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Sociology

A strange evening

I was called to a person said to be having a heart episode at the camping ground in the small coastal settlement of Rapahoe, north of Runanga. But upon arrival, the elderly couple who manage the site knew nothing about it and there were no obvious candidates in sight. It’s a small camping ground nestled in bush. I went down to the beach, a rock strewn part of the Coast but one of the few spots safe for swimming. People were dotted along the shore but no one in trouble. A couple crouched over a small driftwood fire, forming a primitive image in the fading light.

Searching for a foreign person having a possible heart attack is a strange activity. I went to the motel and the manager was excited by the possible drama but had no guests in difficulty. I tried the pub but it was deserted apart from two elderly  locals. The puzzle remained. I went to the other end of the beach, across the river and the place where I occasionally go for a summer swim. No sign of life. Or death for that matter.

But meanwhile I had become aware of the small clusters of tourists dotted through the settlement for the night, like a band of nomads, off hunting and gathering in family groups during the day and then coming together as a band, that most primitive of human social structures, at night, for protection and sharing of food.

Rapahoe is vulnerable to climate change and the consequent rising seas and extreme weather events. It was recently inundated by Cyclone Gita and the erosion is serious. A sea wall might provide a temporary respite but is expensive and the few ratepayers can’t afford it. It could well disappear.

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As night fell, wandering through the vulnerable settlement searching for a tourist in need, I could imagine the future chaos of climate change, of people returning to a much less structured existence, of disparate bands wandering the Coast in an eco-fiction world where nature is teaching the human species (and unfortunately other species as well), a drastic lesson.

Ironic that the locals in this small community have erected a monument celebrating its coal mining past, a display that features two of the machines that used to operate at the now flooded Spring Creek mine, digging out the coal, the fossil fuel that enabled the industrial revolution but which has  helped cause the planet’s eco systems to become volatile once more.

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I never found the tourist in need. A work of fiction might have them lying in a cave, or washed out to sea, but most probably they recovered and drove off to Greymouth. All that remains is the digital trace of a phone call to the emergency services.

The wind blew strongly as night fell and I headed home.

 

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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