Tuesday 20 August 2019

Ian O'Doherty: 'Does Maura represent a backlash against All the Young Prudes?'

Free-spirited: Maura has struck an unlikely chord with Love Island viewers
Free-spirited: Maura has struck an unlikely chord with Love Island viewers
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

You don't have to be a fan of Stranger Things to know about the Upside Down - you just need to look around you.

Sure, we're not confronted with an inter-dimensional portal containing freakish monsters, à la Netflix hit. But there's no doubt that everything seems topsy-turvy.

There are certain social changes which will always scare - or merely irritate - anyone over 30. But one of the interesting aspects of many of society's new rules is that not only do they seem utterly daft to the curious outsider, but they're wreaking havoc with young people as well.

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This Wednesday saw yet another survey blaming social media for the crippling rates of depression amongst twenty-somethings in America and there's no reason to think we're any different in this country.

Not only has social media made people more depressed - I remain convinced that the only people who should use the likes of Twitter are those with absolutely nothing to lose - but it has also given rise to a new wave of neurotic narcissists who seem to have outsourced their emotions to the whims of strangers - how else could you explain so many people going to pieces when a stranger says something less than complimentary about them?

It's hard to know whether this rise of fragility is a case of causation or simply correlation with social media, and that's usually decent fodder for a good debate.

But what's not up for debate is the fact that we seem to be developing a whole new generation of young people who are more easily shocked than their grandparents.

Let's put it this way, I always thought that Mary Whitehouse would love Twitter and, ironically, the things she gave out about in the 1970s are precisely what young liberals are giving out about these days - the old prudes and the young prudes have both arrived at the same destination, they just took a different route to get there.

That's what makes Love Island such a grimly fascinating example of this trend.

On the one hand, you have a bunch of scantily clad young people getting off with each other and behaving like they're on one of those now forgotten 18-30 holidays.

On the other hand, you have a staggeringly large audience who tune in not for the boobs and shags, but to see if someone says or does something which offends their delicate sensibilities.

After all, you know we've entered some weird new arena of turbo-charged silliness when women's charities now seem to issue weekly statements condemning the behaviour of some of the male contestants on a dating show.

All of which is a round-the-houses way of bringing up Maura Higgins.

The 28-year-old from Longford has become the breakout star of this season, and in true reality TV form, is now seen as a shining light for young women everywhere.

The likes of Heat magazine love her no-nonsense approach and she is now widely hailed as the real winner of the show, regardless of where she finishes in the final week.

The surprising thing abut the adulation being heaped so lavishly upon her is that she is the antithesis of the other women featured.

The reason? Well, in an age when being a victim is seen as virtue in itself and everyone seems to burst into tears at the drop of a hat, Maura has made it clear that she's nobody's victim - there might well be a few hearts broken along the way but none of them will be hers.

I reckon that's why she has struck such an unlikely chord with the viewers - in an era of virtual emotional incontinence, she has remained a tough cookie and that's a disappointingly rare feature in today's celebrity landscape.

In fact, while watching it the other night - reluctantly, he hastens to add - Maura almost seems like a woman out of time.

Because her time is definitely the more carefree 1990s.

That decade seemed to see a narrowing of the gender divisions. The rise of the so-called 'ladette' saw young women prepared to drink, do drugs, party and have sex with all the vigour usually reserved for young men.

They were ballsy birds, took no nonsense from blokes and were more interested in having a good time than constantly fretting about what other people thought about them.

There were downsides to that era, of course. Frankly, half the people I know dropped so much E back in the day that they can't remember much about the decade at all.

But it was also a time when independent, free-spirited people who were happy to give a two-fingered salute to convention were admired rather than vilified in some deranged Twitter pile-on. Perhaps more importantly, they weren't as crippled by the insecurities and external influences as so many people today.

Just like fashion and music, cultural trends repeat themselves. Maybe, after more than a decade of The Rise of the Victim and people constantly whining and looking for the sympathy of strangers, we're edging back towards the more assertive, less anxiety-ridden days of the 1990s.

Because let's face it, as study after study has shown, the current cultural climate is extremely bad for your health...

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