Dude, huh?

Hey Daniel Michael Satele,

I’ve read your piece on Billy Apple few times now and I’m confused. On one hand, the title ‘Can I live?’ in reference to the Billy Apple piece “The Artist has to Live like Everybody Else” seems to be about the way Pacific/ PoC artists/ writers are marginalised within sites of institutionalised whiteness, like art galleries. But there’s a few links in your argument that I’m not following:

Name-dropping, personal branding, exposing the commodification of the artwork within the work itself … OK … so what? This is old hat today. Rihanna is on the radio singing “turn up to Rihanna” in a song called “Bitch Better Have My Money.”

The point for me isn’t the self-referentiality of self as commodity. What’s more interesting is that Rihanna is referring to herself as a commodity and it has absolutely no impact on our consumption of her. There is very explicit depiction of wealth in that video and a lots of pornified/ strip club imagery, and  it doesn’t repulse us, even though the depictions of Black women’s bodies in that clip evoke slavery. How is it that we are so lulled into capitalism-apathy by that music videos like that? Isn’t it that we accept it as part of the bargain we have with the music industry? Commodification is okay – as long as it’s slick – because we are expecting to be entertained.

So Billy Apple’s work doesn’t work like that. It refers to itself and as art as a commodity, but we are uneasy. We don’t accept the argument that it operates on the same-as-usual basis. Having it in a gallery or named as art disrupts the historicity and the familiarity of the object.

So I watched Christina Barton’s video on Youtube about the Billy Apple Retrospective, and I liked it. I liked that she addressed the self-portraiture running through the works. I liked that she reached out to engage with you about your words. Calling her out didn’t sit well with me. What was that about?

Tulia

 

Buddy or Bully-Boy? Is it time to Boycott Australia over Human Rights Abuses?

In the shadow of our ANZAC commemorations, it is time to ask whether Australia is still our mate.

This year Australia spent A$145 million on ANZAC commemorations, including the new Australian War Memorial over here in New Zealand. 6500 Australian men enlisted in WW1, but like for us in Aotearoa, Gallipoli is particularly significant. In BBC News article describing the pull of ANZAC day commemorations, Wendy Frew says,

 it is Gallipoli that holds a special place in Australian hearts. Many believe it was here Australians proved themselves the equal of any in the world, heralding the young nation’s emergence onto the world stage.

So, unbeatable odds. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

Being a mate and having courage in adversity are ingredients my Australian Great-Grandfather would have described as character. In the interests of full disclosure, my Pakeha mother hails from Australian Irish roots. Our family lore includes the fabulous tale of how my Great-Great-Grandmother was the midwife that delivered Ned Kelly. Which goes to show that given the right conditions, you can be proud of anything.

You can even build identity out of it.

Because there is no doubt that Gallipoli holds a special place in our national imaginations, and that commemorations are a form of nation-building. In 1983, theorist Benedict Anderson argued that nations are an ‘imagined political community’. He meant that we don’t have relationships with most people in our nation, but nevertheless have a sense of belonging to a group and sharing particular affinities. Our belonging is most keenly felt through larger events, like rugby games. Or like Gallipoli commemorations. Mate-ship. Courage under fire.

But what happens when a nation commits acts that are at odds with the way we think of them? How are we as New Zealanders to make sense of Australia’s human rights abuses?

There are two areas where Australia is drawing international attention for human rights abuses: in the Australian Government’s treatment of refugees and in their treatment of Indigenous Australians. I can’t help but think that these failures in compassion are intrinsically linked; that they relate to an outdated, racist understanding of who an Australian is. That Australia, one of the strongest global economies, is protecting its wealth for the good of white Australian citizens, at the expense of Indigenous communities.

Let’s get real about how bad Australian human rights abuses have got.

As you may know, on May 1st there were 10,000 protestors in Australian cities protesting the threat of closure of remote communities in Western Australia.  The #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA campaign came about through a call to action from the people of West Kimberley. In November 2014, Colin Barnett, Premier of Western Australia, announced that the State could no longer support 150 remote Aboriginal Communities, which could be removed by the end of 2015. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backed this statement, saying “What we can’t do, is endlessly subsidise choices, if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have”.

