September 30, 2004
...And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Fear and Loathing
It is late on Friday night, and there are now only 14 days left in Auckland’s Mayoral race. I am sitting in Grand Central, a Ponsonby bar. I have come here in an effort to escape Auckland’s tiresome celebrities and political strivers, drawn to prominent bloggers like atoms into a vacuum, scraping to make an impression and warrant a mention. I have come to mix with the real people of our thriving metropolis and see which way the political wind is blowing. I am slouched in a corner sofa beside the flickering hearth of the Central’s fiberglass “log fire”.
Two well-turned-out young people enter. They sit, a tired blond woman perpendicular to me and her male companion next to her. He is loquacious and drunk. The city is high on political intrigue.
“I’m Dan, this is Kimberley,” he holds out a meaty hand. I introduce myself.
“Great to meet you, Neil. So, what do you do?”
The Auckland equivalent of hello. I am a fireside chat host, I say, gesturing to the flames as if there was nothing more obvious. I’m glad to be talking with you both tonight, I continue. Now, why don’t we start with Kimberley. Maybe she could tell us about her day.
“I didn’t really do much - I work at an undertakers.”
Hmmm. A good angle to see the remaining stocks of John Banks supporters, I venture. Is she an undertaker? An embalmer?
“I do make-up.”
Apparently the training for making up a corpse is exactly the same training as for creating an Orc on The Lord of The Rings, or going on to Hairdressing Academy. Local body politics melts away; there are issues of importance to be discussed tonight.
So, I ask – is the natural look in?
The no make-up look, I explain. Is it popular this year?
“We try to make it look as natural as we can in most cases; people don’t want their loved ones to look as if they are ready to go out during a funeral.”
Sometimes, she says, families provide photographs for reference – rarely have the deceased themselves appended these to wills.
“What do you really do, Neil?” Dan asks. “This isn’t a full-time job.”
I explain it keeps me occupied. I feel close enough to these people to confide I also have a blog. It is a mistake. The bartender, clearing glasses nearby, is one-time reality TV stud Logan from Sky 1’s The Player. His ears prick up, and he looks over expectanty. I hastily escape, wishing Kimberley well.
On Ponsonby Road I see the last unblemished Christine Fletcher hoarding in the city. Her gleaming smile unsullied by the crude campaign which has seen her “No Spin” slogan uniformly converted to “No Spine”.
From among the forest of hoardings, a shadowy figure emerges suddenly. The outline is male, dressed in the baggy clothing and hooded sweatshirt typical of a Dick Hubbard voter. In one hand, a can of aerosol spray paint - the tool of trade and recreational drug of choice of the underhanded Hubbard mob – and in the other, a large stencil of the letter “E”. I am transfixed in horror as - with mechanical precision - the sole pristine Fletcher billboard is altered to proclaim her lack of spine.
The figure risks a sideways glance, and I stare into the dark heart of this street hoodlum. Even wobbly with beer, my vision blurred and his face shrouded in shadow, I can clearly make out the distinctive features of disgraced John Banks campaign manager Brian Nicolle. Just as the Herald suspected, Nicolle is and has been the source of all evil and unrest during this, and probably every other local body election ever run.
As he scurries away, he drops the stencil. Examining it, I see it is heavy, cut from production film, with sharp angles at each corner. It is a professional job; a far cry from the snips and construction paper with which Banks and I have whiled away many an idle hour in the Mayoral Chambers. Proof that the Mayor has nothing to do with this, or any of Nicolle’s other malarkey.
The voters must know. Responsible voters will have already posted back their ballots within three days of receiving them. And responsible voters will have voted for Banks anyway. Instead, I need to break this news to the indolent, the apathetic, the lazy and uncivic. I call Fuse magazine.
My attempts to reach Paola Ghirelli meet with frustration.
“She’s not here,” the insolent APN lackey at the other end of the phone tells me. “And between you and me, if you want a future with Fuse, maybe you should be talking to Greg Dixon anyway. Apparently he has powerful internet backers.”
I smile. The word is out, and so begins another campaign, more covert than the thousands of reproduced Metro magazine hatchet jobs on Banks which were sneaked into Auckland homes without even the targeted voters becoming aware of them.
