCauley). 

Of course, other prominent members of Sinn Féin use Twitter - Martin McGuinness has just joined and Mary Lou McDonald is a prominent user - and both are more dynamic with their accounts than their jejune FF/FG/Lab counterparts. Though neither are a patch on Gerry. 

What amuses me most about any member of Sinn Féin's Twitter accounts is their use of the Irish language. It's so flagrant yet somehow subtle. It's as if they have a requisite number of words which must be as gaeilge in each tweet. They would never compose a full tweet  as gaeilge though, that would be far too confusing for the followers - most of whom are Irish and as such do not speak Irish. 

I haven't answered the question that I posed in the title of this article. Because I simply can't answer it conclusively. Adams' tweets seem so batshit insane at times that I think he simply must be putting on this overt eccentricity or at least exaggerating it. But it somehow seems genuine. His continuous bewilderment with modern technology, his strange obsession with GAA (You have to be obsessed to watch Antrim hurling), Christ, even the teddy bear thing. It makes sense in the strangest of ways. 

But then, it doesn't really matter. If he continues to churn out the comedy gold he's produced already, I won't question his motives. I don't think he'll ever top "Tiocfaidh Ár Latte", though.