As #SOSBLAKAUSTRALIA have pointed out, it is against UN HUMAN RIGHTS LAW for any people to remove another people from their land. The Commonwealth of Australia signed up to this convention in 2009 and is accountable.

Meanwhile, the treatment of refugees to Australia has gone from bizarre to ridiculous with Australia sending refugees from the processing facility at Nauru to Cambodia. Human Right’s Watch  have argued that Cambodia has a bad record with refugees and it’s own serious human rights abuses. Including torture. Meanwhile, Amnesty reminds us that 107 children are amongst those detained on Nauru, with another 60 are detained in Australia.

It’s gone far enough.

Nothing reminds us of our mate-ship with Australia more than ANZAC day. We are close by, used to skipping over the ditch for holidays or work or shopping trips. According to NZTE, we also have one of the closest and broadest trade relationships in the world. Our two-way trade is worth NZ$24 billion.

So if you thought John Key might have a soft word with Tony Abbott about human right’s abuses while they were watching the cricket, you are sorely mistaken. From Key’s perspective, it’s all about  maintaining our trade relationship. Australia is New Zealand’s second biggest export market, worth NZ$13.18 billion, in things like crude oil, gold, wine and cheese.

What about New Zealand as a nation? Is there anything we can do to tell our closest mate that their behaviour is not okay? Is there anything we can do to support the human rights of Indigenous Australians and refugees? Or is it simply a case of New Zealand being the little guy, a small country without the wealth or status to do anything except bear witness?

So, unbeatable odds.

And something my Australian Great-Grandfather might have called character. When you stand up to a bully, even though he is stronger than you. Or even harder, when you speak out to a friend, knowing that your words might cost you their friendship.

I think it’s time we as New Zealanders start boycotting Australian products. We are less significant to them economically – their 7th largest export market, worth NZ$10.9 billion to the Australian economy in things like aluminium, cars, wheat, chocolate and retail medicines. But we as New Zealanders can vote with our wallets and stop buying Australian chocolates, cars and medicines. Unfortunately, this kind of global attention to human rights abuse might make the Australian Government pay attention.

Because in the shadow of ANZAC, we could remember that some people gave their lives for a sweet ideal they called freedom. And standing up to your mate when he’s being a nong, well it’s what you do when you’re a mate, isn’t it?

#BOYCOTTAUSTRALIA

 

 

 

 

Protest Challenges Police Handling of ‘Roast Busters’ Case.

puudae7Three young women wearing black chained themselves outside Auckland Central Police Station in a direct action against the police’s decision not to prosecute in the Roast Busters case. Their spokeswomen Genevieve Wilson explained that they were seeking accountability from the police, and recognition that the actions of the police have supported rape culture.

They called for a formal inquiry into the handling of the case, including the treatment of the female complainants by police. Their message to the female victims of the “Roast Busters” was that “We support you. We think you are really brave”.

The protest, that used the hashtag #silentVigil, was a powerful challenge to the New Zealand Police to be accountable for their inaction, and to be responsive in changing police culture and handling of sexual violence cases.

The protest of these three young women speaks to a much larger sentiment amongst New Zealand women that the New Zealand Police are failing us when it comes to sexual violence cases.

There’s a few complex and linked issues we could unpack about Police handling of the Roast Busters case. We need to ask questions about police actions, their knowledge about sexual violence and non-consent, and their handling of the case in respect to the kinds of messages they gave complainants and suspects.

Institutional sexism occurs through both overt mechanisms (like policies) and more obliquely through commonly held stereotypical beliefs. In this case, we need to think about whether the police culture is susceptible to some of the broader, pervasive sexist thinking that supports ‘rape culture’. Research by Shannon Chan (2013) points out that women are a minority in the New Zealand Police force, particularly at senior ranks. Shannon Chan’s research with female officers suggested that while they enjoyed the positive aspects of the force – like camaraderie – they tended to downplay sexual harassment and unwanted banter in order to ‘fit in’ and ‘be one of the boys’ within police culture. So, with a force where even female police officers need to ‘fit in’ with misogynist attitudes toward women, we have a problem.

