Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

PopLife Review of the Year #2: Random things we learned in 2013

Kanye and Snowden. A random selection of a few things we found out this year.

Mon, Dec 30, 2013, 17:08


The Internetz
2013 was the year that the privacy talk got real. But what happens next? I wrote about the NSA stuff here soon after it happened, and the story was obviously ever and is still rolling, partly thanks to the tenacity of the Guardian and the Washington Post. The Snowden leak had further repercussions in the media too, with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras jumping on board Pierre Omidyar’s media project. And in popular culture, while the previous big leaker Julian Assange remains holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, his presence was felt in cinemas around the world with the excellent We Steal Secrets, and the not so excellent The Fifth Estate. But for the punters privacy remains a disposable commodity most are too happy to trade in exchange for free email and compulsive social networking. Me included. Fail.

I wrote my column this week about the need for men to step up and lean out in order to fulfill their role in feminism. Women’s voices are getting louder. In the media, feminism amongst journalists is becoming a default setting, TV show hits such as Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black and HBO’s Girls matter. You couldn’t open a newspaper or magazine this year without seeing something to do with feminism, be that a female voice telling it like it is, or a discussion about gender quotas. Battles against misogyny online get louder. A stronger resistance to sexual harassment, rape, sexism and gender inequality will be met with an equally strong backlash by those who wish to preserve the status quo of female subservience. Feminism 4.0 as a viral moment aided by the democratic tools of online publishing and DIY skills of small groups of women and individuals deciding to do everything from holler back to contest food poverty amongst single mothers to want a bird on a bank note is a swell that will not be stopped. And now, we also look beyond the privileged ‘Western’ world and the concerns of often middle-class feminists, to the women who die in garment factory fires, who are assaulted in Egyptian protests, raped on Indian busses and trafficked into slavery and prostitution in Nepal. We got this. Let’s go.

Social networking
Another year, another plethora of FACEBOOK IS DOOMED stories. I don’t like Facebook, and was an early adopter and early rejector of it. Facebook has been at the centre of creating a culture of boring narcism and addiction to constant communication, distorting the idea of connectivity when people are actually cutting themselves off, redefining a ‘friend’ as not person of emotional support and common kinship to an photo and a status update and a page – someone on the other side of the echo chamber, as well as delighting in how stupidly people have given away their privacy and personal information for a “service” that everyone just complains about anyway. So I’m not exactly on the fence. But Facebook has also allowed social movements to build, react quicker and gain online people power. It has allowed consumers to voice grievances (pretty much) directly at the source. But in archiving our lives and thoughts, using Facebook means we have succumbed to everything being public, and the nasty side of human communication amplified by shoddy speculative ‘cyber-bullying’ legislation, shows that talking to each other all the time isn’t always a pleasant conversation.

But the desperation of Facebook’s $3 billion offer for SnapChat, another absolutely pointless and juvenile service which excels because teenagers like sexting, shows that Facebook really feels the need to no longer be the ‘burbs of the internet. I wrote about some of that stuff here.

Acquiring Instagram was a wise move (not for a billion dollars obviously, but when you get into those figures, are we even talking about real money anymore when you’re paying the GDP of Mongolia for something that didn’t have a revenue model?) but Facebook becoming the Hungry, Hungry Hippo of social networking won’t necessarily save its ass. Now it’s about pummeling ads. Perhaps there is too much emphasis placed on the ‘teens leaving Facebook’ conundrum, but traditionally teens have dictated and indeed forecasted online behaviour for the masses. That said, previously, there were no Mums and Dads to fill the gap left on Bebo and MySpace when the kids bailed, and now they are checking in, but considering Facebook is still chasing the high school-age users, they clearly think they still need them.

Still the most interesting musician around. Still able to surprise. Still released a cracking bizarre record. Still has the potential to be the Prince of his generation. Still bonkers. Still compelling. Still got it.

Dolphins get high
, but 2013 was also typified by dodgy pills in Northern Ireland. Everything from ‘rolexes’ to ‘blue ghosts’ were blamed, but the incidents of deaths and warnings were surrounded by vague information. At Electric Picnic, an announcement was made by Gardai to those attending to stay away from ‘blue ghosts’ which have become a dominant “brand” of ecstasy, with the authorities saying there had been a “bad batch” of pills circulating. “Bad batch” is somewhere between a myth and a euphemism for counterfeit MDMA pills, but there seems to have been little further exploration of what has caused the deaths of several people this year.

By July, up to 17 people were reported to have died in Northern Ireland and Scotland from “fake ecstasy”. With seven of those deaths occurring in East Belfast, the PSNI began to explore a common terrorist link to the distribution of drugs, some of which when tested we found to contain PMA (a drug which has been around since the 70s when it was pawned off as a drug that could mimic the effects of LSD) and PMMA (a stimulant which has been linked to several deaths in Holland).

The rumours kept flying with ‘Green Rolexes’ and ‘Red Chariots’ also becoming the centre of concern during the summer months. Vice provided some chemical and cultural context. And tragically, it’s not over yet. On the 28th of December, a man died and four others were hospitalised after a party in Belfast, with police mentioning ‘speckled Rolex’ pills in the report.

Rockers are getting older, and pop stars are getting younger.
Bon Jovi had the highest grossing tour of the year, and the Rolling Stones stole the show at Glastonbury. But rock music had another dodgy year despite everyone pretending we’ll still be listening to AM and Modern Vampires Of The City en masse in 20 years time. The QOTSA record popped, but sure they’re aul fellas, as are The National in chart rock terms. Only {Awayland} could contest to be the guitar-based record of the year, along with new-enough-bies such as Parquet Courts. Still, and as long as you’ll have the NME trumpeting awful acts such as Palma Violets, everyone will continue to roll their eyes and face the DJ.

Meanwhile in the arenas, Bieber continued his post-Home Alone period and One Direction raked it in. But as usual, pop belonged to those who bucked the status quo, with Lorde’s teenage dreams, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis being the anti-bros bros actually like, Katy Perry coming out with the cracking and Beyoncé blowing everyone out of the water before Christmas. (PS: I’m not talking about the Vegas-sponsored EDM because it bores me.)