Monday, March 31, 2008

European leaders more hardline than Helen re Tibet

According to the Guardian the German Chancellor is boycotting attendance at the Olympics because of "the crackdown" by China in Tibet. The polish and Czech state leaders are also refusing to attend. This may mean France follows suit and makes the British intention to attend a more difficult one politically. Angela Merkel has has also recently met with the Dalai Lama, which has "enraged" China's leaders. An EU boycott of the games has been suggested but is not currently likely.

When compared to the stance being taken within the EU, New Zealand's hands-off approach to the situation is looking increasingly influenced by our pending freetrade agreement with China. I'd like to see a clearer position on China's human rights issues being taken by the government, even though we have limited political leverage, and even if it affects the deal. To compromise ethics over money is something I'm deeply ambivalent about.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Consumption – it’s still a disease

The doco I’m currently working on is about a sinking island. It you're interested you can discover more about it at thereoncewasanisland.com and takuufilm.blogspot.com. The film explores the trials faced by a culturally unique community as their island home slowly disintegrates due to a combination of climate change and geological factors. The island is called Takuu and it’s part of the Autonomous Region of Bougainville, which is in turn part of Papua New Guinea. We recently sponsored a translator from Takuu to come over and help us extract a bit more from the interviews that were done last year when the director was on the island, and it’s been an interesting experience hosting someone from somewhere so, well, poor.

Our translator has lived in Rabaul, which is north of Bougainville, and in PNG’s capital, Port Moresby, as well as Takuu so she’s fairly cosmopolitan, at least by PNG standards . But nevertheless she doesn’t shop, doesn’t drive, spends NZ$35 on groceries a week and hates going to the movies. You can’t buy new books in PNG (they come in with travellers who on-sell them, apparently), so borrowing them is fine with her. PNG currently has a comparatively tiny carbon footprint and this is largely because most people there just don’t have enough money to buy the volume of stuff that we do or travel as much, and so they just…don’t. I’ve begun to feel incredibly guilty (as opposed to moderately guilty) about fairly fucking ordinary things like going for coffee, buying spare Ethernet cables, owning a car, flying, using a computer with a broadband connection that doesn’t drop every time the power supply fails, continuous power, hot running water, long showers….you get the picture. I feel especially guilty when I think about how the life-style that we collectively share here pretty much demands that we consume, simply in order to participate in normal cultural and social events. I’ve been horribly poor before (by NZ standards - which is certainly relative), and I can still remember how on the outer I felt when I couldn’t afford to buy Birthday gifts, or drive to visit people outside the CBD or to the beach, or get books or new shoes or visits to the dentist (I’m still paying off a crown actually), or go to the movies or out for coffee or dinner, or to the theatre or a concert. In PNG most people don’t regularly do a lot of that stuff, or if they do they do it less or they figure out some simpler alternative, like making things. Here in uber-middle-class land we kind of have to buy goods and services just in order to socialise and be part of normal life. It’s like a particularly nasty version of peer-pressure. I never thought I’d feel so much like a vapid blonde cheerleader.

If we’re to survive peak oil, let alone the massive and fast approaching vicissitudes of climate change we’re going to have to get used to having, expecting and doing less. And when I see things from the perspective of our translator, less not only seems do-able - it also seems fair. Most people other places in the world currently do fine on it. We can too.

Satorial humour on Nightline

Was just watching an article on Nightline about tax cuts and noticed that Michael Cullen and reporter Duncan Garner were wearing the exact same jacket - a particularly natty, black, single-breasted affair with a heavy white pin-stripe. Anchor Samantha Hayes was also wearing a girly version of the same thing, but this is in no way as amusing as a straight cut between two men wearing the same outfit, while one is offering some kind of commentary on the other. Has 3's journalistic integrity been breached? I wonder if Cullen divulges grooming tips while they're in the changing rooms at Munns??

Update: evidence of previous social contact between Cullen and Garner on Stuff - it appears a crown limo might be a more convenient place to chat about fashion, at least according to Colin Espiner.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What's in a label?

