Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Marriage equality, young Presidents and Taylor Swift

Marriage Equality: Against all odds, rural Ireland votes Yes.

Last year in a blog I wrote on a same-sex marriage referendum being held in Ireland, I said that much, if not most, of rural Ireland would reject it and its passing would be dependent on a strong urban vote, much like the divorce referendum in 1995. Well, I was wrong. Very wrong. 

Though Dublin posted the most impressive numbers, with constituencies like Dublin Central boasting a 72.3% Yes vote, rural Ireland's endorsement of the amendment was what impressed me the most. Some constituencies, like Donegal South-West and Cavan-Monaghan were exceptionally tight, many had a turnout which was below the national average and of course one constituency, Roscommon-South Leitrim, rejected it. But that doesn't matter. What matters is rural Ireland proved it is not the social and cultural backwater it is so often portrayed to be. As Una Mullally succinctly put it, the referendum was ratified from "the cliffs of Donegal, the lakes of Cavan, the farmyards of Kildare, the lanes of Kerry."

Why was this? Two things. One; the young. Rural Ireland, like everywhere else, saw an upsurge in young voters for this referendum and it showed.  Polling station officials remarked on how they had never seen so many young people voting. Two; the apathy of the old. A bit ironic, eh? Us young guns are often portrayed as politically illiterate nogoodniks but, to my mind, it was the middle-aged and the elderly who let the side down this time out. While I haven't got figures to back this rather controversial claim up, I'm merely going by what I heard anecdotally. I heard about plenty of middle aged and older folks who didn't bother voting. What were their reasons? Generally, they said they were failed to be fully convinced by either side. 

Why was this? I think it was because both sides of the debate understandably fought narrow, targeted campaigns. They knew they both had a core base of voters they needed to exploit for this referendum if they wanted to get their preferred result. The Yes side knew if they could get young people engaged for this referendum it would be a cakewalk. The Yes side’s online campaign was excellent. The slogans, the hashtags, the images worked a treat. In urban areas too, they were omnipresent. TDs, musicians, journalists canvassed door-to-door in Dublin while #YesEquality artwork and murals appeared in many cities and towns. 

Their campaign, however, was never as extensive in rural Ireland as it was in the cities. For young rural people this was fine as they were still influenced by and could participate in the online campaign. But for the older rural people, the Yes Equality campaign largely passed them by. There was very little political will to campaign for this referendum among a lot of the rural politicians. As Averil Power remarked in her scathing attack on Fianna Fáil on Monday, the party, whose voting base is largely rural and older, never took a clear position on the referendum and many of their TDs refused to openly endorse it. Many Independent politicians too side-stepped it and, in some cases (Michael Healy-Rae, Mattie McGrath), advocated for its rejection.  

By the same token, the No side’s campaign was fought with their target voter market in mind. If the Yes side needed to get the precocious young voting, the No side needed the concerned middle-aged voting. The bases they were targeting were the rural and the over 40. And so rural Ireland was peppered with their posters and overrun with their leaflets. They used the fate of children to frame their debate and exploited well-worn gender norms to instil a sense of uncertainty. “Two men can’t replace a mother’s love”, they claimed and their insidious Youtube videos had children talk about how much they loved their mommy. But it only partly worked. They were always fighting a losing battle and they never truly captured the imagination of rural voters in the same way the Yes side did with their base. It was a campaign based on misdirection and falsehoods and, in the end, most voters saw through it. 

While the referendum was passed comfortably, I felt if the Yes side extended fully their campaign to rural Ireland and engaged the concerns of undecided voters properly it could have been much more comfortable. You might ask, "Why does this matter?" Well, I think it does. If the noises emanating from the Labour party in recent days are anything to go by we should be facing a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and legalise abortion, possibly within the next five and almost certainly within the next 10 years. The battle lines for that will be very similar to the ones for same-sex marriage but with one salient difference; it's going to be much closer.

The undecideds are going to play a much bigger role in determining the outcome of that referendum and among them will be many of the voters the Yes side seemed to ignore during this referendum campaign; the middle-aged and the rural. Because both the same-sex marriage referendum and the abortion referendum require quite a leap of faith for many people of a certain age. Growing up in the 60s, 70s or even 80s, an Ireland with legalised same-sex marriage and abortion would be as unthinkable as an Ireland with a tropical climate. It was alien. But those people are not hopeless cases, bound eternally to a patriarchal, Catholic ideology which their children overwhelmingly reject.

If they had been engaged properly by the Government and the Yes side throughout this referendum campaign, many of them might have had their worldview turned on its head. Instead, they were largely ignored by an urban-centric campaign and allowed to have their basest concerns exploited by a lecherous No side. In the end, thankfully, it didn't work but this was more to do with the failings of the No side. We need to learn from this campaign and those of us who want to see Ireland finally, and totally, remove the cloak of a pervasive, theocratic ideology need to, paradoxically some might say, broaden our horizons.

Talkin' Bout My Generation: The rejection of the Presidential age referendum might not mean much but it says a lot about our attitude towards young people and politics.

Like a meeting of the Seanad, the referendum on lowering the age to be president of Ireland to 21 was almost entirely ignored by the general populace. In fact, I can’t think of a plebiscite which has ever gotten less attention in Ireland. It made the Children’s Referendum of 2012 got seem like a World Cup Final. Why was this? Largely because it was a pathetic and haphazard attempt at ‘political reform’, which was very much in vogue when the current Fine Gael-Labour government took office in 2011 but is now forgotten among all the hullaballoo about ‘stability’ and our ‘recovery’. The voter turnout for it was inordinately high, of course, due to it being held on the same day as the same-sex marriage referendum. 