Going forward, the key issue for the New Zealand Police is trust. Do the Police handle interviews and interactions with young women sensitively, and in a way that encourages them to make complaints and trust that their testimonies will be taken seriously? Can we trust them with our painful stories? Can we trust them to understand that liking a boy or going to a party or underage drinking is not the same thing as wanting sex?

The issue now is that the inability of the NZ Police to prosecute – when this was such a well publicised case, and when images of the boys and their Facebook messaging has been seen by most of the country – sends a far more damaging message to future victims and future perpetrators of unwanted sexual contact.

For women it reinforces the sense that we will not be taken seriously by the New Zealand Police, and that the experiences of women and girls are not as respected or valued. For boys and men it sends a message that the words of women and girls are not taken seriously. A message that some act of opportunistic, unwanted sexual contact with a girl is a risk that you can probably take.

To understand ‘rape culture’ we need to make sense of what beliefs and ideas allow rape to occur. To my mind, it’s really ways of thinking about girls and women where our lives and bodies are less valuable than the lives and bodies of men. So when the young men involved in the ‘Roast busters’ could put the esteem of their mates ahead of the feelings of the young women in front of them, that’s a rape-supportive culture. When young women don’t make statements because they are afraid of the reactions of their peers and families, that’s a rape-supportive culture. And when the New Zealand Police can lead a year-long investigation into the ‘Roast Busters’ and fail to hold the perpetrators to account, that’s a rape-supportive culture.

Meanwhile, bravo to the courageous young women that protested outside the Auckland Central Police Station today. It was an unsettling visual image to see young women with black gaffer tape across their mouths, an image that brought the silencing of young women to the fore. One woman held a sign that simply read “You failed us”.

A mass protest against rape culture and calling for police accountability is planned for the 22 November outside of the High Court at 1 pm.

Red Post-Election Blues.

There was a kind of depressed lull after the Sept 20 election, none of us on the left had much to say. I was overtaken with post-election blues; a kind of energy-sapping disappointment, frustration and despair. One of my friends posted a fb note saying that he was still processing, so could we please not talk to him about the election. I got together with a group of friends that week to provide mutual solace, and ended up kissing an environmental activist who walked me to my bus-stop. So clearly, there are always silver linings.

But overall I’ve felt that there is more to say –

We are facing an emerging picture of the impact a third National term will have. John Key has come out backing the so-called ‘child poverty’ advice of the Ministry of Social Development, even though MSD officials disregarded the main recommendations of the report. Ignoring research-based findings in favour of right-wing discourse smacks of arrogance, but clearly Key’s government feel they have a clear mandate from the election to keep rolling out quasi austerity policies.

I’ve felt disappointed by the election summations of the left. Chris Trotter gnashed his teeth about the gender quota issue in the Labour party, complaining that less than 1/5 New Zealand men gave their Party Vote to Labour. It’s interesting that even amongst the left, scapegoating marginalised groups – like women – who are more exploited for their labour is an acceptable practice. The failure of New Zealand men to vote Left speaks to the uneven distribution of  emotional labour and nurturing in our culture (i.e. that women are more often responsible for children and elderly) not the failure of feminism. It means New Zealand men largely voted in their own self-interest, rather than voting for the good of dependents. It also reflects New Zealand men’s greater earning power.

