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Leah Farrell
the portal

The 'This is why we can't have nice things' brigade should learn to lighten up

Sometimes global interconnectedness is about nudity and 9/11.

IT’S HARD TO remember a time before the Portal. 

Installed last week on Dublin’s North Earl Street, the digital art exhibit has already been at the heart of several controversies, and was briefly switched off by its owners due to “inappropriate behaviour” by visitors on both sides of the Atlantic. 

One clip, widely circulated on social media, appears to show someone from the Ireland side of the portal holding up a smartphone bearing footage of the 9/11 World Trade Centre attacks. The Big Apple’s riposte involved an OnlyFans content creator flashing her breasts through the Stargate. There have been moonings, there have been visitors pretending to do cocaine for the camera, and Gardaí have already been dispatched to monitor the portal and remove people who are misbehaving. 

Ava Louise, the porn performer who flashed the Portal, told her Instagram followers that “the people of Dublin deserved to see my two New York homegrown potatoes,” a statement that is significantly more offensive than any nudity could ever be. There was a segment about the back-and-forth on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Best of all, we got to hear Joe Duffy say the words “one very drunk woman grinded her backside against the screen”.

Come June, the Portal will be connected to others around the globe including in Poland, Brazil and Lithuania, meaning that conversations around correct Portal etiquette are likely to intensify as the year wears on.

It doesn’t help that it’s not entirely clear what, if not flashing, the Portal can actually be used for. Some ingenious Portal-heads tried to get a game of rock, paper, scissors going across cyberspace this week only to find that the lag between portals rendered such a thing impossible.

Benediktas Gylys, the Lithuanian artist and man behind the Portals, said the purpose of his work is “allowing people to meet outside of their social circles and cultures, transcend geographical boundaries, and embrace the beauty of global interconnectedness”. Well Benediktas, sometimes global interconnectedness doesn’t just mean waving. Sometimes it means nudity and 9/11.

“This is why we can’t have nice things” is the much-trotted out line at times like this. The phrase predates the internet but has adopted a memetic significance in recent years, often used whenever someone spoils something good. Taylor Swift even has a song named for the phrase. Surely, though, there is a less puritanical solution for our godless use of the Portal than to just shut it off. You can’t tell this already-rowdy public you never had a contingency plan to deal with mooning. You’re not in Vilnius anymore, pal. It’s not our fault that you didn’t do your market research.

The Irish are, as a people, prone to overreaction. There was the Krispy Kreme fiasco in 2018 which resulted in a $2 billion multinational corporation rowing back on its 24-hour policy mere days after landing in Blanchardstown. Such was the volume (both in terms of human traffic and car horn decibels) that the company pulled the plug almost instantly on its all-day offering.

There was, of course, a spate of vandalism incidents committed upon the Luke Kelly statue near Sheriff St, though that too, had a deeper, and sadder, explanation than merely an inherent Irish propensity for mischief. In that case, it transpired that someone suffering from addiction had been paid to carry out the vandalism, once again betraying the Irish will to wanton destruction as something sadder. 

Similarly, it is reminiscent of the period in 2021 when littering became a hot button issue, and Dublin City Council argued that it would be negative “from a public health perspective” to increase the number of bins and toilets in the city i.e. we can’t put in more bins and toilets or people would only end up using them. 

This is why we can’t have nice things? Maybe that’s because we’re not especially used to nice things. Maybe we don’t have enough nice things. Maybe we don’t even have enough of the basic things, let alone the nice things. 

Besides, it’s important to remember that our international appeal does not come from some idea of us as shrinking violets. Any New Yorker that turns up to the Portal in midtown knows that it is streaming live from Dublin – surely the stereotypical rambunctiousness is part of what we’re selling. After years of cultural priming, Americans can barely hear the word Ireland without the opening notes of Shipping Up To Boston playing in their heads. If they didn’t want it to turn into a party portal then they should have put it in Geneva. Either way, it is surely much more interesting to see an audience interacting organically with an art installation, rather than observing it in a way that feels managed, kettled, surveilled and, quite literally, policed.

Naturally there are those who simply want to enjoy the portal in peace, perhaps even bring their children along. These people deserve to have their time with the Portal, just as families deserve to visit the zoo without having to listen to some foul-mouthed zoo-goer get into a war of words with the animals. It might be that a compromise is called for. Maybe the Portal needs a timetable. Rock Paper Scissors: 3pm-4pm. Flashing 4pm-midnight. 

Not everybody is going to behave perfectly all the time. Not all of us can be trusted with the portal. But if we’re going to sell ‘Póg mo Thóin’ t-shirts to tourists out of souvenir shops on every street corner, it’s the least we can do to put our money where our mouth is.

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