Muse by Craig Ranapia

32

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

[CONTENT NOTE: Contains references to rape, and discussion of depictions of sexual and physical abuse that may be distressing.]

It should have surprised nobody that reactions to the debut of Gaylene Preston's Christchurch quake drama Hope and Wire (Three, Thursdays, 8.30) were polarized to put it mildly -- including here on Public Address.  But what really did surprise me, and shouldn't have for a moment, was this passage in Christchurch Press writer Vicki Anderson's strongly negative Hope and Wire like punch to the stomach:

Later I showed the first episode of Hope and Wire to a colleague for his reaction.

"It's like they are raping the city," he said. "And what shocking acting. I'm off home now, I'll wade through old-school stereotypes and several skirmishes with skinheads to get there."

I'll save everyone a lot of time and say this up front.  I'm writing this in suburban Auckland.  And inevitably, I'm watching Hope and Wire at a distance - in every conceivable sense - it would it be downright arseholy to expect Anderson, her colleages at The Press who lost a co-worker in their now demolished headquarters, or anyone else in Christchurch to share. But I really wasn't overly impressed and Tweeted accordingly:

The point where I turned off was when Stereotypical Racist Skinhead punched Equally Stereotypical Goth Girlfriend in the stomach.  And judging from the promos for next week, she's not the first woman he's going to assault. 

And that's probably going to be the point where I turn off for good, for one very simple reason.  I don't know about the Christchurch quakes and their seemingly endless aftermath.  I can't answer the question whether Hope and Wire is "too soon", "too much", "not enough" or a half-boiled curate's egg. (Philip Matthews long and thoughtful review is all the more impressive for not even trying to.)

But I know exactly what being raped is like. Over twenty five years ago, while at boarding school, I was anally raped with an object by a pack of thugs who thought it would be cool to humiliate the faggot. I wiped the blood off my arse, hid (and later burned) my stained pants and kept my damn mouth shut for two decades. Because I knew I wouldn’t be believed. Because I knew the verbal and physical bullying would just get worse; and that there would be people absolutely convinced that if I wasn’t a mentally unstable and malicious liar that I must have done something to deserve it. Like actually being gay — and we all know what those people are like, right?

It still affects my life, every relationship and action.  And Anderson's "colleague" can take it from me that it's abso-fraking-loutely nothing like any of the many television shows I've found infinitely less palatable than Hope and Wire.

But the fine editors at The Press and Stuff website who published Anderson's column shouldn't take my word for it. Ask anyone at Christchurch's only rape crisis center -- but they can't because it closed the same day the review was published and the media was far too busy sniggering over David Cunliffe's manpology... without troubling themselves with the rest of a speech that rather admirably spoke some much needed truth to Kiwi rape culture.

If Anderson wants to continue as a television critic, perhaps she'd like to start exploring why rape is so pervasive on popular and/or critically acclaimed shows.  Like Scandal and House of Cards for two. Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad for two more. Mad Men and every damn season of American Horror Story. Even Game of Thrones (whose pilot kicked off with a violent wedding night rape and steadily went downhill from there) finally hit it's very special low -- though (Gods be praised!) plenty of men were on hand to explain how it wasn't really rape.  If you couldn't afford to subscribe to Soho, Prime is currently playing season three and next week has the charming episode where three different female characters are subjected to graphic threats of rape and murder in consecutive scenes.  

That would be a more useful exercise than comparing one of the highest profile women in New Zealand's film industry to a rapist. 

And it might be a good start to an honest self-examination of Because that's how rape culture works, and I'm over it.  It's dying a little bit more when television shows women constantly subjected to relentless threats of sexual and physical violence.  It's feeling a surge of impotent rage when the Willie Jacksons, John Tamiheres and Bob Joneses of the media are more interested in slut-shaming victims rather than holding rapists to account for their crimes.  And it's when people who should know better -- like everyone at a major metropolitan newspaper -- trivialise human suffering by using "rape" as a rhetorical flourish.

A few paragraphs on, Anderson writes: "I also felt fiercely protective of how my city and my fellow residents had been portrayed. After all, we're in this together, right?"  I don't presume to speak for all abuse survivors, in Christchurch or anywhere else.  But yet again, I don't feel the media is anywhere near us.  And that has to stop.

