Artistic licence: Are we selfie-absorbed? 16 November 2014 by Nadine O’Regan

The other day, I was having a little trawl around the internet – one of those supposed five-minute jaunts where you blink and it’s been an hour – when I happened upon the Instagram account of an acquaintance of mine, a nice guy who works in publishing. I’ll follow him, I thought.

But then I had a look at some of his pictures and came upon one of his recent shots – a self-taken close-up of his naked torso. To be frank, although he’s a good-looking guy, it was more than I bargained for on a Monday (although I’ll admit to examining the picture closely, the better to confirm my disapproval) and not what I’d expected from him – he’s not a model after all. But if it seemed vain or bizarre of him to put it up there, it had certainly racked up a lot of likes, the currency for popularity on the social media site.

He’s far from the only person at this lark. In the brief time I’ve been active on Instagram, I’ve come across countless selfies – the word for a self-taken picture – of users in the changing rooms of shops, pub toilets and swanky hotel bathrooms, anywhere there’s a large mirror basically. Some post fairly racy pictures, some confine themselves to face selfies.

Confession time: although I’m definitely not into randomly ripping off items of clothing for the dubious benefit of a few hundred Instagram followers, I post face selfies, too – and they’re actually fun: a visual diary of a hairstyle, a holiday, a festival or simply a gloriously vain experiment in finding an Instagram filter that hides all wrinkles and highlights your best side. So, I’m not exactly in a position to play moral guardian about the whole thing. I couldn’t care less what anyone wants to post, egocentric or otherwise.

But you have to admit it’s a strange phenomenon, this trick whereby many of your circle are pointing phones at mirrors in public, and touching up their make-up to take a picture of themselves. The question is whether the new trend for narcissism is an innocuous enough past-time. Presumably, unless you trip over yourself while taking the selfie, it’s unlikely to do you much harm, right? And what’s so wrong with having a nice (if overly flattering) picture of yourself? If celebrities are allowed their photoshopping, then surely we mere mortals can permit ourselves the indulgence of an iPhone camera and a decent filter? That hideous American trend for selfies at funerals aside, a selfie doesn’t seem like the worst of hobbies we could indulge in.

Equally, an Instagram account is also an opportunity. Whether you’re a professional mid-career or a teenager just figuring your life out, Instagram offers a brand-building platform for its users. Forty million pictures are uploaded to Instagram daily, and – as studies have shown – the more provocative the picture, and the smarter the hashtags accompanying it, the more likely it is that the person will get more followers and build their brand. It’s a kind of self-generating fame that will be pointless for some, but may translate into a career for others: budding photographers, models, stylists, television presenters and journalists may all grow fanbases from their obsessions with Instagram and Twitter.

Still, you can’t help but feel a slight prickling of discomfort about the whole thing – a sense that selfie culture may also be selfish culture; that we all might, like Narcissus, wind up dying next to the pool having realised that our reflections can never return our love. Perhaps our spiralling interest in ourselves is already translating into a lack of interest in other people.

A friend of mine was talking about social media recently. “No one reads Twitter anymore,” he pointed out. “They all just post stuff, but they don’t read other people’s tweets.” Imagine that, a world where we endlessly talk and never listen? If everyone is on the stage, after all, who’s left to be in the audience?

Why read at all when you can simply vote?  Article on the Irish Book Awards, published 30 November 2014

The gorgeous dresses, the gleaming smiles, the gushing thank-yous: to all intents and purposes, the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards, which took place on Wednesday in Dublin, looked like a fine and starry night out, a flashy black-tie evening to celebrate the brightest and best of Irish literary talent.

The event was televised, with celebrity guest presenters and plenty of the appropriate pomp. A roll-call of fine authors took to the stage to accept their respective awards. John Boyne, Mary Costello and Graham Norton were on hand to be garlanded for their literary works, and a fleet of nominees and book-industry kingmakers sat at white linen-clothed tables to hear their happy speeches.

It all seems indisputably A Good Thing. You can’t complain about such a night, surely, in which Irish people celebrate Irish talent? And yet, behind the beaming faces and wine-quaffing, profiterole-chomping camaraderie, there exists a lingering and persistent unease about the Irish Book Awards. It all boils down to a simple question: has anyone actually read the nominated books?

Continue reading

Artistic Licence: Iftas’ final curtain? 18 January 2015 by Nadine O’Regan, The Sunday Business Post

John Michael McDonagh must be permitting himself a wry smile this week. The director of Calvary and The Guard found himself in trouble last year when he slated the patchy quality of Irish films in a heavily publicised interview. The Irish media landscape huffed and puffed. How dare he criticise Irish films? Didn’t he receive funding from the Irish Film Board? Didn’t the man win an Ifta? How could he bite the hand that feeds?

