Sunday 18 August 2019

Sarah Caden: 'In an age of Instagram and open secrets, Roz manages to keep romance sacred'

Our sins and our loves used to be private. But online openness has changed all that, writes Sarah Caden

Roz Purcell and boyfriend Zach Desmond. Picture: Instagram
Roz Purcell and boyfriend Zach Desmond. Picture: Instagram
Roz Purcell in a collection of photographs with her sometimes social media-shy partner Zach Desmond
Roz Purcell in a collection of photographs with her sometimes social media-shy partner Zach Desmond

Sarah Caden

Last week, a school in Cratloe, Co Clare, dropped its practice of displaying decorated, laminated paper crosses in the local Catholic church, during the annual first confession mass.

The practice is reported to have been several years' standing, and saw the school's prospective communicants write their sins on these paper crosses, with "sorry" across the transecting arm. At the head of the cross was a picture of a child whose sins it displayed. The crosses were then laminated and hung on the church pews.

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This year, a parent complained about the practice and their child's cross was removed. Then, it was reported, the parent heard that all the other children's crosses would still be displayed and their complaint went further.

"The use of this cross is a breach of the seal of confession, GDPR and privacy rules," a relative of the aggrieved parent said in the Irish Independent last week. "It was bizarre and inappropriate for children to write their sins on a cross that can be viewed by other people in a church. Naming and shaming sins is medieval."

You could argue that the sins of seven- and eight-year-olds are so minor that a practice like this helps them to feel less shame about them.

You could also take this practice as an example of how little value we put on real privacy any more, how we put no stock in discretion or reserve or just keeping quiet. You did it, kids, and now you need to tell everyone about it.

Roz Purcell in a collection of photographs with her sometimes social media-shy partner Zach Desmond
Roz Purcell in a collection of photographs with her sometimes social media-shy partner Zach Desmond

It seemed that it took someone shouting GDPR to make that Cratloe school reassess this practice. Up to that point, it might merely have seemed like a case of one parent being precious about their child. They didn't like their darling's sins up on show, they found it invasive and maybe a bit mean. It was their problem.

But GDPR, that's serious. That got all the practice halted and made it a headline.

And those four letters can seem like our only armour against the widespread mindset that sharing is caring. So enslaved are we to uploading our lives, that we cannot compute when anyone resists the push to lay everything bare, all the time.

Shouting GDPR is your only defence when someone includes you in a WhatsApp group with people you didn't previously know, but who now have your phone number, without your permission.

GDPR is the only thing that makes other parents desist in videoing the school play, because otherwise they'd be posting your child's image on social media, when you've kept their image off social media up to that point.

If you simply say, I don't want my number out there or I think it's a breach of children's privacy to distribute their image, you're just being a spoilsport. Tack on GDPR and we reassess.

But we surely shouldn't need to suggest that there's a law being broken in order to just say leave me out of the sharing.

Last week, Roz Purcell did an interview with Irish Country Magazine and, the way these things can happen, one quote caught most attention. Going in to the interview, Roz might have thought that her completely make-up-free photo shoot would be the attention-grabber, but it wasn't.

What grew legs out of what Roz had to say was her comments about her boyfriend Zach Desmond's aversion to being included in her public Instagram account.

This account is a massive building block in Roz's career, not only in terms of advertising her image, but also her lifestyle. It was her blog, which came before Instagram, that bore the fruit that is her two published cookbooks. It was the internet and social media that established her as an influencer in terms of clean diet and lifestyle.

Roz Purcell in a collection of photographs with her sometimes social media-shy partner Zach Desmond
Roz Purcell in a collection of photographs with her sometimes social media-shy partner Zach Desmond

Social media has been good to Roz, professionally, but personally, her boyfriend isn't keen, it seems.

"Every now and then I'll make a joke online and say 'Zach is such a brilliant Instagram boyfriend', because he'll appear maybe once every six months," said Roz last week. "But to be honest, he's a very private person and we have such a secure relationship, I just don't feel the need to overshare. He's very helpful when it comes to my job, he completely understands it."

So it seems that Zach, who is a music promoter and the son of Caroline and Denis Desmond, who run MCD Promotions, understands the value of social media, professionally.

Of course he does, and he has his own Instagram account, but it's private. What he doesn't want, it seems, is too much public displaying of their relationship. Which is fair enough but also unusual enough for people to take note, because the amazingness of one's romantic life is the trump card of any Insta of influence.

The use of the word "secure" is interesting, though. By using it, Roz, consciously or not, points to how fundamentally insecure all of our unchecked sharing is.

By saying she's so secure that she doesn't need anyone else's affirmation, she not only comments on her relationship, however, but on sharing in general.

If relationships that are secure don't need the world to "like" them, then what does that say about the workouts, the yummy dinners, the OOTD snaps that everyone posts all the time?

One interpretation is that they're just showing off, the other is that they're so insecure that they can't take exercise, eat or get dressed without getting emoji thumbs up from their so-called followers.

Of course, Roz also mentions that Desmond is private, thus risking causing many millions of heads to melt. If a relationship exists only off camera, does it exist at all? Apparently yes, for Roz Purcell and Zach Desmond, and you have to wonder to what extent that privacy policy influences how she regards the rest of her Instagram output.

It could be that this privacy practice on Roz Purcell's part is telling of a turning point for a lot of her generation.

She started out with blogs and moved seamlessly into social media, part of a generation that accepted unquestioningly that if you did it, it was worth showing.

Only latterly, as anxiety borne out of constant comparison and coming up short catches up with us and our children, are we starting to doubt the value of this alleged openness and shared false realities.

And speaking of our children, the time bomb that is their awakening to the parental breach of their privacy since birth is still lying in wait for us.

The children of Cratloe can at least have their sins in private as their communion day approaches, while the rest of us ponder what's left that is sacred.

Sunday Independent

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