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Jacinda Adern

Theatre of the absurd

 

The final leaders’ debate was a strange affair, dominated by the set, a monstrous rostrum affair, like something out of a theatre of the absurd play, perhaps symbolising how the importance of ‘the leader’ has grown out of all proportion. Suddenly, that’s all we have: leaders with a mass following. A dangerous syndrome.

Jacinda Adern, after promising relentless positivity, had a melancholic air. After all, National had waged a relentless campaign of lies: there was no fiscal hole, there was no raising of taxes, the tax on irrigation is token, the capital gains exploration is to find a best practice solution to a dire and complex problem (a population having a roof over its head), to deny foreigners the right to purchase property is common practice in many countries, especially small ones where the possibility of the nation’s fabric being sold is real. All these were lied about and a paranoia created. It was a move toward a US political culture with campaigns based on lies and invective. Camus wrote about the Spanish Civil War: It was in Spain that men learned that one can be right and still be beaten, that force can vanquish spirit, that there are times when courage is not its own reward. It is this, without doubt, which explains why so many men throughout the world regard the Spanish drama as a personal tragedy, (Preface to L’Espagne Libre, 1945). It is possible that this election could be a scaled down tragedy for this country.

Bill English, who can appear a likeable enough bloke in some settings, wore a strange, sickly, embarrassed smile, like a crim who’s got away with it. For if the Nats get away with it, it means the democratic right to govern is based on fraud and manipulation. It was, accordingly, a programme where the advertisements in the breaks seemed meaningful. Those absurd invitations and promises made by smiling idiots, that if we acquire some object or machine, we will enter nirvana, were the reality of the system we live under.

What are the options for the voter? To thoroughly research and fact check? Some manage that. Scoop for example, published research on the dairy-farm water question. Here are some facts. Dairy farms use as much water as 60 million people and have the environmental impact of 90 million people. There are 12000 dairy herds using 4.8 million cubic metres of water, but of those farms, 10,000 (80%) do not irrigate so would be unaffected by a water tax. Of the 20% who do irrigate they would be faced with an annual bill of $10-15000. And of those, there are a few mega farms run by corporate interests. They are the ones who would be hardest hit. And fair enough. This research is hardly front page news. It’s the truth but the truth is dangerous to the class interests that the Nats represent. So, what was going on in Morrinsville? More theatre of the absurd.

As a child, I could never figure out why my adopted father was so anti Labour, when his experience of the world as a working man aligned him with the party’s agenda, until I came across a 1935 election poster showing a red, communist monster clutching at the family home and the attached wife. Message: the reds will take not only your house but force your wife into becoming a slave to free love. Fred had bought into the message. As Chris Trotter pointed out in one of his better columns, nothing has changed. The Nats and the farmers and the business people believe they are born to rule and the rest of the population are a dangerous and recalcitrant rabble and don’t let them organise.  You can no longer beat them into submission but you can befuddle and scare them.

So, there was reason for Jacinda to feel melancholic. If you are created by the media as a necessary story for what was promising to be a dull election, then the next media story is your downfall.

Maybe she should have turned up to the debate with a balaclava and a bandoleer?

Zapatista

A week in politics

Andrew Little resigns. Must be tough to, in a sense, fail so publicly, for no real reason. He’s done a good job, stopped the infighting, been plausible, developed good policy… but failed to shift the polls. Lacked charisma, no star quality, no scandals, no media noise. How much do those polled know of policy? Probably not a lot. Teachers and nurses will know, farmers and business people likewise, but Jo Blog – not a lot.

The TV performance is then, everything. Those in government have an advantage; they’re seen opening schools and bridges, tending to disasters and meeting important people, whereas the opposition is mostly seen complaining. Andrew has the wrong shaped face for telly, is going bald, not quite at home in his body. As a director of actors I would suggest a tense jaw, which controls emotion and means a dull speech pattern. The stress of the constant public performance must be awful for a quiet sort of bloke.

Not only were the polls not moving, but suddenly the Greens hit a spot – both of scandal and of virtue, with Metiria’s announcing of a twenty percent increase for beneficiaries and of her own ‘cheating’ while on a benefit. A great Madonna/whore combination. For a moment, that tapped into the energy that lies in the electorate, the sub-neoliberal-conscious energy which can erupt, as Sanders and Corbyn found out. Everyone knows the neoliberal system has failed, but its controls are tight and the ‘there is no alternative’ mantra has penetrated deeply. To fight it is risking both irrelevance and the unleashing of a hatred from the power structure. Yet to take it on can energise some of the vast majority who it treats either indifferently or unjustly. A sort of hysterical energy occurs; ‘Bernie, Bernie, Bernie…’ And then the forces of reaction move in: the media, the political party systems, the investors, the conservative controllers, who attack viciously. But at that point, you at least know you’re fighting for something

Instead, Labour and the Greens signed up to the system, promising to be responsible, apart from some technical tinkering (and good tinkering), but it was not an energising stance. The Greens broke the contract and left Little in the lurch.

And Metiria’s ‘cheating’? What a joke. Everyone does the cash job. Everyone avoids taxes. The GFC was caused by con men who were bailed out and are still running the financial system, we’ve got the Trump family in power, the Russian mafia… The non declaration of a flatmate? Yet the boffin’s pontificate. It’s Alice in Wonderland.

Did Andrew do the right thing? It seems so, and for him, yes. You must say to yourself, Why bother with this shit. Why the sacrifice? Let me go to the beach and watch the waves come in. Let me turn off the phone and the twitter account and the email. Let me live again.

Into the breach walks Jacinda; a new performance: young, beautiful, of a generation for whom performance is second nature, a good name, welcomed by the media, for whom the election has been, so far, a dull event.

All this is taking place within the framework of ‘society as theatre’, first suggested by the German sociologist, Erving Goffman. It’s reasonably obvious: we play roles, we make our entrances and exits, wear our costumes, there are sets, scripts, scenes etc. Jacinda made her entry and delivered her first speech. The costume was carefully chosen. It was almost a ritual. The audience was watching, ready to be swayed one way or another. The media play a role which has been called that of SpectActor- both spectator and actor – as they ask questions and immediately take to the streets and interview people who also become SpectActors. In fact the SpectActor role, with social media, becomes almost universally available.

At the same time as being obviously true, this framework, as a theatre person, continues to bother me – in its banality. In the theatre situation, we rehearse, at great length, in the safety of the rehearsal room. We start with doubt, with nothingness; freely admitted. We are not playing ourselves, but another – and therein lies the creative truth; the I-I. In the theatre situation the self obsessed person (the drama queen) is a pain; the group is all; the ability to give and take is all. The content and the cast generate the form, over time. And then the silent dialogue with an audience, which alters the performance in a manner which is almost magical. And the beauty of there being no record afterward, except in the mind.

It seems to me, that if we could work toward a political system that was closer to this, rather than the current need for the most vulgar of melodrama, we would be getting somewhere.

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