September 20, 2004

Being There Is Everything

Mr Neil Falloon writes...

I am loitering at the foot of the Auckland University Student Union , whose students’ association (AUSA) is hosting the inaugural Aotearoa Student Press Association Awards. Traditionally these would be awards for blatant pornography dressed up as freedom of speech. Today – to use an analogy as predictable as it is mundane – the student press has cleaned up its act like a newly legalized brothel, and is whoring itself to the mainstream with unprecedented boldness.

The function is black tie – the original, ironic intention being that black dinner suited patrons would be swilling beer and eating pizza, according to convenor Patrick Crewdson. Hep media irony threatens to blow its own brains out with a shotgun with the news that Mary Lambie, of Good Morning fame, is compere. More widely-read writers such as David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers have already dissected the folly of the ironic pose in modern discourse, and United Future and Destiny Church have pointed out that young people are no good, so I shall not follow such tangents here.

The ceremony is sponsored by the Listener, and will be giving out gongs for best publication, best features writer, best cartoonist, and Most Able Finlay MacDonald Impersonation. Southern publication Critlient is favourite for every category, having attracted plaudits from prominent New Zealanders such as Russell Brown and national air-guitar champion Matt Nippert. Representatives of the true underground conservative media have been excluded, and I am looking for an in.

Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury and Tim Selwyn sweep up the stairs. In order to seem as if I have been invited, I make conversation with the original enfantes terribles of student media, who recently resurfaced on C4’s Dissident TV. Bradbury has since been offered the editor’s chair at Rip It Up. I ask what the mysterious Selwyn, dressed for the world like a Gestapo officer, has been doing.

“I’ve been trying to get to the bottom of the situation in Iraq, with the American occupation. The US line is that they want to conduct elections and get out, but there’s little evidence that they have a timeline in mind – I was interviewing a guy from the Pentagon the other day who is in charge of civilian contracts there worth $18 billion. He says the infrastructure frame work goes until 2007, but there’s no comparable estimate in terms of setting up a government.” I nod knowingly. I edge behind my companions into the room as they receive their name tags. Selwyn continues.

“The thing is that according to files I’ve been sent the American army’s own polling of occupied territories shows they are in no position to conduct elections – only 50% of the civilians they have spoken to still support the war.” This sounds fascinating, I say. Who is he writing the article for?
He blinks. “Article?”

I search for a spare seat. Thankfully, a number of invited guests have failed to show up, and I can take my pick of positions. Unfortunately, many of the no-shows are prominent personalities enlisted to judge the awards, and so I am stuck with Steve Braunias’ place. A student upstart eyes me suspiciously. I wave him away with a snort. Satisfied I am indeed Steve Braunias, he leaves crestfallen.

Listener deputy editor Tim Watkin is delivering the keynote address. Tim was news editor of Massey University’s Chaff in 1992, before moving to Craccum the next year and later becoming a pro-worker agitator (and journalist) for the Herald. He is delivering a vivid re-imagining of ASPA’s origins as a part of the organised labour movement, founded less to sell advertising nationally and maximise revenue and idea-sharing, and more to allow editors and staff to negotiate consistent employment contracts across the country.

I have no time for such revisionism and make my way to the bar. Unfortunately, as Watkin leans close towards the microphone and breaks into the chorus of The Red Flag, others have had the same burning need for a drink. In desperation, I tell the dapper fellow in front of me I will pay for his drinks if he orders two more Heinekens. He introduces himself as Ant Hiron – editor of Nexus in 2001. Now, he is a regional organiser for the Services and Food Workers Union, and will gladly accept my kind offer on behalf of “the workers”.

I take a breath and stumble over to Flipside hottie Olivia Kember, who is here with a camera in tow. As she is distracted, I inform the cameraman I am Karl from Howick College, and I have many important things to tell my peer group about the benefits of Judith Collins’ proposed changes to abortion legislation. Kember is busy feeding lines to the Craccum table, which they promptly yell out as abuse to Watkin, and the camera trains back in on the assembled drunkards.

Watkin is floundering – as a representative of both the proletariat and the hateful mainstream media, and bearing a remarkable resemblance to Rove McManus, he stands for everything the Craccum table despises - at the moment, anyway. Worse, the home team have finally clicked that they will not be receiving any awards apart from best cartoonist.

“Do your fucking research!” someone at the Craccum table yells, apropos nothing in particular, after a remark about the ASPA logo. “Tell us how big your cock is”, someone else offers on a more conciliatory note.

The ceremony concluded, Critlient having picked up its mandatory awards, I make a beeline for Mary Lambie. She is speaking with ASPA convenor and bright young thing Crewdson. Much shorter in real life than in print, he is having a hard time fixing the statuesque Lambie with his smouldering stare. I talk loudly and conspicuously to a nearby wench about how Mary was the constant factor in my life during a fictional six months of unemployment. Intrigued, she makes her way over, sparkling in a sequined Trelise Cooper top, and asks which magazine I am with. I explain I have no truck with student journalists – I am here covering the awards for my blog.
"You have a blog?" she asks, her eyes widening. "Like, a real life one, with all your thoughts about politics and everything?" Her arm has slipped around to the small of my back now, and I can see where the conversation is heading. What is it with women and blogs?

Making my apologies, I exit into the bracing air of the University grounds. I arch my head in the direction of a pungent, wafting smell and see that under the stairs Russell Brown has set down a square of corrugated cardboard, and is teaching Matt Nippert to breakdance.

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