Every year thousands of Irish parents wave off their precious darlings as they indulge in what is now a kind of ‘rite of passage’ (and not a hugely useful one, in my opinion) – the 6th Year Holiday. Our teens travel in packs, descending like a flock of over excited parrots on some Spanish or Greek resort while their parents at home spend the week praying that all those years of parenting will pay off and their juniors won’t get themselves into any kind of serious trouble.
When they eventually return the same parents breathe a huge sigh of relief, offer prayers of thanks to all and sundry and carefully avoid asking in too much detail about their holiday, just glad that it’s over and they all seem to have survived.
Perhaps it was the fact that in just over a year’s time I will again be that poor parent as the second of my darlings will probably take flight south, that I found the Michaella McCollum interview compelling viewing. Yes, I guess I watched it very much as a mother.
Of course I had previously read about Ms McCollum but as I began watching the RTE interview on Monday night the main question for me remained unanswered, namely how did a young Irish woman get herself involved in a major drug smuggling operation within a relatively short time of arriving in Ibiza?
As I listened to her talk I formed a picture of a young, naïve, vulnerable and possibly silly women who left Ibiza on a whim (although in the interview she made reference with being made to leave Northern Ireland – and this wasn’t followed up) with seemingly no plan, no friends and no money.
The drug gang who ‘hired’ Michaella must have been delighted. She was just the kind of young woman they were looking for.
The huge surprise however was how out of synch I seemed to be with the wave of anger and almost totally negative commentary the interview generated on Twitter. Comments ranged from how she seemed to be auditioning to be Peru’s next Top Model, to the fact that she must have been coached thoroughly beforehand, to comments about how life must be great in Peruvian prisons because she looked great. She and RTE were also accused of ‘glamorising drug trafficking’. People tweeted that she was a liar and they didn’t believe one word she said.
What were these people seeing that I wasn’t I wondered? On what basis were they making these judgements? And time and again when I queried this on Twitter the commentary returned to her appearance. That seemed to really make many people very angry.
What the hell were they expecting? This was a young woman, who had done some work as a model, of course the very first thing she would do on release from prison to have her hair done. Even I would do that and I ain’t no model.
Did people not buy into her remorse because she looked too well, too glamorous? It seemed to me that many commentators were disappointed that we were not confronted with a broken woman – both physically and mentally. Surely if she was truly remorseful she wouldn’t have bothered with her appearance? And the comments were from as many men as women on my timeline.
Was this some kind of misogyny? The unconscious bias we often hear about particularly in relation to gender equality.
Recently two homeless women, Lyndsey Robinson and Erica Fleming appeared on the Late Late show to talk about their predicament. Again there was much Twitter commentary that criticised these women because their appearance was also not in keeping with how homeless women should look. These women had nice hair and make up and were dressed too well altogether.
It seems that the problem of judging a woman first and foremost by her appearance is alive and well still. We may have learned that it’s not really PC to make such judgements about ‘respectable’ woman but the rule just doesn’t apply to a remorseful criminal who is continuing to serve her punishment. Her appearance is fully open to comment and ridicule. As were Lyndsey and Erica’s clothes and make up considered fair game.
Back to Michaella and it is interesting that I hadn’t seen one tweet mentioning the drug gang behind this huge haul of cocaine. Seriously?
But what really struck me was that after the interview, RTE broadcast a Would You Believe special called Atonement. It was about convicted IRA bomber Shane Paul O Doherty, a man who received 30 life sentences for his bombing campaign in London. Mr O Doherty served 15 years for his crimes and has now found God and is now an author working with the homeless. Twitter was strangely silent on this programme. There was no querying why a programme was being devoted to this criminal, no charge of his glamourising violence.
Which leads one to wonder why it is that we can seemingly forgive a criminal who inflicted such violence on all kinds of innocent people and yet we seem to have no empathy for a young woman who failed to smuggle drugs out of Peru? The only difference is that Michaella committed the sin of looking too well. Of course Shane Paul O’Doherty’s appearance wasn’t commented on at all.
Meanwhile on the island of Ibiza a drug gang are no doubt recruiting another lost young woman into their evil trade. We have completely missed the point.
I’m afraid I have to disagree on at least a few points. After initially claiming they had been coerced into acting as mules, on foot of threats to the safety of their families, the Peru Two recanted and pleaded guilty. Therefore, there was no trial, so none of their claims was subject to any scrutiny. They have admitted they made up the threat to their families. As things stand, then, we simply have no idea whether they were forced into their actions or simply volunteered. For whatever reason, the interviewer chose not to ask this most fundamental question; instead, without any corroboration, the narrative said they were ‘targeted’ by the drug gangs. No proof of that at all.
The absence of a trial also left them in the position where they did not have to name those who sent them. Michaella McCollum Connolly says she wants to forge a new life warning other girls not to get into the position in which she found herself. The easy way to do that immediately would have been to volunteer the names of individuals in Ibiza to the Peruvian authorities, to share with Spanish police. Again, she was not asked if she had done this.
Yes, I agree her appearance came under scrutiny, but again, the presentation made that inevitable. The interviewer was dressed like, and had the demeanour of, a college professor meeting one of his students. He should have worn a suit and interviewed her across a desk, but no, it was beautifully lit in studio or rented venue that, within a 10-second turnaround, could have done duty for a Nigella cookery show, or a jewellery sale on QVC.
In short, the whole thing was presented as a Dr Phil-style show about misdeed and remorse. Well, I suspect we’d all be remorseful if we were caught.
I agree there was a level of misogyny in some of the tweets, but there was a fundamental sexism at the core of the entire programme. If the Peru Two had been young men with shaved heads, tattoos and strong Dublin accents, they would have been nowhere near primetime television on a Sunday night.
