Why Complex is Wrong

There was an article published in Complex magazine that was meant to be something of a polemical attack on Lorde, you can read it here. Since it is not artistic criticism, and it takes a very patronising position I feel it is fair for me to put forth my own counter argument.

To summarise the issue at the centre of contention is a statement Lorde put up on her tumblr page speaking out against media centres like Complex asking for interviews so they can do profiles and other pieces on artists whom the public wants to read about. Their articles sell their magazines and subscriptions – they therefore rely on artists giving them time. The artists need them too for the same reason, the symbiotic relationship should not be denied.

The problem Lorde has is when the same companies dump on her work (and that of other artists) while at the same time asking – or perhaps demanding – for interview time. Mr Ahmed who penned the Complex article protests that entertainment journalists have a responsibility to maintain their journalistic integrity by criticising harshly when they deem an artist to have produced bad work. At face value this seems like a fair point. Unfortunately I believe it misses the point of what Lorde was talking about. Some critics will focus on the work and evaluate it accordingly. Sometimes however, they cross the line into personally attacking an artist, and when they do this one day and march up to her asking for an interview the next is (quite understandably) in bad form. 

I have not had the opportunity to meet Lorde and ask her myself if I am right in my interpretation of her views, so I can only examine the logic and present my own view. She wrote on tumblr in defence of her friends in the industry, and the emotional context of the post should not be forgotten.

 I have been in contact with Mr Ahmed on twitter and confronted him on a point which I felt hurt his argument and gives a revealing glimpse into the character of journalists of this kind. He made a point of saying in his argument that as a seventeen year old, Lorde understandably has an incomplete view of journalism. The patronising tone of this comment is exactly the point I am illustrating about criticism being ad hominem, or to the person. On twitter Mr Ahmed said it is part of journalistic practice to refer to the ages of subjects, and completely missed the point I was trying to make that it is a big assumption and shows a complete lack of sympathy.

According to Mr Ahmed the defence of something as being ‘journalistic’ can cover all manner of sins. Also entertainment journalists are as essential to the music industry as the artists. I can’t motivate myself to make much out of whatever someone says to make themselves feel more important – except that. Reading stuff like this in Complex reminds me why I decided not to pursue journalism, if that’s the kind of kool aid drunk by journalism students, I’m quite sure that with me it would fatally disagree.   

It cannot be unreasonable to decry attacks from the media when they are asking favours at the same time.

Film Industry, Nothing’s in the middle.

The screen industry survey which states that 79 percent of television production is in Auckland, and 81 percent of film production is in Wellington (hardly surprising figures) describes New Zealand’s film industry as ‘lumpy’. It tends to swing from one big budget production to the next with steep drop-offs in between. 

This is because if you are Peter Jackson or a low budget producer, you are okay. The government is behind lifting NZ’s meagre rate of tax breaks to make the market more attractive to overseas producers, who tend to be extremely willing to invest in a safe film maker lie Jackson. The low budget film maker is also catered for by the NZ film commission, which has continued to funda wide range of productions. But its funding level is capped at a maximum of $2 million for feature films and $1 million for documentaries. The film industry is therefore essentially bipolar, and the mid range productions which cost around $15-$20 million and have a much greater chance of making a return than low budget films – don’t get made. It is too much of a risk for the government to put up most of the finds, and Hollywood studios are generally blind to all but the heavyweights like Sir Peter Jackson.

What are we to do? My theory insane as it may seem (and of course un-costed) would be to create a scheme which offers between five and ten mid range productions that have significant New Zealand content to be given tax breaks of up to 50 percent, therefore allowing the industry to continue to grow in the downtime between the big budget umbrella productions like the Hobbit and Avatar. a dramatically higher level of tax incentives would attract overseas studios to fund the projects and give writers, producers, and directors who have proven themselves on the low budget stage to make the leap to bigger productions here rather than going offshore (which even Peter Jackson almost had to do in the late 90s).

Last year Labour’s spokesperson for Arts, Culture and Heritage Jacinda Adern said, “We have the opportunity to build a regime that is not focused on one big budget movie at a time, but that works for the whole industry, and across the whole country.” She has the right sentiment but so far no one has made a policy move to achieve it. 

Perhaps my idea is completely unrealistic, but I see that the Government’s fiscal strategy is to sell more and buy less. This maybe the right course when it comes to agriculture but it is wrong for film. Nowhere is the economic rule ‘you’ve got to spend money to make money’ more true than in the film industry. It is a high stakes game where success is unpredictable, but to succeed you have to be ready to bet higher or you can’t stay in the game. Conservatism is anathema to film.

The big fish creates the illusion that NZ film is booming. But we need a garden of poppies not just a single big one.

A Dishonourable Departure, Labour’s not a dirty word

One time Labour leadership contender Shane Jones has announced his decision to quit parliament and his party for a job in Pacific economic development. While John Key bleats that the position was not politically motivated, he pours drivel over the press – that Shane Jones is showing with his feet that the government is on the right track. While not an inaccurate conclusion to draw I will not allow the most powerful person in the country to claim disinterest while at the same time droning on about how great his government is. No part of this is apolitical, politics is everywhere.

Consider a student flat with a lease of one year. The flatmates are friends and by and large have a great time together. One of them sees an opportunity to move to a nicer flat halfway through the year and walks out on their flatmates and their agreement. They leave for entirely selfish reasons, and as thousands of students can tell you a flatmate that does this is a flatmate from hell. This is what Shane Jones has done to Labour. A man like that has no integrity and little personal honour – I’m very glad he did not become leader last year.

