COLUMN #Neknominations


What are you doing this weekend? I thought I might put a goldfish in a pint of vodka lemonade, film myself downing it, then post it on YouTube. I’ve looked at the TV listings and there’s not much on. So I reckon, Yolo! Why not?

Some twentysomething Facebook feeds are peppered with inane dares like this: Neknominations. If internet legend is to be believed (which it’s not), they are a game invented in Australia by a student who filmed himself necking a pint while driving, then dared two friends to follow suit within 24 hours. They did. Thus the hashtag Neknominate was born and spread, like a viral chain letter, to the UK where right now bored students are thinking them up. When I first heard about #Neknominate, I (modestly) thought I’d be great at them. I’ve always prided myself on being fearless. I once pitched a column to an editor with the simple premise that I’d do something each week that scared me. We had to ditch the idea because we couldn’t think enough up. After “take heroin” and “shave my head”, then what?

I clung to the belief that I was fearless until two weeks ago, when I went to Cairo. On the third anniversary of the revolution, the city was uprising again. I flew out after the weekend in which 49 people were killed in Egypt. Putting my tray table up on a ghost plane, I landed in a city of police checkpoints, car bombs, tanks and gunfire on the streets, and metal detectors at gated hotels. Hiding in my hotel room I remembered how fear actually felt; that it’s easy to be brave in the face of frivolousness, but real danger is paralysing.

Yolo maybe the motto of my generation; our grandparents’ was Keep Calm and Carry On: a catchphrase coined by the British government in 1939, in the aftermath of a series of air strikes on major cities, months before the Second World War began. It was a motto printed on posters intended to be distributed only in case of national crisis (now it’s become so irrelevant, it’s relegated to ironic use on shabby-chic goods). When war is raging: remain calm. You can only be reckless when fear is gone.

I returned to London to find Neknominations flying. Steph-Lou Jones, 22, shimmied up to the counter of McDonald’s in Wrexham in a Pamela Anderson Baywatch swimsuit, inhaling a burger, then a pint. James Steel downed a beer with two goldfish in it; Indiana Ralph rode a horse up the sandwich aisle at Tesco and finished off a Pepsi (see YouTube for more).

In Cairo kids were hiding indoors, while here they are manufacturing risk because their lives are devoid of it. Neknominations reveal a generation that, between health and safety and relative privilege, is exposed to so little fear it craves it. Isn’t that brilliant? Doesn’t it mean that we’ve won?

I like Neknominate. In its idiotic way, it reflects well on us. While so much of the world is beset by misery, poverty and war, it reveals a country where young people feel optimistic and safe. Neknominations are not groundbreaking, but they are essentially liberating — the haka of a generation that feels free. Sometimes it goes too far — a tragic reminder that personal liberty doesn’t give you invincibility.

But instead of condemning NNs, recognising that they signal a longing for valour is the first step in making something useful from them.


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