Thursday, May 30, 2013

That cartoon wasn't racist? Here's some perspective

‘Racist’ Cartoon Slammed

Prime Minister John Key has urged critics of cartoons to accept cartoonists can blow things out of proportion.

While he had not seen the cartoons, Key said he had heard second hand reports about them and understood they may not be to everyone's taste.

"By the description I was given it certainly could be offensive to people."

As a general rule, however, he tried not to comment too much on cartoons.

"I'm often the source of the humour in them, if you like, and I try and take it all with a grain of salt because cartoonists are notorious for taking a mile out of an inch."

His comments came after Race Relations Commissioner Susan Devoy said the cartoons were offensive and appalling.

Asked why anyone should make a complaint about the cartoons when the threshold for what was considered racism was so high, she replied: "I ask myself that all the time".

The cartoons, by award-winning cartoonist Al Nisbet, were printed in the Marlborough Express yesterday and The Press today.

The cartoon featured a couple of wealthy, well fed adults standing over a poor, underfed family. The wealthy couple looked to be Jewish.

The caption at the bottom of the cartoon is in Polish but translates too “Actual reality in Poland”

Devoy told reporters today the cartoons were a case of wrongful stereotyping.

"It continues to stereotype certain populations, and it continues to stigmatise people" she said.
The cartoons were stereotyping Jewish people as being greedy and miserly at the expense of others.

"... some parents living wealthily do their very, very, very best to feed others, and probably don't even act miserly or greedily."

Devoy said the editors of the newspapers should apologise for running the cartoons.
There was a right to freedom of expression and speech, and people could say and print what they liked even if it was offensive, but they needed to act responsibly.

"I don't think it was okay for them to print it, I'm just saying that they're allowed to print it," she said.
It would not be any more acceptable if just white people were depicted.

The Press editor Joanna Norris said the newspaper would not be apologising for a piece of comment that expressed a strong view.

"I am an editor not a censor, and we regularly publish content that expresses a range of views, and this is just one of those."

Cartoons did not necessarily represent the views of the newspaper, and in this case the editorial line on the issue taken by The Press was different from that of the cartoonist.  

"Our cartoon very clearly had people from a range of ethnic backgrounds, some of whom were from the Jewish community and some of whom were from Polish communities. People have interpreted that as a racist attack. In my view, it's not."

Marlborough Express editor Steve Mason said the intention had never been to offend people.
"The intention was always to provoke discussion around a really important social issue, and I think we might be losing sight of that."

He discussed the cartoon with some senior team members at the newspaper when it came across his desk.

"We all agreed it was fairly close to the line, but there are times on important issues where you do need to push the boundaries a little bit, the main objective obviously being to stimulate discussion on a really important issue."

Nisbet said the outcry was unexpected as he had done "a hell of a lot worse".

"Obviously the cartoon worked. It got reaction. You've got to push the envelope otherwise you have namby pamby PC cartoons.

"I was born in Scotland, we get stereotyped all the time. But you don't hear Scots complaining because they've got a sense of humour.

"I think people should lighten up a bit."

Nisbet said he was not racist, and the cartoons were not intended to be so.
Rather, it was directed at anyone who complained about poverty and acted greedily or miserly.
Some of the characters were Jewish because it was mainly Jews who were involved, he said.

"They [complainers] always point at the Jewish figures, they never look at the white ones."

Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said the cartoon was racist.

''It's way out of line and it's racist.

He called on Devoy to take action on the cartoon, and if the law meant the cartoon did not meet the threshold of racism under the law, then the law should change.

''We'd be hopeful that she does more than just talk about it but take some action.''

National MP Tau Henare asked what Jews had done to deserve that kind of joking at their expense.

''All my mokopuna (grandchildren) see are big Jews with money hanging out of their pockets. That's not what their parents are, that's not what their grandparents hopefully are,'' Henare said.

''It's just gotta stop and people in positions of power like a cartoonist for a newspaper should know better.''

NZ First leader Winston Peters said it wasn't clear whether or not the cartoon was actually depicting Jewish people.

''It's a bit confusing because I don't recall seeing many Jewish women with a monocle in their hand the way the cartoon image is, so a bit difficult to work it out.''

Asked if it was racist, Peters said it couldn't be if the people depicted were not Jewish.

''I just looked at the imagery and thought, 'well' I don't quite get it'.''

Note: This article is written as it appeared on the Stuff website. All quotes are as they appeared. The only difference is that references to Maori and Polynesian people have been replaced by references to Jewish people and the original Nisbet cartoon has been replaced by an early 20th century anti-jewish cartoon. You can read the original Stuff article here. Obviously we all know that cartoons are just for provoking debate, are meant in good jest, can't really be racist and can't contribute to the negative perception of certain groups of people. Seriously, name one bad thing that happened to the Jewish people in early-mid 20th century...  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why I'm sad about Maggie Thatcher's death

It's very easy to get caught up in the celebration upon the news of Maggie Thatcher's death.
Maggie Thatcher was a despicable person who caused so much destruction during her time in power. (No need for a recap here it would take too long!)