Labour is facing a four-way Leadership race between Nanaia Mahuta, David Parker, Andrew Little and Grant Robertson. I’ve felt really irritated by social media calls for people to vote on merit rather than ‘special interests’ or ‘political correctness’. It’s just really embarrassing that left-wing commentators have such a poor understanding of how structural inequalities work. Even if you are a die-hard old-school Marxist who puts the exploitation of the worker at the centre of your analysis, you should know that capitalism effects different groups of people differently, i.e. some workers are more exploited and exploitable than others. Because of the impact of structural racism (in education and the justice system for example) Maori and Pasifika peoples are more vulnerable to exploitation as low-paid workers. Even without that level of analysis, Maori and Pasifika voters did turn out for Labour, and deserve party accountability. That’s not even going near the politics of indigeneity, and what I would want to say about colonisation and Te Tiriti. So pull your heads in.

So is there a better way to theorise National’s landslide win? What stands out to me is the level of saturation of neoliberal discourse after the previous two National terms, and in a global context of ongoing austerity measures. Chomksy’s recent comments about the business classes in America fighting a ‘class war’ to challenge opposition, and discussion of the decimation of the union movement, have made reflect me on the impact on growing income inequality in New Zealand.

What if the failure of Labour to secure voters was less about political claims-making along a mutable political spectrum, and more about the division of haves and have-nots without the buffering “middle-class” we’ve generally seen?  Marx argued that we act in our own self-interest. The interests of the wealthy elite is far removed from the social and economic needs of New Zealand’s working class; perhaps why Cunliffe’s gesture towards raising the minimum wage didn’t make a dent in political consciousness.

What does it mean if New Zealand’s political process has come to represent the interests of the business classes?  We are already in a global environment where corporations have more power than individual governments. The only solutions I can think of lie with mobilising globally across different disenfranchised groups (like the global poor), and directly challenging corporations instead of simply channelling our efforts through government.

I’m really interested in hearing other people’s views on how we can create meaningful social change. Do we need to get radical?

What’s in a Name? White Bourgeois Cruelty Culture in Auckland

Okay, I’ll admit, being irritated by the naming of high-end venues and ‘concept stores’ doesn’t even seem like an issue particularly worth blogging about. It’s just that it feels so gross that nowhere along the design process did anyone go, “hey, do you think that might be – like – a little off?” So I’m going to discuss “Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen” (the rebranding of Sale St in Sale St) and “The Shelter” a ‘concept store’ in Ponsonby.

So, “Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen” of course sounds like what you would call a brewery in a very dark children’s novel with characters, like “Mr. Amis Greed”. Or perhaps what you might ironically call a bar in a dystopian novel, or a piece of contemporary art, all the while signalling that sweat shops are not known for their fun and joie de vivre.

It’s ironic, you groan. Sure enough, “Sweat Shop Brew Kitchen” is so-named because it used to be a clothing factory (See Metro’s review) where machinists used to produce denim wear for the shipbuilders and yachts down in Westhaven. A nice little slice of history, made palatable with your ageing meat sandwich.

So this is where it begins to bug me. The marketing of ‘Sweat Shop’ is about combining clothing factory historicity – think blue denim – with symbolic markers of working-class American culture – think  American BBQ cured meats, and trying to entice consumers to follow on the bandwagon of the American Charcuterie boom. Working-class Americana looks hip. The “About Us” section of their website makes these hilarious claims about being “the hardest working bar in Auckland”, which is of course not about their actual work practice, but about marketing themselves in relation to our fascination with an American narrative of hard work, sweat and beer.

So marketing working-class culture to the bourgeois in Ponsonby seems ugly, but not terribly new because in New Zealand we expect a little exotification in our marketing; how will the bourgeois know it’s any good if it doesn’t look like it’s come from somewhere else? Of course, bourgeois enjoyment of the spectacle of working-class culture depends on their distance from it (you can enjoy your stylised brew a lot more with no actual poor people around).

The part that really bugs me though is that even though the name “Sweat Shop” is what Jameson would have called ‘blank irony’ (referring to how irony in branding in late capitalism is only drawing attention to it’s referentiality or pastiche, rather than being pointed at something) the joke only works because of the consumer’s distance from actual Sweat Shops. That is, because the drinker is able to go “haha. Sweat Shop. Good one.” and not think about how “sweat shops” are so-called because of their unacceptable working conditions, and are still commonplace in the garment industry in Bangladesh, India and China.