Now, I voted yes out of a sense of duty to my age group but I didn’t give a hoot in hell whether it passed or not. I object to the office of president as a point of principle so Bosco could be president for all I care. But I found the (little) debate surrounding the referendum to be very intriguing and very indicative of the general attitude there is to young people and politics. 

The few opinion pieces and columns that I saw devoted to this referendum were overwhelmingly in favour of rejecting this referendum. They were almost deliriously against the proposal in fact, as if by passing this silly referendum it would be compulsory to have a 21 year old president. Why was this? Because it would be preposterous to have somebody so young be our figurehead, apparently. The president needs to be a nation’s patriarch/matriarch, a paternal figure. What interested me about this line of argument was that it reminded me of much the same logic people use when dismissing young people for other political offices.

There is a near-obsession with age when it comes to holding political office, not just with presidents but with actually important positions. Young people don’t have enough ‘life experience’ to deal with complicated matters which TDs and ministers deal with. Young people aren’t ‘mature’ enough to make political decisions. But this is bollocks. There is no section of society which has been as poorly served by politicians in Ireland in the last decade than young people. Thousands of Ireland’s ‘brightest and best’ have emigrated, thousands more that stayed are stuck in unemployment purgatory, many of them forced into employment programmes like Jobridge which often amount to nothing more than legalised free labour. Those who graduate from college are no longer guaranteed a secure job. The role of a politician is to represent the interests of his/her constituents. For too long the interests of the young in Ireland have been ignored because it’s more politically expedient to prioritise the interests of the old and middle-aged. The so-called ‘grey vote’ strikes fear in the bellies of politicians while young people, by and large, don’t vote so they’re easy targets for cuts and hikes.

But while the political apathy of young people is unfortunate, it’s hardly surprising and partially understandable. Young people don’t see the system as working for them. Their concerns are held to be of lesser importance. We’re often told that for the politics to start working for young people they need to vote. The political engagement among young people for the same-sex marriage referendum was unprecedented and hopefully many who registered to vote especially for it will remain politically active. 

But we need more than that. We need to see more young people being elected and being given a chance in political office; rather than being patronised for their age. Having a 21 year old president would never happen even if the referendum had passed but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that we see young people in meaningful positions of power so our voice isn’t lost amid the cacophony of desperate wailing the next time the government’s axe comes swinging.

REVIEW: Taylor Swift's latest track Bad Blood

Begrudgers and naysayers bedamned! The last 12 months has been a great time for fresh, enjoyable pop records. From Uptown Funk to Trouble, from Shake it Off to King, from Problem to Chandelier, there’s been plenty of songs I’ve heard on radio, in nightclubs and in pubs which haven’t made me want to pour acid down my ear canals. And, judging by the regard most people hold for the charts these days, that’s quite the achievement.

The star of the last 12 months has undoubtedly been Taylor Swift. Before, she was known as a cutesie country-cum-pop star who specialised in writing songs about her jilted ex loves. In the last 12 months, however, she’s released a string of hits which have been more daring, more exploratory and, most importantly, more fun. I don’t care who you are or how cynical you are about modern music but I’m willing to bet a substantial sum of money that you found yourself body-popping to Shake it Off at least once over the last year.

Now, with her newest single Bad Blood, Swift is foraying into the strange hybrid world of hip-hop/electropop. Bad Blood is not a hip-hop song nor is it an electropop song but it does feature verses from rapper Kendrick Lamar (his song King Kunta, by the way, is possibly the best song of the last year) and the pounding electro-beat which courses through the song like a particularly funky lightning bolt from start to end. Whatever genre you want to give it, it is certainly a  departure from Swift’s previous releases.

The song originally appeared on Swift’s album 1989 without Lamar’s verses but the addition of his vocals certainly gives the song a new dimension. Kitty Empire in The Guardian likened it to a Charli XCX song which I think is quite an accurate comparison. Intriguingly, Bad Blood is supposedly written about a disagreement she had with a fellow popstar last year who is strongly rumoured to be Katy Perry. 

While I, like many others, enjoyed the song it was the video for it which received the most attention online. A video featuring a smattering of the most famous female musicians and actresses in the world today, including Selena Gomez, Hayley Williams, Cara Delevigne and Ellie Goulding, preparing Swift for war and occasionally beating the living shit out of each other sounds like it would be at least moderately popular and so it turned out.

The video begins with Swift and Gomez fighting a group of faceless henchmen in a London skyscraper together but when the men are finished with, Gomez betrays Swift and kicks her out of the building. Miraculously, she survives the fall and she is then resurrected and her power restored with help of a weird, space-age machine and training from her pals. At the end of the video, Swift and Co. head out to battle Gomez and her henchwomen in a firey blaze of violence as London burns in the background. Why they had export their violence to Britain I'm not really sure. Words don’t really do it justice so you’re just going to have to watch it.

It caused a mini-sensation on social media when it was released last week and it broke the Vevo record for most views in 24 hours with a mind-boggling 20.1m hits in its first day of release. Swift is here to stay and she has become pop's most savvy shapeshifter in the last 12 months. She has a very loyal cabal of online fans who call themselves Swifties and their numbers will be swelling if she keeps releasing exciting pop records like Bad Blood.

1 comment:

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