I didn’t see the programme afterwards so I can’t comment on that, I’m afraid!
Thanks Philip for your thoughtful reply to my blog post. I agree with you that this was a very soft interview – it was very odd in fact but I was interested to note the points made by Colette Browne in her column this morning in the Indo, namely that some topics may have been off limits due to the fact that Michaella is in fact still serving her sentence albeit on parole. I also agree that she lied and committed a very serious crime. I have no problem with her being arrested and serving her time.
The point I was trying to make was that to me it seemed that the fact she didn’t appear on our TVs looking like a broken woman was the thing that seemed to really exercise people. That I believe is sexist. It was the same kind of sexism that allowed people to also criticise the women in emergency accommodation on the Late Late Show for their appearance.
Was she only interviewed because she was attractive? I am not sure. I think this story was of huge interest to the Irish public and has been ever since their arrest. But if it is the case that she was only on TV because she was pretty – well that is sexism too!
I’ve just read your post and thank god for it.
I watched the programme in it’s totality also and found myself engrossed. I’m the parent of two girls who went through that “blow out” phase and like you, I was thankful they both returned unscathed, but a lot more mature. They are both now married and parents and laugh about those times. I am thankful for that.
As you watched it as a mother, I watched it as a father and remembered what might have been for either of my own girls. However, although not on Twitter last night I was in predominately a lot of male company this evening enjoying a few jars and good conversation. That is, until I raised Michaella’s interview. Well that changed the tone of the conversation instantly! I was assailed by such vitriol towards the girl, I was temporarily taken aback. Not one single person showed any empathy toward how a young, innocent and troubled 19 year old girl could find herself embroiled in the trauma that was to be her fate. All comments ignored the case in fact, and concentrated on her appearance almost exclusively. “How dare she come through that and look so well” was more or less the common theme. “Well she doesn’t exactly look starved” and “Not too many whip marks on her” were other snippets of the male perception audible in the hustle of testosterone. I was horrified.
I didn’t accept this categorisation and argued resolutely about the genesis of their arguments. Until the female partners started arriving I was on a hiding to nothing and thankfully they caught my drift and the hemales began to fall silent.
It was both a frightening and enlightening. Your article tonight is inspiring.
Keep up the great journalism,
Thanks Barbara and Hi to you Liam.
It is refreshing to know that there are some civilized and compassionate people out there. I am not a big Twitter fan but last night it was a veritable mine field with some of the most vile and hateful comments relative to both RTE and M’s. McCollum.
I too watched the interview and was very impressed with this young girl and in the manner in which she presented herself. And yes, it is true when one says that she could be my child or your child.
She has suffered and paid for her indiscretions and foolishness and I sincerely hope that she can move on to have a successful and happy life but our little green sod here might not be the best place for her to achieve that.
I Totaly agree with you , give the girl a break, She must have massive legal bills to pay back and needs to earn a living . We all made stupid mistakes when we were young and she has served her time Begrugery is alive and well as usual in Ireland . She survived a very dangerous time in her life and lived to tell the tail…… Good luck to her in future
Barbara I more or less go along with your stance (and Collette Browne’s). There have been a lot of cheap shots taken. But I really do think that McCollum was misguided in the extreme to throw herself in front of the cameras. Had she kept her head down, served her time on parole and returned home with humility then she may have got a fairer hearing.
I watched it, also from the perspective of a parent, and her appearance genuinely worried me. I accept that misogyny is rife in our society, and I would agree with the previous commenter that the interview itself was sexist, given the lack of pudgy tattooed male criminals giving prime time interviews, but it was certainly not misogyny which prompted my concerns.
If we accept her version of events, that, as a nineteen-year-old, she was “so young” and “naïve” as to not realise the seriousness of what she was doing (an assertion that, frankly, I find difficult to accept), then we must also accept that there are other nineteen-year-olds out there with the same level of maturity. We live in a society where image, particularly of women, is viewed as so important that it overshadows everything else, especially by young women themselves. A teenager watching that programme could very easily come away with the view that, were they to engage in drug trafficking, the worst case scenario would be a short stint in a prison (which was barely mentioned), followed by a glamorous interview in a plush location (giving the impression of wealth and success) and instant fame. These are things that are attractive to teenagers, not deterrents. If Ms. McCollum and RTÉ genuinely want to encourage young people not to engage in such practices, then a more honest programme, demonstrating the true horror of drugs, the actual conditions in prison, and the reality of post-prison life for other traffickers, would have been more appropriate than a soft, Hollywood-styled, PR stunt.
So, as a parent, I watched it with horror, wondering what young, impressionable teenagers might take from it, and what next year’s crop of gap year students will fearlessly get up to.
This is one of the few articles covering this story where the finger has been pointed at the real criminals, the cartels and gangsters at the top of the chain who the police in peru and other south American countries wont go after because they have either been paid to look the other way or are too scared or lack the funding and resources to go after them and even if they do get caught they run the prisons and they go on running their criminal empires from in there too.
Of course it’s easier to nab a couple of young girls arrest them and parade them in front of the worlds media, make an example of them and say “oh look we’re winning the war on drugs”, I’m not defending the girls actions but I think any amount of time in a south American jail is punishment enough I’m glad Michaella is out and I hope Melissa gets out soon too.
I’m in Scotland so had to wait for someone to upload michaella’s interview to youtube before I could watch it but it was always obvious that the interview wasn’t going to be as people were hoping for baring in mind michaella is still in peru under strict bail conditions and also with Melissa still behind bars anything michaella said could affect Melissa’s bid for freedom, we’re not going to get a proper open interview from either of them until both are out of peru but when they do get out of there I think they should do a proper open interview and answer the awkward questions people want answers to and be 100% honest about it.
ps isn’t it ironic that while people have been condemning michaella they have been praising the “legend” howard marks??