Tuesday 23 July 2019

Millennial Diary

Maura Higgins
Maura Higgins

Ciara O'Connor

It's fair to say, that for better or worse, 2019 looks to be Ireland's year for Love Island.

For the last couple of years, we have been obsessed with watching these hairless little Brits snog and mug each other off and then snog again, enjoying it with the kind of indulgence that is only possible with distance - not in our backyard, we said.

This year, however, the villa is crawling with Paddys - and it's all feeling a bit close to home. Our smug and superior detachment has been left in 2018: Love Island has become real.

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There's Curtis - whom I feel that we can (must) claim as Irish because no one knows the Dancing with the Stars professional in his homeland. He's with Amy (an air hostess, really a citizen of the world) and their cosmopolitan coupling became the site of a conversation about the complex designations of millennial relationships.

They became 'exclusive' but not 'girlfriend and boyfriend'; so they're in a Love Island Couple, but they're not 'a couple'; their heads 'won't be turned' by anyone else, but they aren't in a relationship with each other. Amy is, she decided, a half-girlfriend. And delighted about it. Truly a great day for multiculturalism.

Then there's Yewande: the people's princess, the embodiment of everything right and good about Ireland today. She's the daughter of Nigerian emigrants; a scientist with a first-class honours degree in biotechnology; her laugh is endearingly dorky and she is truly, truly terrible at flirting; though she's been cheated on many times, she's never strayed. When Amber refused to back down in an argument with her paramour Michael about childish behaviour, saying, "I had to put a smile on [Yewande's] face and I'd do it a-f**king-gain," she spoke for the entire viewing public. Yewande, everyone from Twitter to comedy chalkboards outside coffee shops agrees, is too good for Love Island, is too good for this world.

Obviously, we were thrilled. We'd almost forgotten where we came from, who we were, really: because like some fairytale curse, our secret national ignominy became the stuff of ITV primetime: the Irish model. Maura Higgins isn't a name that seems likely to strike jealous fear into the hearts of sexy 21-year-old Geordie beauty technicians/models. But Longford's very own Maura Higgins made the girls of the Love Island villa lose all reason when she turned up with the greatest DGAF energy ever witnessed by reality TV cameras.

Maura is the yang to Yewande's yin, the night to Yewande's day, and a warning to us all against patriotic pridefulness. Where Yewande is considered, modest, gawky, Maura is sweary, slick, absolutely delighted with herself. Obviously, she makes for incredible TV: announcing Tommy Fury (who also claimed 'a lot of' Irishness last week) was giving her 'fanny flutters', saying she could imagine screaming his name, saying she wishes he was eating her, instead of the dry bit of sliced pan with plastic cheese and ketchup and mayo he'd 'cooked' for their date.

"Why are they being bitchy, because I hate bitches," she deadpanned to Michael, before feeding him a bite of dessert for the benefit of the jealous female islanders watching from the terrace.

Later, having stolen Molly-Mae's jacket and her dignity, Maura proceeded to steal Molly-Mae's man. It's incredible, terrible, beautiful car crash television: the stuff of ITV producers' dreams.

In a way, volunteering Maura as tribute was a noble act. Though its back in our box we go, Maura has rescued a hitherto lame season of Love Island. The moral high ground was fun while it lasted.

*******

And presumably in a too-late desperate effort to prevent any more Mauras rising up and making a fool of us on the international stage, Simon Harris said he was considering a ban on dermal fillers and botox for under-18s. To which I think we can all safely say: IT'S CURRENTLY LEGAL TO LET UNDER 18S GET FILLERS?

I'm all for ministers engaging in contemporary issues facing young people: social media, body image, the pressure to be perfect. But this really feels like one of those little legal loopholes it would have been good to just quietly zip up on a big distracting news day. Because now every teenager in Ireland knows: it's currently legal to let under 18s get fillers.

And by now, we've all seen pictures of Maura circa 2011. They're fairly persuasive for even the most unimpressionable of adult women.

*******

"Omg have you seen Chernobyl? Sooooo good. Reeeally amazing," went the uncanny enthusiastic conversations in pubs and juice bars, as the series vaulted its way to the top of the ratings chart on IMDb.

Last week, it was widely reported that in the wake of the surprise hit, Chernobyl itself has been experiencing a surge in tourism. And of course, where there are tourists, there's Instagram; and where there's Instagram, there's goddamn millennial influencers getting their tits out for likes.

A viral tweet caused internet pearl clutching with pictures of beautiful women using the disaster zone as a backdrop for thirst traps. Kids these days, we blustered, looking at the bethonged bottom rising suggestively out of a 'hazmat suit' (a white disposable decorator's coverall) in front of an abandoned building.

Except - most of the photos in the widely shared tweet turned out to be older, not since the TV show; and not taken by influencers at all, but by normal people with small followings. And quite a few of them belonged to Russian or Ukrainian people.

So this straw-man influencer story may not have been true in the traditional sense of the word, but perhaps it hinted at a deeper truth.

It tapped into a cultural anxiety about generation narcissus, about our strange and uncomfortable relationship with human tragedy, about our inability to engage with suffering unless through entertainment and a front-facing camera.

But let's not dwell on why we love watching real people in agony so much: relax, switch off, and see how many girls Maura Higgins can make cry this week.

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