WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS LANGUAGE THAT MAY OFFEND. WHICH IS KIND OF THE POINT.
If Public Address has a works outing to the 2012 Big Day Out next January, I'll be in the role of designated wowser. It involves ear plugs, a thick good book and much plaintive wailing about that hippity hoppy noise and the state of the porta-loos.
Sadly, ear-plugs and a volume of Dostoyevsky can't quell my *cough* irritation and straight out fear at Auckland Councillor Sandra Coney's transformation into a self-appointed censor.
Controversial hip hop collective “Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All” appear to have had the Big Day Out welcome mat pulled out from under their feet, after intervention from Auckland Council, which owns Mt Smart Stadium.
... After he heard they would be visiting New Zealand for the annual music festival, gay Wellington man Calum Bennachie set off a chain reaction when he wrote to the Big Day Out promoters expressing his concerns and putting forward a strong case for his argument that: “lyrics such as those played by Odd Future increase the societal discourse against lgbt people, a discourse that encourages bullying and violence”.
Bennachie cc'd the email to a number of people, including the Chair of Auckland Council's Parks and Heritage Forum Sandra Coney, who quickly found s, thehe agreed with the writer.
“I approached the CEO of Regional Facilities Auckland John Brockies with Calum's concerns and my own having watched Youtube,” she says.
“After a discussion with BDO organisers this group will no longer be appearing in BDO in NZ.”
Brockie confirms this is the case and says the Council has an excellent relationship with the Big Day Out's promoters.
First, I've got to admit my considerable bemusement that GayNZ is (to coin a phrase) very comfortable with Councillor Coney managing to pull off what right-wing Deputy Mayor David Hay never managed to do in the mid-90s with the Hero Parade and associated events.
Yes, I went all the way there. We're all good liberal, tolerant folks here at Public Address. We know that dyke boobage on bikes, trannies and and Hi-NRG dance music won't magically turn you into a cock-smoker or a muff-diver. And, dare I say it, having events that Cr. Hay found deeply offensive at council-owned facilities weren't "promoting the homosexual lifestyle".
For that matter, I was living in Wellington in 1995 when Robert Mapplethorpe rolled into town - and the Wellington City Council owned City Gallery. Being casually acquainted with Bennachie, I can say with some confidence he would laughed at the idea the show's more extreme images lead to a tide of watersporting well-fisted gimps with their genitalia nailed to boards presenting at A&E departments across the Wellington region. Well, no more than usual. Wellywood is either a freaky little town or my social circle is entirely the right kind of wrong.
Let's get one thing clear: The more I find out about Odd Future the less I like. I've had a lot to say about the casual homophobia, misogyny and general macho bullshitiness of way too much popular culture -- not only hip-hop. (Though, as this blog post Russell pointed me to notes the landscape is a little more complex.) Anyone who lobs a f(aggot)-bomb - or "nigger" - at this bitch will be slapped. Hard. And often.
But I find straight line causation arguments that offensive language leads to criminal behaviour lik Bennachie's highly debatable, at best. What I do not question is that it's a very dangerous precedent to let a councillor and the unelected head of a council-controlled organisation that "provides a regional approach to running and developing Auckland’s arts, culture and heritage, leisure, sport and entertainment venues" to act as de facto censors in my name.
"So what," I hear you say. "You're just a right-winger looking for an excuse to crap on a feminist icon. And you're a hypocrite. Haven't you said more than once that freedom of speech doesn't oblige anyone else to provide a platform?"
First, whatever I think of Cr. Coney she secured her seat at the Council in a free, fair and credible election. End of story. Nor is there any evidence of impropriety (or illegality) in her appointment as chairwoman of the Parks, Recreation and Heritage Forum
And, as a matter of principle, yes, I do believe venue owners are under no obligation to stage shows they find distasteful - even if I find their reasoning completely crapulous and spineless.
But here's where Coney - and culture warriors of the right -- doesn't get to have it both ways. Whatever your ideological bent, or views on the "super city" amalgamation it's a simple reality that Auckland City - and it's rate-payers - have a lot of fingers in a hell of a lot of the region's cultural and performance infrastructure.
RFA manages $968.3 million of major regional facilities across Auckland, including:
- Auckland Art Gallery
- Auckland City Council’s interest in Vector Arena
- Auckland Zoo
- Mt Smart Stadium
- The Edge/Aotea Centre/Town Hall/Civic
- Auckland Conventions
- Viaduct Events Centre
- Western Springs Stadium.
It also has an interest in the following facilities:
- Auckland War Memorial Museum
- Bruce Mason Centre
- Museum of Transport and Technology
- North Harbour Stadium
- North Shore Events Centre
- TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre
- The Trusts Stadium.
In addition, RFA advises Auckland Council on the levy setting and governance for:
I also have to declare an interest, and note that I'm currently secretary of the Auckland Film Society (which I am not speaking on behalf of). Like many arts organisations in Auckland, AFS has enjoyed modest but gratefully received support, both direct and indirect, from local and central government over many years. We also currently hold screenings at The Academy, a space in the basement of the central library wich is leased from the Council.
Over the next few weeks, film societies will be locking down their programs for the 2012 season. I'd personally like to know if the AFS needs to worry about getting a call from offended councillors. Merata Mita's Patu! - in your face, unapologetically "biased", and with plenty of NSFW language - was one of my personal highlights of this year's season. My local councillor, I suspect, would beg to differ. He might also have failed to be terribly amused by this.
To use a bit of critical jargon: Widdums. Sandra Coney and her fellow councillors are not theatrical impressarios accountable to nobody except their investors and the box office. Public ownership means public accountability and transparency which did not happen in this case by any measure. Nor do I accept that the quid pro quo for any kind of public support of the arts in Auckland, or the hire of council-owned venues, is giving councillors and an unelected CEO power to veto programming - and then present it to the public as a done deal.
Sandra Coney and John Brockies need to front up - and I'll be inviting them to do so here, and will not tolerate any twatcockery in response - and answer the following questions:
- What was the nature of the "discussion with BDO organisers," and did it involve any threat, explicit or implied, to rip up the BDO's contract to hire Mount Smart Stadium?
- Was there any consultation with the Mayor, the other members of the PRHF or the full Council before entering into the "discussion"?
- Was any advice sought on the legal issues involved, and if so will it be made public?
- Is there any clear, objective policy on when such "discussions" will be initiated, and how they will be conducted. Or is it just about what's pissing off councillors, and well-connected lobbyists with e-mail, at any given moment?
- Has there been other cases of councillors asking the RFA CEO to have a quiet word with facilities users to drop programming they deem offensive?
I think every rate-payer in the Auckland region -- and arts organisation considering whether to stage difficult, confrontation and downright offensive (to me) work -- needs to know.
I'm also tempted to ask the former editor of Broadsheet whether she'll mark the 40th anniversary of Germaine Greer's arrest for describing anti-abortion arguments as "bullshit" in a speech at the Auckland Town Hall. Perhaps we can hook up for a coffee after Greer's Readers and Writers session at the Wellington one next year -- assuming nobody's delicate sensibilities are pre-emptively bruised.
ETA: Thanks to Boganette via Twitter, for drawing my attention to DomPost music blogger Simon Sweetman's different take. Much to argue with, and I will, but worth reading.
ETA2: If you were ever stupid enough to believe teh gayz are a Borg like hive-mind, over at GayNZ Christopher 'BipolarBear' Banks and Michael 'Gay Blade" Stevens take different positions and Craig Young asks "what the hell is 'hate speech' anyway and do Odd Future fit the bill?"