Doesn’t that put you off your drink, even slightly? Doesn’t it seem like the pun is actually only witty because it is also slightly cruel, referring to something we know is sinister?

That’s when we come to “The Shelter”. Now generally, a shelter is a temporary residence for people or things that need shelter. So, people that are living rough, or animals, or women and children escaping abusive homes, or people who are trying to avoid being killed or maimed by bombs.

But in Ponsonby, “The Shelter” is a “concept store” (hehe as in, a store with a concept) of “like-minded” brands to provide an “artistic experience” for the “discerning shopper”. Now, my analysis would be similar to “Sweat Shop” , i.e. it is bad taste and relies on a cruel, vacuous irony to describe a place that is actually luxurious, for the rich. But bizarrely, “The Shelter” is kind of worse. How?

Well, when I looked at the marketing, there was a noticeable lack of irony. The graphic on the website has a visually opulent image of a white building that almost evokes a church. The categories on the website offer ‘Eat – Wear – Shelter – Watch’. The text reads ‘The Shelter houses a carefully curated selection on new and established brands’.. . You get the sense that Vicki Taylor genuinely imagines her store is providing a form of care and nurture via protecting the aesthetic sensibilities of the very rich. Sigh.

This is part of the continuation of discourse amongst the wealthy, white elite told over and over to nurture themselves through consumption. And what poor, wee fluffy bunnies they are. How they very definitely deserve to take shelter in a design-led haven, away from the harsh realities of a world of people needing shelter.

It seems to me a sign of things getting worse in New Zealand (and globally) when white, bourgeois folk have lost their capacity to be embarrassed by this level of stupid. Maybe it’s because we have grown. Previously you knew that the conversation would carry across different sectors in society enough that it would get back to someone’s grandmother. Someone would have pulled Vicki Taylor aside and said “hmm not a good idea honey, that’s going to sound really tacky, because you know, of the people needing actual shelters”. Maybe there is such a burgeoning gap between the wealthy and the rest of us that many upstarting bourgeois are in a bubble having conversations in closed circuits. Their white, bourgeois lack of exposure to other worlds and other world-views can breed a form of careless cruelty.

Rape Complaints and Dating Apps: Time to Talk to the Boys

Three New Zealand women have reported being raped after meeting with men via the dating app Tinder (See NZ Herald article by Anna Leask). The Herald article quotes a warning from Detective Sergeant James Watson, Head of the Adult Sexual Assault Team, about in-person meet-ups with people you meet on-line:

“Women need to be very aware of who they are meeting when they are alone and without their friends.”

Really? Huh. I’m fairly sure Detective Sergeant Watson has just described the plot of every b-grade horror flick since the 1980’s. It’s roughly the plot of Little Red Riding Hood. Girl, be aware! Don’t go alone! You may have guessed I have some problems with this advice.

Why didn’t Detective Sergeant Watson have a warning for men who use dating apps like Tinder? You know, like don’t rape! Or even, men need to be very aware when using Tinder that sexual coercion is a crime. Sexual contact that is non-consensual is rape, regardless of whether the woman has agreed to meet with you. The Police’s safety message to women reflects a culture where we are still loading women with the responsibility to avoid rape, instead of telling boys and men not to rape.

Sociologist Jaclyn Friedman has argued that these kinds of messages are linked to our understanding of women as ‘sexual gatekeepers’. That is, we portray men as having sexual desire (which is difficult to control), while women are held responsible for whether or not sex happens. In 2011, Constable Michael Sanguinetti, a Toronto Police officer, said “women should avoid dressing like sluts” to avoid unwanted sexual attention. This comment was what motivated the transnational movement ‘Slut Walk’, which protests against blaming rape victims, particularly excusing rape because of women’s clothing.

After the ‘Roast Busters’ saga last year, there is no doubt of the prevalence of rape culture, or that new social media has produced different possibilities for sexual violence. The prevalence of smart phones amongst young people simply means that of course loads of young women are going to meet people via dating apps or social networking. Telling girls not to go alone on dates seems pretty unhelpful, because it goes against the social logic of what a date is, i.e. an opportunity to get to know someone with the prospect of developing romantic feelings. This means by default that you aren’t going to know the person well, and that you are going to be alone.