All major media outlets wrote suspiciously identical lines about how Labour was scrambling after the news broke on Tuesday, members expressing their shock before a suppression order was issued from the leaders office. How is this even worthy of note? The overblown turncoat didn’t forewarn most of his colleagues (although John Key and Murray McCully seemed to have been aware for some time), and the caucus is now dealing with an unexpected crisis. I would be very alarmed if the reaction was uniformly considered and weighed.  

On another note the Judith Collins saga revealed another sleazy tactic on the part of the Prime Minister – at least before the Shane Jones turd hit the proverbial fan. Key said repeatedly that Labour was ‘labouring’ the point on the Oravida scandal, a rather dull instance of his wit, but an attempt at something that could be very dangerous. He is trying to poison the heart of Labour’s brand. This tactic will only work if he persists with it and Labour fails to respond, and their response could sweep John Key’s re-branding aside with ease if done right. I am imagining a big media event in which David Cunliffe makes a speech about how the government thinks ‘labouring’ is bad when the result of the best meaning of the word labour is new life. Then a segway into how the government will only grudgingly support motherhood, how the Labour Party is the champion of women, and will aggressively fight for them. An aside about the smug assumption behind the name of the National Party, how it claims the support of the overwhelming majority, and seeks to minimise the work of government until the individual is entirely supreme.

I have read some articles and letters to the editor criticising Labour for its focus on the Judith Collins affair, rather than on policy. To those sympathetic to this view I would ask quite candidly to do some basic research into our political system. They will find that one of the fundamental pillars is the existence of an institutionalised opposition, a government in waiting whose function is to scrutinise the government and be a check on the power of the executive. Vital to this role is the questioning of ministers on matters of policy and business, if a minister has a conflict of interest it is the oppositions job to find it and publicise it. To those that think that Labour should abandon this job I say you are woefully ignorant of politics, and your opinion is not entitled to respect.   

As I have followed the political happenings over the past few weeks I have been struck by the note of assumption; even hubris in the Prime Minister’s behaviour. Even through his smiling pronouncements that the election result will be close, he seems to be winking at the cameras and saying “This is in the bag.” Jim Bolger apparently said the same thing just before the 1993 election, and his majority shrank from over a dozen to about three. Ruth Richardson said of that instance of overconfidence something that I think is quite relevant today, “no sunshine, we’ll let you get back, but we’re gonna put you on a short leash, damn right we are.” 

Shane Jones, a man constipated with his own self importance, good riddance.

Sailing on the Centre

The announcement by Prime Minister John Key that there will be no tax cuts in this years budget, and no big increases in spending, signals the beginning of his election campaign. 

It has been a favourable start to the year for him with his only problems coming from his cabinet colleagues. He has done the right thing in not allowing himself to be shaken by the minor scandals, and to not react defensively to the opposition’s baiting. Today he said that any big spending increases beyond $1 billion will put pressure on the reserve bank to increase interest rates, and runs the risk of putting the government in the position of being ‘part of the problem’. There is a clear reference to Ronald Reagan and the neo-liberal ideology in that statement, which should ensure their continued loyalty, but the assurance of no tax cuts will reassure the swing voters who abandoned Labour in 2008 and 2011. Without those voters Labour cannot win.

Key has successfully set the boundaries of this election in so narrow a way that his advantage is obvious. Labour is still beset with internal difficulties and a leap to the centre runs the risk of alienating the more radical voters. National has a much easier task of keeping its voter coalition together by charting a course dead centre. There is no ‘mood for change’ to give the opposition a leg up – which gave Key an obvious advantage over Clark in 2008 – and unless something like the Global Financial Crisis erupts in the next term we may be looking at a four term government. Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself, but I do see all the signs of a government that is settling in for a long time. More than a dozen government ministers have signalled their retirement this year giving the chance for the National party to renew itself. Public opinion has certainly not hardened on the Prime Minister, and we would do well to remember that the PM does not have to be overwhelmingly popular to find themselves re-elected. Remember how polarising John Howard was after Iraq yet he still got through to a forth term. Gillard was also highly controversial in 2010 when she swung through with a minority government. 

I believe 2014 will be John Key’s high point, when he floated on the nimbus of his populism with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in tow – and their chubby little future King – the year he will look back on and think ‘where did it all go?’ What goes up must come down and if Key decides to stick around he will face the inevitable fall. The point I would stress is that he does not look likely to descend any time soon. He may not wait that long, I think he is far to smart – to much of a shrewd politician to wait and be condemned to convention. After all he did consider resignation over the Canterbury earthquakes. He is clearly not desperate to do the job, I think this may be why he is so effective, and can maintain his cool. I think he will resign once his popularity properly ebbs, and other ministers will be left to go down with the ship. Not the most honourable action, but he is not a man driven by honour, he views things realistically – crucially this is how he views himself.

What does that mean for us – the New Zealand public? It means that we can rely on a Prime Minister now tempered with two terms of experience, who will manage our affairs at home and abroad with efficiency and expediency. He is the modern day Keith Holyoake, a leader who manages the country for a long time (Keith served twelve years) but doesn’t attempt any big, fundamental changes. It should be remembered however that twelve years after Keith left office New Zealand went through a period of such dramatic change we have still not got over it. The extremity of the reforms of the fourth Labour Government and the fourth National Government were caused in part by the failing of governments before 1984 to recognise the need for change. We don’t want to slip into the psychosis of preserving the status quo when it means having to face more extreme shifts in the future. Keeping an eye on what is looming ahead is a good policy.

Keith Holyoake

Don’t be surprised if John Key lasts longer than Helen Clark