issue#34


POINT issue#34 (3-9 JULY 2013) with a conoisseur's cover includes POINT Ed's thoughts on the topsy-turvey rhetoric of environmentalism as it finds itself currently being broadcast, Anne Marie Niven's review of  the film WHITE LIES  and the first part in Malcolm Dean's well received article on the fate of the postal service.


THE CRIMES OF AESTHETICISATION
and

THE ANAESTHETICS OF ENVIRONMENTALISM

POINT Ed.


Strange things have been happening and strange things are being said by strange people (or so it seems). Whether ‘strange’ is really the right word and whether we should really be surprised (but we should, shouldn’t we?) is perhaps another question. . . maybe, ‘alien’ is better, and maybe ‘surprise’ could be better rendered by ‘alienation’, who knows . . . we’ll see, . . . eventually . . .  even if the event arrives a bit too late.

POINT recently acquired a radio, and different radio stations have been heard playing tunes or reporting news at various times around the OFFICES. The state broadcaster has been one of the stations we have tuned into recently and we’ve been paying attention to the kinds of information flows which it channels and to the kinds of information others choose to channel through it. Mining, Oil and Gas Exploration (and associated industries and interests) have been exploiting a considerable amount of that precious resource which is ‘air-time’ in recent weeks, and well, strange things seem to be happening there - air-time pollution perhaps. Listening to an interview with the ‘honorable’ Nick Smith (‘Conservation’ Minister), Gareth Hughes (Green Party spokesperson) and Damian O’Connor (Labour MP for the West Coast Tasman), I was somewhat surprised (indeed, even alienated) by a game of rhetorical topsy-turvey which saw our Conservation Minister and Gareth Hughes fighting over whose party was in fact the ‘real’ supporter of mining in this country - both fought desperately for the same scarce resource of sensible and pragmatic supporter of mining.

But that interview was not the first to raise the suspicion that political and rhetorical strategies in this area are ‘not what they used to be.’ A few days earlier, in a radio documentary dedicated to the ‘Petroleum Industry’ (and also aired on the state broadcaster) considerable air-time was given over to representatives of both Shell and Anadarko in addition to their opponents (notably some prominant activitists from here in Dunedin). Although disappointed I was not surprised that environmental opponents would be busy attempting to attack the economic grounds on which oil and gas exploration were being promoted (the same rhetorical strategy Gareth Hughes seemed to be running in the other interview, which unfortunately cedes the terms of reference to the economistic opposition). But I was, at least initially, surprised to hear the representatives of Shell and Anadarko spending their time talking about ‘environmental’ issues and therefore ceding terms of reference to the environmentalist opposition. A bizarre situation with everyone ceding terms of reference to their opponents. . . or were they?

As I listened more carefully I realised that the way that rhetorical territory was being given up by the pro-drilling lobby was slightly awry. The kind of environmentalism they were espousing was both depoliticised and de-ethicised. It was an environmentalism of ‘beauty’ and of the ‘sublime,' a conservationism dedicated to protecting the delicate and tasteful aesthetic semblance of ‘green’ and ‘pure’. By aestheticising the environment, the pro-oil lobby managed to depoliticise it.  On the other hand, by talking dollars and cents the environmental activists managed to anaestheticise the real import of their environmentalism. Shouldn’t those other numbers, the ones relating tons of carbon to degrees of climate change be the real issue under debate . . .  Is this, I found myself asking, the way radio channels information?


WHITE LIES
By Anne-Marie Niven


Marketing of films tends to fall into only a few major categories: either a film is produced and marketed from the outset as a commercial ‘blockbuster,’ some kind of specific genre effort, or it falls into the catch-all category of ‘art-house’ or  ‘festival’. Usually it is clear as to which category a film and its marketing belong, but the ever greater push to commercialise the obscure has leant itself to a number of self-consciously hybrid forms.

White Lies, directed by Mexican ex-pat Dana Rotberg and based on Witi Ihimaera’s short story/novella Medicine Woman, seems to be one of these hybrid (or perhaps schizophrenic) efforts. At first sight, Ihimaera’s post-colonial tale of identity politics and the quirks of Rotberg’s previous productions, would seem to situate the film steadfastly inside the ‘festival’ crowd. But South Pacific Pictures, sensing (or doing their very best to plan into existence) an ‘unexpected’ runaway boxoffice success have pushed the film as a much more commercial endeavour with the hope, often explicitly mentioned in their publicity, of achieving the kind of ‘success’ which Ihimaera’s last script (for Whale Rider) earnt. With all the money and effort the producers are putting into its marketing it is perhaps a little difficult to extract the film itself from all the paratextual paraphernalia - it’s even difficult to decide what is text and what is paratext amongst the froth . . . to coincide with the film’s release we even see Random House publishing a new edition of Ihimaera’s story under its new title White Lies.

House, Prebble and Black in a tennis match of White Lies

Despite the evident desperation of the spin, the film itself is fairly engaging. Although it opens with a brutally ‘black and white’ prefatory sequence and some cringingly wooden performances (particularly with the poorly caricatured background characters), the story’s trajectory eventually finds its feet as do the three central actors.