But now another blow has been dealt to Irish film. In the past few days, it has emerged that the Irish Film Board has withdrawn its funding for the Irish Film and Television Academy Awards (Iftas), the annual televised knees-up for the Irish film and small screen industry, where awards are handed out to the relatively tiny number of films that our country produces each year. The ceremony costs around €500,000 to produce, some of which comes from corporate sponsorship. The Irish Film Board’s chief executive, James Hickey, said that the organisation had not “committed to any particular set of arrangements with anybody” regarding the 2015 Ifta ceremony.

“As far as the Irish Film Board are concerned, award ceremonies are very important at promoting films,” Hickey said. “But award ceremonies have to promote things well. If award ceremonies don’t promote film well, it’s not good for the industry from our point of view.”

Anyone who’s been attuned to the state of film promotion in Ireland knows exactly what Hickey was talking about. When the Iftas were televised on RTE last year, they were widely and deservedly described as a shambles, with the mortified state broadcaster forced to scrap a repeat of the show after the backlash. Blighted by technical glitches and non-stop chatter from the audience, many of the actors delivering awards on stage looked visibly embarrassed, leaving co-host Laura Whitmore anxious to put the whole farrago firmly in the rear view mirror. “So what we’ve learned from tonight,” she tweeted afterwards, “Irish people like to drink and chat.”

The problem wasn’t just the poor broadcast, either: it was the difficult-to-reconcile content. No matter how much we scramble to widen the net through which we deem films or actors ‘Irish’ (sometimes it seems like we’ll claim anyone who’s set foot in the country), we don’t have enough quality Irish films to hand out awards to. Here are some of the movies that were nominated in 2014: Earthbound, The Last Days on Mars, The Missing Scarf. Seen them? Thought not. In international terms, we’re not a big deal, even if we kill ourselves trying to pretend otherwise. Michael Fassbender, Colin Farrell and Saoirse Ronan are exhausted from having to ferry themselves over here just to get our star quotient up.

It’s telling that the Irish Film Board’s decision comes in the wake of RTE’s call not to broadcast the ceremony this year, a turn of events that has been branded as “disgraceful” by Ifta chief executive Áine Moriarty. Although Moriarty has announced that she is – at the time of writing – in discussions with the Irish Film Board about a brand new alternative Iftas format with a new broadcasting partner, it’s clear the entire existence of the awards has been thrown into doubt. And so it should be. Half a million euro is a lot of money. It shouldn’t be taken for granted that a patchy, badly-produced awards ceremony is the right way in which to drain the coffers.

What’s most impressive about last week’s events is the refreshing shot of honesty that’s been provided. As any self-help expert would tell you, the first step in fixing any problem is admitting that you have a problem in the first place. On that note, maybe it’s time for Moriarty to do what the blunt-speaking John Michael McDonagh would doubtless advise: admit that a giant mess has been made in her camp and that it’s time not to frantically go on the defensive, but to understand that better is not just expected, but required.

Artistic Licence: Tiring and uninspiring, 25 January 2015, by Nadine O’Regan, The Sunday Business Post

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can cope with it anymore. What am I talking about? The increasingly omnipresent inspirational quote.

Don’t get me wrong. I like and admire the pithy words of Oscar Wilde (“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”). I approve of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi (“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”). I think Stephen King has a lot of pointers to offer on the art of writing (“Amateurs wait for inspiration; the rest of us get up and go to work”). In fact, I’m even keen on what some celebrities have to say – anyone who’s been through the Hollywood grinder must have something to tell us about life, right? But I confess, I’ve reached a tipping point. Is it possible to be exhausted by inspiration? Is it okay to admit that sometimes you don’t want to improve your life, body or soul?

Lately it seems like everywhere I go, somebody is trying to offer me an inspirational quote. Social networking site Instagram is a feast of them, with people offering up pictures emblazoned with pithy lines, designed to engender hope and thoughts of self-improvement. “Just wing it!” advises stylist Angela Scanlon via her Instagram page. “Everything you want is on the other side of fear”.

On Tinder, inspirational quotes are a constant: singletons are frantic, it seems, to sum up their personalities with a line uttered by someone else. Even on Facebook, friends and family are getting in on the act. On the site recently, I was confronted by an article called “24 pieces of life advice from Werner Herzog” (the piece includes the pithy line from the director, “there is nothing wrong with spending a night in jail if it gets you the shot you need”).

From cutely emblazoned coffee cups to a bewilderingly diverse array of greeting cards, inspirational quotes are the new constant, a feature of everyday life.