I’ve recently introduced the concept of labels to the blog (see the list on the right and down a bit) and am interested to chart my changing focus over the time I’ve been writing it. I began by blogging about the minutiae of living in a group flat in Grey Lynn and the dubious joys of living with a bunch of single people in their twenties. After a substantial hiatus, I moved to reportage on internet dating of a reasonably intimate nature, and have now moved again, this time towards commentary on party politics. The only thing linking all the parts together, aside from my rambunctious writing style and fondness for compound sentences, is a continuing attention to both power and gender and a willingness to mention sex, or at least allude to it. I’ve always thought that the personal is political, ever since I was a little, baby feminist. So – any linky love that I get from people on kiwiblogblog (props for the inclusion on your heroes and homies blog-list guys) may result in some initial confusion over content, but I’d urge you to read and enjoy anyway. This blog definitely dresses to the left, no matter what it’s on about.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Fourth Estate? Try the blogosphere


I’ve been reading more of thestandard.org.nzand various other political blogs since I mentioned them in a post a few weeks ago and I have to confess that I’ve become a bit of a fan. On a good day, they’re like a fresh, sophisticated op-ed page, albeit one with a decidedly and avowedly left or right focus and in the case of the standard a solidly one-eyed position on John Key. Why am I allowing myself to be engaged by the didactic and doubtless biased prose issuing forth from the blogosphere? That would be a lot to do with the paucity of any kind of interesting commentary or solid investigation in mainstream media, the impact of capital into editorial decision-making, the lack of meaningful public debate in other online avenues and, basically, the “vibe”, man. The stories told in the mainstream media form a point of navigation. I wouldn’t be without them. I’m just pleased there’s an alternative.

In terms of commentary, the op-ed pages of The Herald are sometimes worth a read but seem hampered by the subbing required to fit guest writers’ unpractised sentence construction to the requirements of the paper. They’re also inconsistent in quality. Regular column writers in most major current affairs publications are tamped down in their styles, often lacking passion and both guest writers and regulars can be anodyne to read. Maybe this is partly a generational issue but it’s just boring, mum.

I used to work loading content to nzherald.co.nz. Our desks were situated in The Herald newsroom thus I was and was privy, each shift, to the construction of the morning paper. I observed that reporters have a sophisticated but instrumental relationship to politics (and news events more generally) which reflects a media focus on locating the next good story – not unlike a room full of rich high-school girls looking for the next juicy scandal. Politically informed discussion, investigation or background on issues are, by newsroom convention, timing and fiscal necessity, truncated. Every effort is made to provide enough facts for readers to interpret a story in context and reporters and subs, even the younger ones, are aware of that context to varying degrees. But, honestly, the resulting news is simplified, dull and, oddly, hard to make sense of compared to the kind of polemical, investigative or even just well-researched piece you often find on the better quality blogs, including the Standard. This reflects the fact that blog writers are discussing things they’re invested in because of their politics – they do good work because they believe in it. Passionate arguments are always a more interesting read and often a more comfortably constructed one. It also reflects the fact that they don’t have to work to hard word limits and are unencumbered by editorialising, a need for the appearance of “objectivity”, or fears about fleeing advertisers as readership drops. After my time in the newsroom I have to say I observed the impact of this fear subtly influencing decisions about news, especially what becomes a front page story, on a daily basis. Capital has a huge impact on what stories get told and what stories get noticed.

Given that I’m left-leaning, I’m fairly comfortable with the inherent bias involved in telling stories the way the Standard and other lefty blogs do (try kiwiblogblog, NewZ Blog, Fighting Talk). Also, it’s openly stated, and I trust things where positionality is clear, even the writing of frothing righties which I might not seek out as actively. This is because I know exactly how to decode it. I’m not so comfortable with the increasingly “yellow” journalism of New Zealand broadsheets or, for example, The Listener’s apparent move away from a previously left editorial stance to capture a broader readership. I’m not always sure where to place what’s being discussed in these publications or what interpretive frame to put on it because it’s not politically consistent – it’s aimed at getting the most readers. As an example - The Herald is widely understood as a right-wing paper, and yet this is not always the case. It runs run op-ed pieces by Robert Fisk and environmentally sympathetic international pieces on global warming alongside things like a story series attacking the Electoral Finance Bill. I like knowing where a publication is coming from politically, rather than what they think the most people will want to read.