[Comments on this post won't be open are open, but I'm mostly off-line until Wednesday afternoon. Everyone please be mindful that Public Address is a safe space for everyone - including women and abuse victims.]

10

Those Racist Casting Call Blues

"Three actresses walk into a casting call..."  Sounds like the set up for a bad joke whose punchline is going to land nowhere good? Well, up to a very sharp point. 

You can never take too much piss out of racial (and racist) typecasting - and good old fashioned casting couch misogyny and 'Typecast,' a rather nifty Royals parody that's been getting a lot of play recently is bitter-sweetly awesome. 

Tess Paras (who created and co-starred in the video) nails far too many awful ethnic tropes for comfort.  But before we all get too smugly Kiwi about it, here's Roseanne (Banana In A Nutshell, My Wedding and Other Secrets)  Liang's equally pointed 2007 short Take 3:

(Thanks NZ On Screen, you tasty cornucopia of delicious local goodness! Unfortunately, due to the terms of the license Take 3 is geoblocked outside New Zealand.)

 

Is it awesome to see Liang and Paras wittily slapping around racist bullshit?  Definitely.  But it would be even better if they didn't have to in the first place, and snarky short films (no matter how brilliant) don't get the job done.

Elizabeth Plank makes a relevant to New Zealand point here:

Discrimination in the industry doesn't just happen during the casting process, of course. It happens every step of the way. Female directors and producers know that getting funding for female-centric narratives is an uphill battle, since those stories are still perceived as "niche." Add race and ethnicity to the mix and you've got yourself an even steeper financial mountain to climb.

Ultimately, one of the best ways to support the women making a difference is to vote with our remotes. By consuming media that focuses and represents the lives of women of color, we'll be sending a powerful message to the elite in Hollwood and they won't have a choice but to listen and follow the money trail.

Muses know I'm a broken record on the subject, but the best way to ensure diverse and lively local television and film drama is to support the damn things and let the powers that be know it.  That includes shows that aren't straight white dick-fests  with bits of condescending "ethnic" colour.

92

Guilt By Association Copy

I really can't muster enough interest in Kim Dotcom or the Internet Party to form an opinion worth anyone's attention, but I do have a rather lively interest in a new parlour game called Guilt By Association Copy, cooked up by 3 News' Brook Sabin:

Internet millionaire and alleged cyber-pirate Kim Dotcom has admitted owning one of the rarest pieces of Nazi memorabilia in existence.

On the eve of the launch of his Internet Party, Dotcom has confirmed he purchased one of the first copies of Adolf Hitler's book, Mein Kampf, signed by the man who went on to establish the Third Reich.

Dotcom fronted up to 3 News to talk politics, not expecting questions about Nazi memorabilia.

"I'm a Call of Duty player right, so if you know the game Call of Duty it's all about World War II," says Dotcom. "I'm a big fan of that and I've bought material from Stalin, from Churchill and Hitler."

That "material"  includes a very significant and contentious piece of Nazi history.

"I did buy a book at an auction, which Adolf Hitler wrote – Mein Kampf."

Mein Kampf, or My Struggle, is Hitler's fanatical autobiography, full of what would become Nazi ideology. Four years ago Dotcom bought quite possibly the rarest copy on earth.

"Adolf Hitler wrote that book in prison," says Dotcom. "He wrote it with a cellmate there. He signed that book out to that cellmate. So it was one of the first prints and probably the first book that he signed."

In the book trade an "association copy" is a book that has been inscribed and signed by the author to a person associated with them.  I'd like to err on the side of generosity and assume Three News isn't implying that Dotcom (who happens to be German, you know) is a neo-Nazi, but, of course, WhaleOil went screaming over that top yesterday... 

Here's a modest proposal for Sabin, who ended his report with this sanctimonious load of flannel:

It is confession time for Dotcom, clearing the decks ahead of his party launch tomorrow – another controversial chapter in the tale of Dotcom.

