Random Play by Graham Reid


Soul to Seoul

While I’ve never denied television’s ability to entertain and inform us I have often, usually at a dinner table after a few reds, wondered aloud about its ability to actually educate us. I cite shark docos.

Consider how many shark documentaries you may have seen -- then ask what do you actually know after all these hours of often repetitive re-enforcement viewing: that sharks are Nature’s “natural born killers“, don’t gobble as many humans as we think and . . .

Most people run out about there (I know I do) and statistics or specifics are in short supply. Which makes me wonder why I bothered to go to the preview screening of Sharkwater at the Lido earlier this week -- but I'm very glad I did.

You may have caught the young US director Rob Stewart interviewed on radio and television in the past couple of days, but the little I have heard hardly did his remarkable film justice -- and in a couple of instances passed lightly over the centrepiece and point of this often beautiful, important and quite distressing film: the barbaric trade in shark fins.

Although Sharkwater starts as a convention doco extolling the beauty of sharks and makes the point how few people are killed every year (five on average apparently, which is fewer than are killed by soft drink dispensers), it rapidly becomes advocacy journalism for the work of Sea Shepherd and through some courageous guerrilla filming uncovers the illegal and appalling Taiwanese trade in shark fins out of Costa Rica. (About 15,000 sharks killed in the 90 minutes running time of the movie. There‘s a fact. And of course it doesn‘t stop when you leave the cinema.)

As someone who grew up with a respect for what my Dad called “the law of the sea” (you help those in distress, never endanger others and so on because the sea isn’t cruel, just indifferent to you) I have always had mixed feelings about the aggressive activities of Sea Shepherd -- but now I am persuaded.

In the absence of anyone else trying to counter this disgraceful trade head-on you have to side with them.

To see these remarkable creatures being dumped back into the bloodied ocean after their fins have been sliced off is compelling in its awfulness. It kept me awake last Tuesday night.

Of course shark fins have that reputation in China of being good for virility or whatever (no evidence of course, in fact mercury levels in sharks suggest the opposite could be true) but that only reinforces what I have always believed: not everything in a culture is of value or worth retaining. Bantering “our culture” is no defence.

Some cultures have practiced slavery, others genital mutilation. Are these cultural values worth retaining? In my opinion so it is with bullfighting, shark fin soup, whale meat, women at the back of the room . . .

I commend Sharkwater to you. It is about much more than magisterial sharks, it might make you think about such wider and knotty issues.

I have previously offered a qualified commendation of this for very different reasons. Just an amusement.

And apropos of nothing: Is it just me or if you were American spy-types would you be more worried about the security at Waihopai than the actual act of sabotage carried out by three amateurs who snuck under cover of fog and used wire cutters and a sickle? Makes you wonder what real saboteurs could have achieved, huh?

Just me again or did most television news coverage really miss the significance of the Flight of the Conchords' US success? Consider this: a Kiwi golfer has been doing moderately well in British and US tournaments and then takes on the US Open. At the end of the first day he is sitting in third position beating out Tiger Woods and other big name players. Now, where do you think that story might have been placed in the 6pm news order?

More money than sense? Many years ago Geoffrey Palmer made an off-the-cuff comment about the declining intelligence of the Kiwi public. He noted that very soon we would be putting up signs saying “don’t hit people, it hurts them”. Well, that time has come long ago -- although Cancer Society advertising that it is safe to take off your summer hats really is a new low.

Chinese on the menu?: If the Dalai Lama has succeeded in exporting Tibetanism (the Tibet you have in the absence of Tibet itself) then have the recent pro-China demonstrations around the world proven that China has also exported “China-ism” through the Diaspora of its people? If so, that is something to think about. Keith starts the important and necessary discussion here.

And . . . Whether you agree or not with the removal of GST from certain basic food items isn’t it just a little depressing to hear the same reasons trotted out by those against that: that it would be too difficult? You mean the finest minds of the economics graduates in Treasury and elsewhere couldn’t think laterally and find a workable way? Just like they have in other countries? Hmmm. I’m not for it myself, but that’s a pretty lame reason.

Your input requested: I have been invited to participate in one of the roundtable discussions about the role of the Auckland War Memorial Museum and how it can have a deeper engagement with the city. Feel free to let me know your ideas via the discussion thread here or, if you wish you can make some more private comment through here.

And finally: This coming week I shall be blogging from Seoul where I am going to look at urban design and public architecture, speak with musicians young and old, go to art galleries, engage with cutting edge digital artists, and check out their media. And more. Should be fun.

Seoul (population about 10million) is a vibrant city. I have been three times and cannot lie, I am really looking forward to going again. Nice people too and of course great food. Dunno if they do shark fin soup (I’ve never seen it there) but I will perhaps politely decline bosintang if it is offered.

In my absence I have posted a lot of diverse music here and brought back some albums that other media seems to be only just getting to.

(I hope those much promised electricity blackouts haven’t started by the time I get back. But if we don’t have them -- won’t you be just a teensy bit disappointed after all the advance publicity?)

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