I also have to say if our media is supposed to be part of the sphere of public debate, it’s ceding its role to the blogosphere on this one. nzherald.co.nz carries a similar range of content to The Herald but with the addition of life-style blogs and “Your views” pages which I find depressingly devoid of meaningful content and engagement. The Herald moderates comments and calls for opinions on subjects that will generate the most hits. It’s a sea of lowest common denominator. By contrast, the comments sections on political blogs are part of a debate – you can chat with like-minded individuals and get stuck into people you disagree with. Thread-jacking, trolling and abuse can get ugly and frustrating at times, but they’re often hilarious and the sense that there are other people who have similar interests and opinions out there in the world can be a wonderful thing. And both commenters and posters are often better informed than I am, which leads me to want to lift my game and do more reading. I feel smarter every time I read the Standard or many of the left blogs, and, even some of the right ones (although this is usually for slightly different reasons). nzherald.co.nz does, on occasion, make me feel stupider than when I started.

I’m a fan of the Standard above all other blogs right now. They’re fresh, well-informed and very regular writers, passionately pushing a barrow I mostly feel an affinity with. They’re glib, gung-ho, and one-eyed but they definitely give a toss. Their commenters are by turns thick, hilarious, smart and vicious. It’s all very charming. But this is maybe not so different to any of the best of the left. What makes the Standard it for me right now is this: the issues they’re choosing to talk about as we head into the election are well rendered, clearly positioned, interesting and most of all, consistently on point. They attract a fantastic level of debate. And that's what keeps me coming back.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hubris

And while I remember - for self-confession, it's impossible to get past Joanna of Hubris fame. Sex is mentioned, along with a whole lot of other stuff. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll read through your fingers. And all with a pretty choice turn of phrase.

hubris.co.nz

Ah, sex. I have to read about it

Stumble over this little number and wince.....

sexwithauntiekandy.blogspot.com

Gotta love the template though!

Monday, March 10, 2008

And now for something completely different

I've been thinking about the idea of how gender affects the construction of self-identity for quite a while. I even enrolled in a Masters looking at why educated women feel they're not mothers in their twenties, and that was back in 1999. As a project of mine this theme typically lies fallow for a time and then surfaces again. In this vein I've recently been thinking about female filmmakers and an idea I have that they tend to concern themselves with relationship and the process of relationship (externality) and self (internality) within filmic narratives, possibly in a way that is less common among male filmmakers. I should qualify this by saying that I can't possibly support an argument that reduces men or women to one thing. I also think it would be ridiculous to suggest that just because one is a female filmmaker one can be predicted to use a particular narrative trope. But I keep seeing a an attention to relationship in some of my favourite films, and I'm struck both by the fact that they're my favourites, and also by the fact that they're often directed by women. So in this post I'm exploring what I see as some similarities between the films of three female directors and musing on whether their femaleness has something to do with what captures their creative interest.

Some things to think about: I'm going to apply the concept of "auteur" on the grounds that a director, arguably especially in an indie situation which doesn't involve a studio, is the final authority for the inclusion or exclusion of elements in a film. This is a vexed and mediated process, and filmmaking is always a group effort, but I'm going to put in a vote for the ultimate responsibility of the director for delivery of something that fulfills their vision, or, at the very least isn't a piece of crap. An ability to make things that aren't a piece of crap is usually why directors get hired, and that does reflect the level of control they are expected and obligated to exert over the finished piece.

Also, I'm not putting in an argument about "feminist" filmmakers. I'm not arguing that the directors I'm thinking of - Jane Campion, Catherine Hardwicke, Lisa Cholodenko are feminists, or trying to be. I'm exploring the idea that, as women, they concern themselves with similar themes, at least in terms of the films that I'm thinking of - The Piano, Thirteen, and Laurel Canyon. Supporting this thesis is the fact that all of the films being discussed were also written by their directors. This is a clear signal that the director had a high level of investment in and control of the themes and ideas presented in each film.

In each of these films, the main character is involved in one or more significant relationships at the beginning of the film, and these fuel the narrative and the experiences of the protagonist, and must be reconciled in some way. In the case of The Piano, main character Ada is locked into a marriage with a man she has never met, but is also tightly bound to her illegitimate daughter, and engages in a sexual liaison with a man outside the marriage. The nexus of these relationships produces the climax of the film, and it is Ada's desire to explore their boundaries and push against the symbolic order expressed by them that generates the plot. Campion contains Ada within a conventional universe by the end of the film by allowing her to marry her lover, but maintains an attention to the inner workings and destructive quality of the family and the relationships within it.