The truth will not come out tonight, then. I close my cellphone, and turn to find a taxi. I walk past Herald columnist and Ponsonby local Brian Rudman, who sighs as he sees the already defaced image of Fletcher. A square of card with an “E” cut out of the middle falls from his hand to the ground, and he walks away, dejected.
September 29, 2004
Mark My Words
The more things change, the more they stay the same. You know? It just sometimes feels like they don’t.
1999 saw the release of Ten Things I Hate About You, a Hollywood high school comedy based on The Taming of the Shrew. The younger sister, snobbish and superficial Bianca, was established as something of an airhead early in the film by means of the following exchange:
Bianca: There's a difference between like and love. I mean I like my Skechers, but I love my Prada backpack.
Chastity: But I love my Skechers.
Bianca: That's because you don't have a Prada backpack.
Oh, how I laughed. And yet, just five scant years later, Saatchi and Saatchi guru Kevin Roberts has written a book about his vision for the future of advertising; Lovemarks: a future beyond brands. The concept of a ‘lovemark’ (an unobvious play on trademark) is explained on Roberts’ website:
I am not some inter-nerd proselytizer who would equate anything distasteful with the hateful Nazi regime of 20th century Europe just to score cheap points. But “loyalty beyond reason” sounds like the kind of marketing slogan dreamed up in a 1930’s German prison, not the rolling hills of Karekare. More to the point, self confessed “adidas-lover” Roberts should be jeered on the Jerry Springer show for his predilections alongside those who would prefer to form a relationship with a rubber woman or a pair of stilettos, rather than promoting his twisted manual in the reputable media.
Lovemarks reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without. Ever.
Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. Lovemarks are a relationship, not a mere transaction. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately. That’s why you never want to let go.
Put simply, Lovemarks inspire 'Loyalty Beyond Reason'.
I am interested to find out why Roberts is not, in fact, being jeered. Traditionally, the line trotted out (at least in public) by advertisers and their lobby groups is that advertising merely informs consumers about products in the marketplace. Now this is obviously bunk, but it is the comfortable lie that allows us to continue on our way and cope with the cognitive dissonance. But Roberts has released a book describing how he intends to remain a wealthy and influential figure by manipulating people into forming an intense emotional bond with products. The kind of thing that should push him over the line from disagreeable eccentricity into cartoonish super-villainy.
It’s possible that these intangible feelings for the product add value of their own. Virginia Postrel’s The Substance of Style makes the argument that aesthetic values are every bit as legitimate as functional ones, even with regard to what used to be considered purely functional items. Even so, aesthetics are at least qualities of a product that stem from something intrinsic (being its appearance, in most cases). 'Lovemarks' are a conscious effort to shift away from consumers respecting a product, to making them irrationally desire it for entirely extrinsic reasons.
So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Anyone who defends the “intangible” values created by a lovemark had better be prepared to stand up and make a strong case for the selling of Papal indulgences, or the hawking of pigs’ teeth and splints of wood as the relics of saints by the Catholic Church.
Don’t worry, the sophisticated consumers of internet culture cry. We are “savvy”. We are “media-wise”. We know what they are up to.
We know, and we don’t care. Fun fact: it is easier to find a job in a High School teaching ‘media studies’ than teaching classics or history, and it is the preferred back-up discipline for English teachers. Because English is not about books, of course – it is about ‘texts’. Media studies is essentially watered down deconstructionist theory. It teaches students to analyse and interpret advertisements. And the news as well (but mainly advertising, for the same reason juniors study short stories rather than novellas). The purpose, ostensibly, is to allow the kids to form a detached view of what the advertiser is trying to do, and how it is getting its message across.
What happens, though, is that they are taught the dialect of advertising. This language is the new cultural capital. The kids (as a generalisation) who do media studies don’t form an oppositional stance against the advertising, or even an apposite one. Instead, they see the ad as a work of art – recognizing and praising superior technique and production, in the same way they might watch a virtuoso musical performance. Understanding advertising is easy; they are trying to sell you something. But we forget that as we appreciate the advertiser’s appreciation of the genre, and their appreciation of our appreciation, as they “subvert” the form through self-conscious referencing.