In small doses, inspirational quotes are a great thing. Who wouldn’t like to be better? But reading and taking to heart too many inspirational quotes does a rather uninspiring thing – it turns you into an inspirational-quote-spouting turnip, less of a person than the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

Consider the case of Conor McGregor, the UFC fighter who has ingested so many inspirational quotes that he’s now like Maya Angelou with better abs. Cut McGregor and the man bleeds the things, many of them dreamed up by himself. “I am cocky in prediction. I am confident in preparation, but I am always humble of victory or defeat,” McGregor has said, adding – in truly humble fashion – that he expects other fighters to use his words as inspiration. (One suspects they might prefer the guy who talked about stinging like a bee.)

IQOS (inspirational quote overdose syndrome) is no fun. It makes you into a composite; a rattlingly anxious collection of quick-fix aspirations bundled into the shape of a person. At base level, the need for these quotations suggests the insecurities being carried around by so many. If you’re always trying to fix yourself, the implicit assumption is that you cannot be happy with who you are. In his novel The Corrections, American author Jonathan Franzen wrote compellingly about this tension in modern society, and his perception that in our rush to improve and self-correct, we might be failing ourselves in a larger sense. (If all of us were perfectly hip, his character Gary notes, “who would perform the thankless work of being comparatively uncool?”).

So here’s a thought: maybe now we’ve hit the end of January, we could ban inspirational quotes for a while and we could simply start from where we are. We could be ourselves, not our idea of what others think we should be. We could . . . oh hang on, do all these sound like inspirational quotes? Well, like Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds”. You’ll just have to excuse me this once.

A Swift success, 9 November 2014 by Nadine O’Regan, Sunday Business Post

Bono might have been there in person, but his wasn’t the pop star name on everyone’s lips last week at Dublin’s Music Summit, the Web Summit’s spin-off division devoted to the music industry.

That honour belonged to Taylor Swift, the blonde-bobbed, pert-lipped, 24-year-old pop singer who last week took on the might of music streaming giant Spotify, one of the biggest global sources of music consumption, with more than 40 million users across 58 countries – and won.

Uncomfortable with having her music streamed for free, Swift removed her fizzy-pop new album 1989 from the music streaming service last week, a decision that startled industry observers, but may have contributed to her achieving staggering first-week sales figures for her fifth record.

Between October 27 and November 2, more than a fifth of all albums bought in the United States were copies of Swift’s 1989. Swift sold 1.287 million copies of her fifth studio album, making her 2014’s first platinum artist and giving her the best first-week sales of any artist since Eminem in 2002.

The album (which debuted at No 1 in Ireland) has sold more copies than the previous week’s 70 biggest-selling albums in the United States combined.

Swift’s digital and physical release sales will yield her a considerably higher return than anything Spotify could offer – the service pays artists between $0.006 and $0.0084 per play, meaning that even millions of plays delivers relatively meagre rewards.

“I don’t agree with perpetuating the perception that music has no value and should be free,” Swift told Yahoo. “I’m not willing to contribute my life’s work to an experiment that I don’t feel fairly compensates the writers, producers, artists and creators of this music.”

In a record industry torn asunder by dwindling sales, free streaming and music platform fragmentation, Swift’s achievement firmly anoints her as one of the most powerful figures in pop music.

For observers, the trick is to figure out how she did it, and whether her path might work for other artists.

“I think she’s a unique case,” Jimmy Chamberlin, Live One Inc chief executive and former drummer with Chicago rockers the Smashing Pumpkins, said at the Music Summit last Thursday. “It’s a numbers game. She ran the numbers and made an economic decision.”

“Taylor Swift is one of the few artists who can drive sales and not just streams,” said David Holmes, an editor for tech publication Pando Daily. “Over time, if artists want their music to be heard in any meaningful way, they need to be on a streaming service.”

But as more than one industry observer pointed out, Swift has not removed all her music from streaming services, she has simply customised her approach, opting to keep her new music back entirely, but allowing her older music to continue to stream on paid-for, subscription-based services, which do not, like Spotify, allow for free, play-what-you-like streaming with adverts.

“From an artist’s point of view, subscription services have to work for the artist,” said Anthony Bay, chief executive of the music streaming service Rdio. “We have all of Taylor Swift’s music other than the new album. She’s not anti-streaming. She’s anti-free-streaming.”

Continue reading

Cumming’s memoir lays bare a troubled childhood 03:55, 18 January 2015, Sunday Business Post

Not My Father’s Son

By Alan Cumming

Harper Collins, €17

Reviewed by Nadine O’Regan

In the afterword to this memoir, Scottish actor and Tony award-winning theatre veteran Alan Cumming – best-known these days for his role as the brash, witty campaign manager Eli Gold in the Emmy-winning The Good Wife – describes the conversation he had with his agent about writing this book.

