Hard News by Russell Brown


LATE OCTOBER: Life in the Margins: Otherness in New Zealand

On its way to a final affirmation, Bill Pearson's landmark 1952 essay Fretful Sleepers has harsh words aplenty for New Zealanders' attitude towards difference and the deviation from norms.

Our "willingness to persecute those who don’t conform, gullibility in the face of headlines and radio peptalks," create the conditions for fascism, he writes. Our "fear of social climbing that brings the dread conformity all artists in New Zealand have to contend with …There is no place in normal New Zealand society for the man who is different."

Social status and station are not the only grounds for suspicion, says Pearson, "it is any variation from the norm. The man with a cleft palate, with a stutter, with short sight, will suffer. There will always be jokes behind his back; he will find it hard to make honest contact with other men because once he has been isolated, most men will talk to him only with tongue in cheek, humouring him at best, saving up a report for the boys in the bar."

The journey from Pearson's New Zealand to the one we live in today fascinates me (as does difference and deviance from the local norm in general -- that's why I own books with such titles as Shades of Deviance and  Deviant Behaviour: New Zealand Studies). Pearson died without ever feeling able to be publicly open about his sexuality, yet now Cabinet ministers are out and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited in law. So where are the margins now? And how is life there?

That's the theme of the LATE at the Museum, Life in the Margins: Otherness in New Zealand, at the Auckland Museum on Thursday October 6. It's the first LATE I've been asked to curate and I'd really like you to come along.

The "Smart Talk" part of the evening will be a discussion with quite a varied group; my attempt to reflect the complexity of ways of belonging and not belonging.

To describe Philip Patston as a gay, disabled, vegetarian former social worker and sometime comedian makes him sound like the punchline to a particularly elaborate joke about Grey Lynn. But that is, indeed, what he is. I have long enjoyed his "shit sandwich" approach to delivering challenging ideas and I'm delighted to have him on the panel.

David Cohen and I often used to have harsh words for each other --now it would be fair to say we sometimes agree to disagree. We share a particular life-changing experience, as fathers of children on the autism spectrum, yet our backgrounds could hardly be more different. I moved smoothly through school, David was what we used to call a juvenile delinquent -- dispatched, as he wrote in his memoir Little Criminals, to a boys' home.

Stacey Kerapa Huata had an adolescence I can hardly imagine -- arriving in Auckland as a transgender kid, finding support from the similarly alienated -- and, eventually, undertaking a degree in social practice and becoming an advocate for victims of domestic violence. She is strong.

And what about the kids? Given the alarming growth in youth unemployment in the past two or three years, it's hard not to worry about social disengagement. No one seems to think we'll see riots like those in England recently, but what are the consequences? The Labour Party's youth affairs spokesperson Jacinda Ardern completes the panel. Will she disagree with David? I certainly hope so. I'm not going to all this trouble to have five people sitting around on a stage mumbling in agreement with each other.

After the talk, there will be something you may not ever see again. Almost my first thought on getting this gig was that I wanted drag queens. There is something deeply real in the unabashed artifice of a drag show; and so much hidden behind the curtain of the show itself. Drag is a culture, and it's one that most New Zealanders never see.

I've commissioned Buckwheat and Tess Tickle to create and present This is Where We Came From, a performance about their own drag "house" and its secret history. It will be fabulous and serious. I am indebted to Julian Cook for his help in this very special work.

And, finally, you know how I've been banging on and on about the @peace record? What I haven't said so much about the production prodigy behind the music of that album -- Christoph El Truento. Christoph will DJ his own music at the beginning of the evening, and return after the talk with friends and guests.

UPDATE: Christoph has confirmed his lineup, which will be himself, Miso on the decks, Brandon Haru on keyboards, Lui from @peace on the mic, and Isaac Aesili on horns and percussion. Wow.

It's a diverse lineup -- and if all goes to plan, everyone will bring their tribes along. I would like you to be my tribe. So, please, feel free to investigate further and buy your $20 ticket online. Your early purchase will let me sleep easier :-).

The Auckland Museum Facebook page is here.

Life in the Margins - Otherness in New Zealand

6.30pm, Thursday, October 6, Auckland Museum

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