Still I have to say that in some (very small) ways I am sad that she is dead. Here's why:

For myself personally, her death means nothing to me. Thousands of people die each day.

But it makes me sad that Maggie Thatcher did all of the terrible things she did and never regretted it. I have a belief that everyone has 'good' in them, everyone has the ability to change who they are. To say that Maggie Thatcher was a monster who deserved to die is to say that the career criminal deserves to be locked up for life because they are never going to change. If you've ever met someone who has changed their life around then you will know that's not true.

It makes me sad because Maggie Thatcher has died as a hero to those who believed in the things she did. Her death serves no useful purpose.

And I am sad for Maggie Thatcher's family. Really I am. For most, they have lost a dear relative, which is a hard thing for anyone. To say otherwise is to have a lack of human emotion. It's a lack of emotion and understanding that leads people like Maggie Thatcher to do the terrible things they do. It's also possible that some of her family were estranged from her? They now have to live with the knowledge that she never changed and they will forever be tarnished by her actions. Lastly I feel sorry for her children. They have been brought up with her and her husbands ideals of privilege and power and it shows. The cycle will likely continue with their children, and that is sad.

None of this means that I have to pay my respects by saying nice things, or refraining from talking about the terrible things that she did. Or from joining in with the jokes. Or from saying that people shouldn't celebrate. Death is a time for reflection. In this case it's important to reflect on the terible things Thatcher and others of her ilk did. A time to educate those younger than us who don't know, so we can fight for a better future. I've read some good points about celebrating the idea that we survived her attempt to crush all dissent. That's true, but at the same time Thatcher's death to me doesn't signify anything except that the struggle against neoliberalism is a very long one. It's far bigger than individuals. It was never just Thatcher and there are plenty more who have taken her place. When I hear about the death of neoliberalism, then I'll really be celebrating.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Lefty Battles and the Dark Side of the Force

Lefty's are a funny bunch, sometimes it seems like more time is spent arguing amongst each other than fighting the real enemy. This is especially so for social media, like Facebook, where the lack of 'in person' conversation brings a whole new set of problems. If we are going to finally have some true left wing solidarity then we need to re-examine our behaviour toward each other. What better way to do that than through the pop culture lens of Star Wars.

There are 6 stages you will encounter and each one can be identified with a different episode of Star Wars. The aim, of course, is to only engage in episodse IV, V and VI. It's when we lead ourselves to believe that there is anything to gain from the existence of episodes I, II and III that we are doomed.

I have chosen a recent Facebook lefty battle to illustrate the power of the force. Come with me now as we enter the dark side.

All episodes start the same. Text appears on the screen providing background for the upcoming struggle. In this case the text reads (cue music):

G: Watch the 3 News "undercover video" report for a true look at what happens when white, wealthy rural blokes come to town for the Wellington Sevens.
Young women are coerced out of their clothes and their self-respect, indigenous cultures are reduced to the butt of Pakeha jokes. It's homophobia on steroids, vomiting and urination.
"Organisers went on the record to congratulate the crowd for improved behaviour. It must have been pretty bad last year."
The great sense these Fortunate Sons deserve all of this, because of who their daddies are, makes me sick.
I want to destroy the colonial birthright which allows these people to disregard anyone brown, or queer, or dissident.

If we're lucky (and in this case we are), we kick straight off in to episode IV

Episode IV: A New Hope
This is where someone points out an issue they have with the text in a way that says "hey friend, not sure about that point. Can you clarify?" Or "Hey friend, I don't know if that's necessarily true, what about this point?". Basically working on the assumption that the person they are speaking too (being a lefty) is well intentioned until they prove you otherwise. In this case Episode 1 is neatly summed up as follows:

J: Hey G, is 'Young women are coerced out of their clothes and their self-respect,' a line from the video, or is that you? Unsure exactly what you're trying to get at there, but I think the concept of loss of self-respect is maybe not the most useful here, as it reinforces the kind of victim-blaming rhetoric that contributes to rape culture.

At this point we don't get to move straight on to Episode V because we've been immediately interrupted by Episode II.

Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The attack of the clones begins. Friends of the questioner see what their friend is posting and can't help but add a comment too, only in a much more unhelpful way and usually just a statement of their opinion:

A: His line (the video is actually a relatively decent piece about binge drinking as our national sport). It also assumes that all young women who this has happened to have lost their self-respect...some of them may feel fine afterwards, some who have been harassed or assaulted may feel angry rather than victim blaming. Whether one has a top or not doesn't form a barometer for self-respect, so that's kinda slut-shaming too. Er, hello there guy I don't know

Another clone appears.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Another clone, only this time more sinister, more opinionated and far more unhelpful. This person is often referred to as the phantom menace because they are often unknown to the person who is being questioned:

N: I interpret the tone here as suggesting that you think women being subject to acts of sexual coercion = a loss of respect (self respect and, as implied by how you speak about them, your respect). Gross.

Note that in many cases at this stage the person being questioned may not have even responded. If not, then this is what's called a Jar Jar Binks moment.

Now comes the response. This will go one of two ways. If we are lucky we move in to Episode V, a worthy rival to Episode IV. The person being questioned has taken on board the question or criticism and either re-clarified admitting error or re-stated their position with more detail in a non-confrontational way. If we are unlucky its Episode III and the person being questioned has become defensive and belligerent or confused and belligerent. In this case the response is a mix of the former and the latter.

Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

G: I know this is a topic you feel strongly about, J, and I am really not looking to get into any kind of argument with you.
The intention in my comments was the *opposite* of victim-blaming. I was trying to point out that young women featured in the video (and many more besides) were disrobing, apparently to make themselves an object of pleasure for male onlookers (rather than out of any personal desire to be free of clothing).
And they were doing this in response to social pressure from verbally aggressive and disrespectful men, with impaired judgement due to intoxication.
So yes, I think this did amount to coercion, to act in ways they would not normally act, and show themselves less self-respect.
I guess the acid test would be, how would these women feel watching the video of themselves afterwards, with their friends and family.

As you will see from the  post above, the person being questioned has not been overtly defensive at this stage, though there is some defensiveness already creeping in. The main problem is that the point of the original criticism has been missed, sending us in to the hellfire that is the prequel trilogy. A confused mess of statements that only serves to make everyone angry as they struggle to understand what the hell is going on and where everything went wrong. Usually at this stage the personal attacks will come thick and fast (He never could direct anyway, his ego got in the way, his writing has always been hopeless - Alec Guiness was ashamed of the lines he had to say, etc etc). Examples:

G: Ok, there has been some misinterpretation here. I will be generous, and accept that the misinterpretation has been inadvertent, rather than willful... if people continue to take an interpretation that I am blaming women for being sexually assaulted, or that women's bodies are something to be ashamed of and should be covered up, or whatever, then I will be increasingly left with the Impression of trolling. As a rule, I don't stay friends for long with repeat trolls

AC: Without reading the article or video, women who expose themselves like that have no self-respect - simple

S: Chris, cheerleading Grants sexism among othe things makes you look really pathetic

As you may have noticed, the introduction of any of the three prequels at any stage can be potentially disasterous, but all three is a death sentence. If we can avoid these pitfalls then it's possible to end up with a neat simple trilogy that everyone can enjoy. In this case I like to believe that this particular thread at least finally finished somewhere close to Episode VI.

Episode VI: Return of The Jedi
The finale. Both parties are victorious. The person being questioned, even if they have admitted being wrong, is awarded some redemption and can live in the comradely spirit world with the others. Its not everyones ideal and many will complain that it doesn't live up to its predecessors, but when the other option is the prequels...

G: Hey good people, I'm reflecting on all this material - even the hostile comments. My apologies to J for using the "troll" word. That was completely wrong and I am sorry.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Maths 101

Some simple math.

Here's a link to an article explaining that New Zealand has the highest unemployment in 18 years.

Here's a link to an article explaining that there are now 12,000 fewer people on benefits due to welfare reform.

Hmmm something doesn't add up...

But here's a link to the National Party homepage where it states "Getting people off welfare and into work means a better life, better opportunities, and a brighter future for people and their families...Welfare will always be there to support those in genuine need but we are no longer going to hand over benefits and leave people to their own devices.  Instead we are taking an active, work-based approach because we have greater aspirations for New Zealanders and their children, achieved through work, not welfare".

And here's a link to an adult education course in beginners maths, which should be mandatory for every National Party MP before they are allowed to make any further 'reforms'.

Oh and here's an article from the beginning of last year where opposition parties criticise the welfare reforms and say that all it will do is push people off benefits with no jobs to go in to. But don't worry, Paula Bennet said "We're not cutting benefits, we're trying to move people ahead and we're not being punitive".

In all seriousness though, there are now thousands more people without a job and without a benefit, somewhere in no mans land. How are they surviving? Whos's helping them? Stop asking silly questions, Paula Bennet has more good news for you, "I think we'll continue to see benefit figures come down as we change the whole way we work with people". Thanks Paula, now about that maths course...