Stopping rape means changing the context of heterosexual intimacy where men often engage in non-consensual sex with women they are dating, as social psychologist Nicky Gavey points out in her book ‘Just Sex: The Sexual Scaffolding of Rape’. Preventing rape means changing the ideas that boys and men have about themselves ( e.g. that they are entitled, that everyone else is getting it, that they are powerful or that they should be, that horniness is uncontrollable), and the ideas that they have about girls and women (e.g. that we are inferior or weaker, that our thoughts and feelings matter less, that our bodies are for their viewing pleasure). They need to know that a date does not mean she owes you.

It is already difficult for young women to come forward to police, and make complaints about sexual violence. The message the police should be giving women is that unwanted or coerced sex is never acceptable, and that if this occurs, they can talk to the police and be treated with respect and understanding.

Pasifika, Political, and Proud: Three Reasons Pasifika People Should Vote Out Key

So Three News had a story today June 10th on “Pacific voters” turning out for John Key in Mangere. They included a quote by National candidate Misa-Fia Turner, saying that Gay Marriage is one of the main reasons for Pasifika voters turning from Labour to National. Misa-Fia Turner says

“that’s important to us because that’s really against our moral values”.

For a start, the same-sex marriage bill has already passed in April last year. It was a conscience vote, meaning MPs could vote as they saw fit, not along party lines. It passed by 77 votes to 44, which included 27 National MPs voting for it. John Key voted for it. Misa-Fia Turner was really misrepresenting her own party.

Secondly, when National candidate Misa-Fia Turner says gay marriage is “against our moral values”, I wonder how she has managed to miss out on so much Pasifika gay and fa’afafine awesomeness, like this incredible art and cultural project.

I am a Pasifika voter. I am queer/ bisexual. I am accepted by my family and community. My past partners have been accepted by my family. Get over it. It’s certainly not a voting issue.

Pasifika peoples are pretty diverse, and of course you can’t really presume we have the same values and beliefs. But there are some issues that are significant to Pasifika peoples. Here are my top three reasons for Pasifika people to vote out National by voting Labour or left of Labour (Greens party, Mana and Internet party) based on actual issues facing Pasifika communities, and the things we collectively value.

1) We love our kids. Pasifika people know that we are all responsible for the next generation. We think in terms of our communities. Pasifika peoples in New Zealand are a youthful population, meaning that we have a lot of young people. Under the National government, child poverty has increased. We’ve seen how the children of beneficiaries have been made to suffer through Paula Bennett’s approach to welfare. We’ve seen how many young families are not meeting the cost of living even when there is a full-time earner, because wages are too low and the cost of living is too high.

Labour has policies aimed at increasing employment and minimum wage. Both the Greens and Mana/ the Internet party go even further towards stopping child poverty, by having policy aimed at better supporting beneficiary families. The current government is making things worse. It’s a no brainer.

2) We care about the health and well-being of our communities. Our communities are facing a lot of chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. After adjusting for inflation, the National government is spending less on health across 2015. In real terms, that means cutting services and probably increasing waiting times.

Both Labour and the Greens have health policy aimed at improving health by spending more. The Greens have policy specifically aimed at improving the health of populations with low health status, like Pasifika peoples. Mana is focusing on tobacco restrictions, and would introduce free after-hours medical care for children under 16 years and for senior citizens.

3) We care about the Pacific, the Pacific ocean, and its peoples. Where we come from is so important to us. We are connected to vanua. We are connected to the sea around us. The islands of Kiribati are facing potentially becoming uninhabitable in the next 30-60 years because of the impact of climate change, which is already causing salt water contamination of fresh water and crop soil. People having been talking about being ‘climate voters’ which is bipartisan, but from my perspective the only party significantly engaged with climate change is the Greens.