The much vaunted “media savvy” of the younger generations is just a further way youths are co-opted. Who first told you you were “media savvy” anyway? That’s right – a marketing company.
A shining local example is the Vodafone advertisement for its PXT message service. Two graffiti artists are shown abseiling down the face of a Symonds Street billboard depicting the Vodafone logo. They add “strokes” of spray paint to form a rudimentary camera icon around the logo, its “lens”. The ad is shot at night, on a handicam. The protagonists wear makeshift disguises – Groucho Marx glasses and moustaches – and congratulate each other and the camera man, who is self-consciously part of the narrative.
In other words, the ad appropriates almost in its entirety the imagery and language of culture jamming. It evokes the now familiar footage taken by and of activists covertly defacing corporate advertising; getting evidence of horrific battery farming practices; etc. It suggests danger, subversion, and rebellion.
And yet, obviously, nothing subversive is happening. It is every bit as subversive as if they showed a fat, overalled man in a cherry picker replacing the skins of the Stella Artois billboard across the road. Vodafone is just doing it on the cheap.
The battle is long lost, in the post-satirical future in which we live. And it’s not all depressing – there’s fun to be had with the co-option of the anti-establishment. Popular t-shirts bearing the iconic depiction of Che Guevara portray the revolutionary killer as looking remarkably like the Coke symbol, after all. And Whitcoulls, New Zealand’s largest chain of book sellers, displays Naomi Klein’s No Logo in its marketing section.
September 27, 2004
Looking Out the Window, Counting Aerials
I'm really not quite sure why conservatives hate New York Times columnist Paul Krugman so much. Is it because he's good at self-promotion? Or just because he's good?
Anyway, in my New Zealand Listener column on business this week, I channel Krugman. Actually that's a grandiose overstatement. Let's say I channel Krugman's dog... my article has whiffs of Krugman, but is definitely much dumber than the real thing.
Krugman loves to argue that 'a company is not a country'; being a successful businessman doesn't give you the credentials to run a nation's economy. (Here's Krugman making that argument far more coherently.)
In the article I mention the North Korean official news agency website, to which I am addicted. Unfortunately in recent months they have dropped the publication of inspiring anecdotes about the Leader, but you can still access the gems through the archives. Here's an example:
One day in April Juche 68 (1979), an issue of
introducing a new process for better food of people, especially children, was
raised at a conference. Officials were hesitant about building the new process
for financial reasons. At that time, Kim Jong Il told them to start the project
without delay, saying that even the national safe should be emptied for the
happy life of the people, that nothing should be spared for their sake and that
this was the calculation method of the Workers' Party of Korea.
While on a journey by train for personal guidance to Jagang
Province in January 1998, he looked out of the window, counted the number of
houses and the number of aerials installed on the roofs and found that the
numbers are not equal. He took measures for equally distributing television sets
to local people.
One day in December last year, he told officials
what makes him pleased and happy. He said that when he hears that people are
well off, his fatigue disappears at once and he feels strong even after working
without sleep and meals. The people's pleasure and happiness are what makes him
pleased and happy, he added. His popular traits are a source of the Korean
people's absolute worship, loyalty and devotion to him.
September 24, 2004
Thank God for that. Thursday will be the last scheduled 2004 issue of Fuse, the New Zealand Herald’s “tertiary student publication”.
Editor Paola Ghirelli has signaled to her bosses that she will not be back. Word around APN is that Ghirelli’s decision was prompted by negative reaction from students towards the publication. This included poor reviews in the predictably hostile student press, and a mass defection of volunteer contributors after the publication’s second issue.
That second issue had seen the wannabe students promise investigative journalism over whether Auckland student politician Greg Langton had been funded by the Maxim Institute (Russell Brown put the story together nicely) and had lied about his National Party roots. Ghirelli even boldly stated in her editorial, “we ask… the hard question: are you a member of the National Party?” Stuart Dye (a grown up reporter) asked the hard question, and dutifully printed the scamp’s answer: he had never been seriously involved. It took campus magazine Craccum to hunt out the awfully-difficult-to-obtain information that the lad’s name was still on the Young National website as Tertiary Council representative.