Laurel Canyon asks its driven, reactionarily conservative male protagonist Sam to negotiate his own self-identity in relation to his bohemian record-producer mother Jane, and thus decide if he will stay with his girlfriend Alex or follow his heart and be with the woman he has fallen in love with, Sara. At the same time Alex is exploring the boundaries of her relationship with Sam when she gets involved with Jane's latest project and is gradually drawn towards a sexual exploration involving Jane and Jane's rock-star boyfriend Ian.

Thirteen explores the destructive qualities of the relationship between two teenage girls, Tracey and Evie, focusing on the changes experienced by Tracey who was a previously responsible girl-child. Family relationships for both girls are set up as major motivating factors for bad behaviour.

These films seem like an obvious contrast to the typical Hollywood construction where the hero/ine is rewarded with a relationship or sexual access to the object of their affections at the end of the film. There is significant attention to the way that family relationships create personality and identity. Relationships between people determine and drive the plot of each film, and relationship problems and the resolution or confrontation of these problems are ultimately the conclusion of each film (I could go into more detail here, but to see if you agree with this one-over lightly conclusion, you should probably watch the films in question yourself).

Interestingly from a feminist perspective, boundaries of acceptable female behaviour within relationships are transgressed but with arguably less judgement or containment than is often the case in Hollywood cinema. Ada is unfaithful in her marriage and loses a finger but escapes to marry her lover and have a happy, erotically-charged marriage. Sam's ultimate reconciliation with his flakey yet brilliant mom and the choice he must make between his filandering girlfriend and the woman he has fallen in love with force his character and the audience to consider how reasonable the boundaries set by society on women's behaviour really are. Tracey's boundary-pushing activities (drugs, sex, promiscuous behaviour) are portrayed as a complex process of working out things Tracey has been confronted with in her own family relationships, even though the film leaves us with little doubt about their ultimate destructive qualities. Resolution comes with realisation rather than a simple containment of Tracey back into a "stable" family situation and her forced acceptance of behavioural norms. In each film, each woman ultimately exerts an independence of spirit and intent - she exerts her self within a relationship and in response to it - and is rewarded for it.

So - in conclusion - my three female (but not necessarily feminist) auteur directors give significantly more attention to women's transgressive self-determination within relationships than a "typical" studio film, and relationships and conflict within and between them drive the plots of the films discussed.

To determine if an attention to relationship and the determination of self is something that female auteurs regularly give attention to I'd have to spend more time watching movies than I currently have available. This is just an observation based on three of my favourite films and their directors. Any other views, comments on the (in)accuracy of my close-reading, or further evidence for or against my proposition would be most welcome.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Love's Labour's Lost?

In conversation with a mate this afternoon I got to thinking about the legacy that the current Labour-lead coalition will likely be leaving at the next election. In a previous political post, No left turn, no right of way, I was thinking about the implications of the left-right spectrum in relation to a collective or individualist approach to social and economic policy. In this respect the Labour-lead government has presided over the implementation of things like Kiwisaver (with a significant government and employer contribution to individual saving), and Working For Families (targeted tax-breaks for people who are helping society by doing their best to replace our "body politic" - i.e create more citizens), and no doubt some other legislative changes that I'm not remembering at this point in the evening. But my point- and I do have one - is that more specifically socially progressive legislation created during the last two terms may in fact be what we end up remembering them for. My mate and I counted The Civil Union Act and the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Bill, otherwise branded in the media as the anti-smacking bill that I mentioned in a comment on the aforementioned previous post as well as The Prostitution Law Reform Act. These have only a limited relationship to the economic aspects of governance but represent significant changes to the legal rights of some of our citizens.

My speculation that socially progressive legislation might be more of a legacy for Labour et al is a pretty shallow view of the situation - I'm sure there's a bunch of legislation that I'm not thinking of - but things like Homosexual law reform and The Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act 1977, which legalised abortion under some circumstances for some women, do tend to stick in my mind more than things like successive changes to the minimum wage. Does this make me a bit of girl? Do things relating to human rights stick out for me because of my broadly "feminist" worldview (oh - who uses that word these days)? I can't really say for sure, but I'm interested to know what anyone else thinks Labour's legacy might be.

Cheaty cheaty

I have no idea where this came from but I like it. Maybe you will too.

Seven Deadly Sins

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Chickenmash

Click here for two lucid posts on the anti-smacking debate and a truly elegant blog with lots to browse. Sweet....