Cynical Rot

This is a response to the torrid commentary in NZ media in general, and in particular to an opinion piece by Finlay Macdonald that was posted on RNZ on August 9. You can read his piece here.

Of all the disgusting articles posted about Metiria Turei’s resignation, Finlay Macdonald’s contribution is particularly mean-spirited. He argues, in short, that it wasn’t the offense at the centre of the controversy – lying to Work and Income – that was bad, it was Turei’s own handling of the affair. Further, he charges that it was absurd that she should resign on the basis that the public scrutiny of her family was unbearable, because, as he puts it:

“Having invited scrutiny of her private life… If it is not too blunt to ask, what the hell did she expect?” – Finlay Macdonald on Metiria Turei.

That sent a chill to my occipital lobe, perhaps because it is self-evidently victim blaming language. She was asking for it, she should have known what would happen, bad Turei! I say this is absolutely and stunningly wrong, not only in moral terms, but as a basic political analysis.

The layers of irony in Macdonald’s piece might be funny if they were not so overdrawn. I almost expect a disclaimer that the article is a clumsy satire on media commentators becoming so saturated in parliamentary politics that they are more hack than human. At least, they have either forgotten the human element, or simply deny that it exists.

This is deep cynicism, to actually convict Turei of the heresy of not being cynical. Of not acting as a cold and ruthless political machine. Of having the temerity to be hurt when her family is bullied and harassed for nearly a month by the media, and attacked online by political opponents, and troglodytes with nothing to say that isn’t intended to hurt.

The crux of Macdonald’s argument, and I think it encapsulates the thinking of many on the centre-left, is that the damage done to the Green Party, and the left in general, is the sole responsibility of the former co-leader. Here, I smell the sterile odor of a whitewash, the clean-up crew from the political centre heaping as much rubbish onto the most prominent Māori leader the left has. All to spare their dream of a gentle change of government from centre to centre. Nevermind that it is mere weeks since Labour was itself in turmoil, no, Turei might have spoiled it all.

Therefore, if the result of the September election is that Jacinda Ardern is not Prime Minister, fault can be dumped on Turei for fatally compromising the campaign. Forgive my cynicism, but I think it is distinctly less rotten because unlike Finlay Macdonald, I don’t expect or desire politicians to act cynically. I don’t think it is ever desirable to put the world-weary in command of even a slice of the world.

The truth might actually be that Metiria Turei didn’t know what speaking up about her experience on the DPB in the 1990s would do, but that she genuinely believed it worth taking the risk and standing up for the powerless.  Doing so is worth losing support today, even her own position, and maybe even the election. Is it worth changing the government if the price is shutting down such an important debate about dignity in the welfare system? I don’t think it is, frankly.

However, I’m glad to say that the debate isn’t going away. This particular elephant has been in the room a long time and Metiria Turei has turned us to face it. That she paid a heavy political, and personal price should not be thrown back in her face. The tragedy is that New Zealand politics is a little more cynical.

 

 

 

NZIFF: Final Portrait

Righto, not having written a blogpost in a while I will keep this fairly terse. The New Zealand International Film Festival is on in Wellington, and if you are in a position to attend a screening I strongly recommend that you do. In fact, don’t even check what you are about to see. Get a ticket for whatever and enjoy the surprise; independent cinema won’t hurt you. Now then, on to what I saw today:

Final Portrait (wri/dir: Stanley Tucci, starring: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer) is a character study of Swiss-Italian artist Alberto Giacometti (b. 1901 – d.1966), set in Paris in 1964.

Giacometti, a draftsman and sculptor as well as a painter, is particularly known for his  style of rendering the human form in long, gaunt, monochromatic shapes. Coincidentally, my father showed me some of Giacometti’s work only a matter of weeks ago, and it was the first time that I actually took note of who he was. Therefore, seeing Final Portrait was, for me, a perfect elaboration from that introduction.

Geoffrey Rush is just as brilliant as I expected, playing irritable, chain-smoking, eccentrics is hardly a leap for him, but few could have done it better. Rush captures the look of Giacometti; the muttering bleakness of his spirit, and all the idiosyncrasies to be found in painters. I don’t have the knowledge to verify to accuracy of the portrayal, but to do so would be a mistake in my view. It would be beside the point. Let me explain.

James Lord (played by Armie Hammer), was Giacometti’s biographer, and in the movie he is enduring sitting after sitting in the hope of getting a finished portrait of himself to take back to New York, where his fiancee is waiting for him. The days pass by, and progress is slow. Giacometti sits opposite Lord in the studio and watches him, getting him to move his body by miniscule amounts, stopping work frequently crying, “fuck!” Sometimes packing up having only added a few strokes to the picture. As the sessions wear on, Lord’s morale is worn thin, and he despairs that the painting will never be finished.

Giacometti also despairs. That he can’t finish anything. He says to Lord, “When I was young I thought I could do anything, when I grew up I realised I can do nothing.” This may not be mere fatalism, but an expression of the existentialist view that modernity is vacuous. That it is without meaning. In the face of that, Giacometti searches for meaning in his subjects – in James Lord.

The painting itself, and the act of painting it, is cathartic for both Giacometti and Lord. The film, with it’s wit, and its excellent supporting cast (Clémence Poésy (Caroline), Tony Shalhoub (Diego Giacometti), James Faulkner (Pierre Matisse), Sylvie Testud (Annette Arm), is a much easier watch than Mr. Turner was, which is the best film I can compare it with – in terms of being about an artist.

Unfortunately, I have exhausted my analytical ability, and to continue to slip on the keyboard would be a waste of my, and your time. For art lovers this is not a film to miss.

That’s all for now.