Perhaps Sabin and Three News should come clean themselves.  Were they fed this story by Cameron Slater?  What, if any, public interest test was passed here?  Would this even have been a story if Kim Dotcom was a collector of high end Churchillania, or Soviet-era memorabilia? 

Whatever you think of Kim Dotcom and the Internet Party, it's worth having a good hard think about how far this can go.  After all, if mere possession of an expensive book means you must agree with its contents, should my own (second-hand) paperback copy of Mein Kampf  put me byond the pale?  How about the several Bibles I own -- rich in passages that exhort the faithful to commit acts that here and now would range from the merely offensive to the downright criminal.  And don't even start on the fiction...

11

The Disappearing of Paradise

What happens when a New Zealand author is shortlisted for a high-profile British literary prize and nobody in the media pays a blind bit of notice?

No, gentle readers, this isn't some bitter zen koan but the reaction to Phillip Mann's The Disestablishment of Paradise being nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke Award

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The award was established with a grant given by Sir Arthur C. Clarke and the first prize was awarded in 1987 to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

The winner will be announced on Thursday 1st May at an exclusive award ceremony held at the Royal Society, London, and taking place as part of the SCI-FI-LONDON Film Festival.

The winner will be presented with a cheque for £2014.00 and the award itself, a commemorative engraved bookend.

[...]

The six shortlisted books for the Arthur C. Clarke Award for best science fiction novel of the year 2014 are:

God’s War by Kameron Hurley (Del Rey)

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit)

The Disestablishment of Paradise by Phillip Mann (Gollancz)

Nexus by Ramez Naam (Angry Robot)

The Adjacent by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

The Machine by James Smythe (Blue Door)

The 6 shortlisted titles were selected from a record-breaking 121 individual eligible submissions, put forward by 42 different publishing houses and imprints.

Paradise is a (typically for Mann) dense and quirky spin on a very standard set of science fiction tropes.  Paradise is a human colony that, at first sight, appears to be exactly what it says on the tin.  But  after two hundred years, the colony isn't profitable and the vividly described environment is begining to change in unpredictable and dangerous ways.  "Disestablishment" - the dismantling and evacuation of the colony - has already begun but not everyone wants to leave, and their desire to stay may well be based on a radical (and near tragic) misunderstanding of this world and their place in it...

Paradise is Mann's first novel in sixteen years, and was warmly reviewed both here and overseas; and arrived soon after his publisher Gollancz brought his entire backlist (all worth reading) back into print in their SF Gateway e-book imprint. 

So why, as far as I can tell, hasn't this gotten any mainstream media attention at all?  I'll err on the side of generosity and assume a nice Eleanor Catton-sized story is being put to bed as I type, and I'll feel rather foolish as soon after hitting publish.   

But it's rather sad that a historic first for Kiwi science fiction writers, and in a year when (as The Guardian noted in its report) "giants of speculative fiction including Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood have made way for newcomers" hasn't gotten the kudos it deserves. 

2

ONE NIGHT ONLY! Really Filthy C-Words

It's almost like a dirty joke.  A librarian, a cartoonist and a blogger walked into a art gallery and started talking about really fithy c-words.... If you're in Auckland tonight (Tuesday, August 13), and at a loose end from 6.00-8.00 pm you can catch the punchline.  (And if you stuff my jocks with five dollar bills, I won't take my clothes off. Probably.)

As part of a fringe art festival exploring sex and sexuality in the media, and a sequel to June’s successful Dark Night festival, Auckland Libraries presents a panel discussion with creators and commentators looking at controversial literature in New Zealand.

We’ll be supporting Auckland’s artists by contributing a panel discussion on the boundaries of acceptability in literature – from the history of censorship in Aotearoa to the scandal around Ted Dawe’s Into The River – the prize-winning NZ teen book which has now been been submitted for age-restricted classification!

The panel will feature cartoonist Dylan Horrocks and literary columnist Craig Ranapia alongside librarian Karen Craig. Aucklanders can catch that dream team of literati walking the boundaries of scandal and culture on Tuesday, 6pm-8pm at Method and Manners on Level 2, 6 Upper Queen Street, Auckland.

Hope to see you there!  If I secure the permission of the other participants (and my wobbly grasp of my digital record permitting) I'll post a report later this week.