Whirimako Black, Rachel House and Antonia Prebble unfold the tale of (almost...) unexpected colonial identity theft into a tensely emotional intimacy, at times paranoid and racked with a sense of intrigue and deception. Tuhoe Medicine Woman Paraiiti (Black) is secretly engaged to abort the unwanted child of the wealthy young wife of an absent European patriarch. The initial distance between these two characters is mediated by House who plays a ‘repressed’ Maori servant to her mistress the wife (Prebble). The film is at its best as the three characters unwind the charged personal complexities of the twisted identity politics which Ihimaera’s story presents. The film benefits from the translation of most of Paraiiti’s part and bits and pieces of other parts of the script into Te Reo (with accompanying subtitles) although I have heard that some of the translations are a bit clunky and anachronistic (something I cannot comment on, not having any Te Reo to judge by).

But it ultimately doesn’t quite work . . . Despite great performances from the three main actors and the expert work of Alun Bollinger with the camera, the supporting infrastructure is far too clumsy: the complexities of the personal identity politics are not matched by realistic complexities outside the menage √° trois or in the macro politics. This may be because a feature film demands more complex background than the short story it’s based on can supply, or it may simply be due to heavy handed direction which makes black and white (rather than the grey the story seems to demand) of white lies.  It is here that the desperate flavour of the film’s paratextual marketing blurs into the commercialising simplicities in the film’s textual fabric.


RETURN TO SENDER

Post-post-post-Office: Rethinking the Closures
By Malcolm Deans




The recent announcement that NZ Post will close its Dunedin Mail Centre, with the loss of 73 jobs, has come as a major blow to the Dunedin economy, already reeling from the closure of the Hillside Engineering railway workshops last year. NZ Post has decided it wants to close the Dunedin, Wellington and Hamilton mail processing centres, as well as all its small satellite centres, centralising all sorting at the remaining three: Auckland, Manawatu, and Christchurch. The restructuring process would result in 500 job losses, compensated by 380 additional jobs after centralisation, a net loss of 120 jobs. With the loss of 100 jobs from its corporate section earlier in the year and the threat of a reduction in service to three-day delivery with the resulting impact on postal workers, NZ Post management seem determined to add more workers to the ranks of the unemployed alongside other government owned or operated organisations.

At the same time that state-owned enterprises are throwing long-serving employees on the scrapheap the National government is dreaming up ways to force beneficiaries into competing harder for fewer and fewer available jobs while letting the private sector tap into government revenue streams in the process. Witness the recently revealed plans to pay private contractors up to $12,000 per person to get mentally ill beneficiaries into waged work.

The news of the impending closure of the Dunedin Mail Centre has drawn heavy criticism from the mayor, the editor of the ODT, and the Chamber of Commerce, for ignoring the economic needs of the region but predictably these criticisms have been couched in the language of regional competitiveness, setting workers in this region up against workers in Christchurch. The mayor of Hamilton is also on record saying that Hamilton should have been expanded at the expense of Auckland.

For the postal workers, however, this is just one more result of the corporatisation and deregulation of the postal service that has taken place since Labour first split up the old NZ Post Office into NZ PostPostbank, and Telecom in 1987, corporatising them in preparation for privatisation. Initially to be privatised, NZ Post managed to escape the fate of the other two SOEs with the government steadily moving towards a fully deregulated postal market. Letter delivery was fully deregulated on 1st April 1998 which required NZ Post to open up its postal network to private companies to compete without any of the requirements placed on the NZ Post to deliver a universal service that reaches the whole community. Under the Univeral Service ObligationNZ Post is required by law to deliver letters throughout the country, 6 days a week, at a standard rate of 70 cents. Private competitors enjoy full access to the NZ Post network with none of the obligations to the NZ public allowing them to ‘cherry pick’ the most profitable urban mail deliveries. NZ Post currently gives access to 6 private postal operators with one, DX Mail, running its own delivery and box services. NZ Post has lost almost 40% of market share to its competitors.

Although letter volumes have declined dramatically over the last few years due to the ubiquity of email and social media, the parcel business has increased substantially due to the rise of internet trading. Deregulated earlier than letter delivery, the parcel courier market is a duopoly in which NZ Post-owned Express Couriers Ltd (ECL) compete with Freightways. A 50 : 50 joint venture with DHL since 2005, NZ Post bought DHL’s share of ECL out last year for $108 million. ECL has 40% of the market share in courier services. Always a profitable business NZ Post could be even more profitable if it did not have to compete under unfair conditions with non-union private operators. Wages in NZ Post are below the NZ industrial wage average and are even lower again in the prive competition. Deregulation and partial privatisation have been a disaster for workers. NZ Post’s current round of restructuring will lead to a vicious cycle of inferior services and declining mail volumes. Postal workers, and the communities they serve, need to join together to fight against the further destruction of our public postal service. In next week’s POINT I will discuss how we can do this.


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