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The Vacuum Issue 9 spacer Issue 9
The Ulster Tatler
by Katy Radford
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It really is a pleasant magazine, isn't it, our lovely local Tatler? Each issue eagerly anticipated for its next clutch of fragrant brides, idealised homes and the promise of shallow features. Who ever suggested that still waters run deep? Here the cutting edge of fish-knife journalism ensures that the Ulster readership remains safe not just from sodomy, but anything that might whiff of thought or intellectual engagement.
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The Ulster Tatler presents bourgeois Northern Ireland at its most conservative, it's most desperate and consequently its most lovely-lite. It is the place where black-tied small-town burghers at rotary dinners and business awards jostle for page space with their pretender offsprings recorded in glorious gleam-o-vision attending their school and university formals. It is rag that is non-discriminating in its presentation of the middle ground of mediocrity on the fairways of golf clubs, with never the hint of a controversial traveller seeking membership, in sight.
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Despite its weighty 200 plus pages, it only takes three flicks of the wrist and a cursory glance at the juxtaposition of the advertisements and shiny photographs of the cast of characters (all presumably the potential purchasing readership), to realise a micro-view of the aspirations and realities of a life-led Tatler style.
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Page one - Wants - A Clarins model coyly looks over her shoulder to expose half an upper arm applied with auto bronzant gelee. Easy steps in learning how a Tatler woman conforms to makers that make her appealing and able to capture her man.
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Page two - Actuality - The 'society' bridal page reveals the wedding party - so exfoliated and polished to appear raw. With stooped shoulders and arms strategically placed to conceal unwisely revealed untoned tummies, the streakily applied fake tan denotes that the future is clearly both bright and orange.
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But these two pages are simply glimpses of material desires. They are the sea-views from Cultra and Ballyhalbert that belie the realities and complexities of actually navigating oceans. They are the Ulster Tatler providing a public, glossy spin on being that refutes the complexities of lives lived.
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Turn the page again and Page three - Inevitability - A full page add for a private, sheltered accommodation for the elderly. In soft focus, the back of a female carer, with beefy arms and thread veined legs leans forward to serve tea to a smiling old man. With suit pressed and vacuous smile (at the camera, not the faceless carer), he remains the image of gentility: he is privileged, sheltered and supported from the realities of engaging with the world. As the focus of the picture, he represents the invevitability of a life led glossy. The end of his Ulster tattling and small town aspirations voiced at vacuous dinner parties is now serviced, supported and gently cared for by a different Tatler readership. Here those who care don't buy to see their lives validated by camera camaraderie, rather, they flick through the sticky, dog-eared backdated copies they find whilst waiting for the next crisis to be revealed in doctors' and dentists' surgeries. There the Tatler is transformed into nothing other than an alternative to the pandora's box stories of The People's Friend.
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