Much to his surprise, Cumming was not asked to write a typical memoir about “my fabulous celebrity life”. Instead, Luke Janklow asked him to write about something he felt passionate about. Surprised and intrigued, Cumming was happy to comply.

The result is Not My Father’s Son, a brilliantly vivid and heartrending account of Cumming’s early life, interspersed with some well-observed, comic and intriguing scenes from his more recent past.

The book begins with a shocking recollection: Cumming as a young boy in his family kitchen near Carnoustie, on the east coast of Scotland. His father has walked in and demanded that Alan gets his hair chopped. “I’ll take him to the barber’s on Saturday morning,” his mother tries to interject. But that’s not good enough. Alan’s father drags him across the kitchen, through the hall, out the front door and to the bike shed, where he grabs a rusty pair of clippers used to shear sheep.

“They were blunt and dirty and they cut my skin, but my father shaved my skin with them, holding me down like an animal,” Cumming writes.

Later, as he cries in his bedroom, eyes so puffed up he can barely open them, he feels like he wants to die. It won’t be the only time either. Throughout his adolescence, he and his older brother Tom are kept in constant suspense, fearful of their father’s every move, knowing that the wrong glance, the wrong words, are enough to set him off. It wasn’t the actual violence that hurt the most; it was the threat of it, the anxiety that it generated as a constant.

Continue reading

Artistic Licence (published in The Sunday Business Post, Ireland, on 11/01/2015)

Artistic Licence: My tardy resolve
03:55, 11 January 2015 by Nadine O’Regan

First, an admission. I’m one of those terrible people who is late for almost everything. I try my best, I really do. But it seems like in my head I think there’s a magic carpet that’ll get me to the right spot on time, not a taxi wheezing through heavy traffic or a bus inching along the quays. When I was a god parent at a baptism some years back, I arrived at the church exactly on time, miraculously, even slightly early. Then I stood bemused in a sea of empty pews, wondering if I was in the right place, until it hit me: I must have been given the wrong time on purpose. Reader, I am officially one of those people to whom other people lie about meeting times. It is not a good place in which to find yourself.
Still, right now, it is me. So in that spirit of tardiness (well, it is Jan 11, after all), and better-late-than-neverdom, allow me to belatedly offer up an alternative set of New Year’s resolutions to you. Resolutions that connect not just to traditional self-improvement but to my continuing quest to adapt to a world that sometimes seems to be evolving faster than I can quite keep step with.
1. Admit ignorance and take steps to improve matters. Find out how to use Spotify properly, get on track with gifs (short, animated online clips); generally speaking, do not be afraid to ask, discover, learn. A friend recently enquired on Facebook what the acronym ‘lol’ (laugh out loud) meant. Embrace her confident ability to admit absolute ignorance in the face of potential sneerers. Never be afraid to say: “I don’t understand.”
2. Declutter your life. Throw out gadgets that you do not use or even understand how to use. Every time I move house, I bring with me a box that contains a bewildering number of leads and connections. They could be for old printers (I don’t own a printer anymore). They could be for cameras. Maybe put together, they’d power that magic carpet I’m so keen on. I no longer have any idea. But I have them. This madness must end.
3. Don’t be condescending in your approach; the only loser in that game is you. In the case of the arts, remember that just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s bad. This is true not just for artists (Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and U2), but also for television shows. Sometimes, when everyone is watching Love/Hate, it’s easy to give the whole thing a skip just because you missed the first season and you’re feeling huffy about being out of the loop. But do get on board; don’t maintain a sniffy distance.
4. Do what you love. It’s much easier to cope with having failed abysmally at something you really love, than to have grafted for years at something that was never right for you in the first place. Even if your passion can’t become your career, make it your hobby; that, too, will make you happier. By the same token, don’t be afraid to end bad relationships, whether they connect to work, friendships or romance. Better to have a short-term life disaster than a long-term life fail. That really would be a shame, wouldn’t it?
5. Don’t be afraid to fail, at objectives great or small. It is in this spirit that I will accept the challenge, given to me by friends and family, to take my driving test again in 2015. Second time lucky? I doubt it. In fact, I rather suspect I’ll be that 90-year-old on a provisional licence whom the guards all know, but the point is not the failing, the point is the trying.
There are other resolutions, of course. I’d like to buy a house, although that’s less a resolution than a hazy aspiration. But primarily this is the year that I’m going to be on time perhaps not all of the time, but definitely more of the time. Baptisms, weddings, coffee with friends; I will finally be that trusty buddy who’s first in the door. Or second. Or definitely no more than five minutes late. Well, it’s important to be realistic, right?