Worse, by my reckoning, a record reviewer in the same issue stated that on her “new” album, British singer Joss Stone covered all the “soul standards like… Fell in Love With A Boy”, which was originally a White Stripes song released in 2000. Not quite a soul standard.
After its first issue the publication was already flagging a possible change to being a more general “youth” supplement, rather than being dedicated to Tertiary Students.
Traditional newspaper mores dictate writing for a reading age of between 12 and 14, which only stands to reason for a mass circulation organ. However, Fuse is a specialist publication aimed at a population defined by its high level of education. Where the editorial team should have been providing if not more beef in its news then at least more wit than the average Spleen contribution, it was persevering with processed production line newspaper fare. An apologetic admission to writing for Fuse can be found online on Simon Pound's website, and complaints can be found in the letters pages of many traditional student publications.
The repositioning of Fuse for “yoof” may be less of a make-over and more of a post-factum rationalization of its standard of content.
The $30,000 question is: who will replace Ghirelli?
Fighting Talk's Matt Nippert has suggested the Herald hire someone with student media experience. A number of Nippert’s FT cohorts are looking for work, and of course the recently announced ASPA honour roll (covered sensationally by Mister Neil Falloon in these pages) could act as a ready-made shortlist for the Herald (with the added bonus that Craccum, whose editors Ghirelli has described as “thuggish”, would be ruled out of contention).
Taking a chance on a kid, however, doesn't quite seem the Herald’s style. APN also owns New Zealand Listener, a haven for student rag editors made good such as Tim Watkin and Alistair Bone.
Media Cow and his friend Mister Neil Falloon like to think outside the square, so we want freelancer Greg Dixon to apply for the job. Dixon is writer of the creatively-titled "Greg Dixon’s Weekend" in the Weekend Herald. He seems to have finally been given more latitude since Granny’s weekend makeover, such that some of his vitriol actually approaches the level of the better student magazines. Moreover, despite being a professional who has been around the game a long time, he seems to have the appropriate maturity level. The fact that he’s actually an old fart is something we can live with.
The Torment of Having A Small One
Russell Brown seems to have little experience near political campaigns. Today Brown questions Brian Nicolle’s description of most campaigns as "chaos".
Nicolle – John Banks’ campaign manager – made the comment to a NZ Herald journalist, while trying to explain why he probably wouldn’t know if a member of the ‘campaign team’ had organised for articles about mayoral candidate Dick Hubbard to be distributed to the public.
I’ve only participated in one political campaign. I intend to avoid ever repeating the experience.
Each day started at a sparrow’s fart with a conference call. The team discussed the day’s plans, major lines of attack, weaknesses and issues. After that phone call, everything just got messy.
Enthusiastic, not-very-bright souls (infuriating people I call the “True Believers” – every political party and candidate has them) would constantly get enthusiastic, not-very-bright ideas which they would decide to implement. Like crudely defaming the Prime Minister at every town hall meeting in her electorate, whilst proudly declaring which political party they worked for.
Things that were completely, thoroughly planned would fall through. Things that could never happen would happen. This was a very well-run campaign, which garnered a successful result. And yes, “chaos” was exactly the right word. I find it easy to believe that many things happen in the campaign without Nicolle or Banks knowing about them.
And talk about pots and kettles… After slagging off “hatchet jobs”, Brown suggests – with absolutely no evidence – that Banks might be close to the $70,000 spending cap and thus couldn’t afford to own up to the brochure, even if he did know about it.
Brown has missed the nation’s most fascinating campaign election, occurring south of the Bombay Hills. In Hamilton the mayoral frontrunner is the principal of “teenage pregnancy capital” Fraser High School, rather famous disciplinarian Martin Elliot.
During an electoral forum recently, Elliot waved his little finger at a woman and told her he had “good knowledge” his competitor, local advertising guru Michael Redman, had a small penis.
It gets better. Questioned by a journalist about the comment, Elliot responded: “I think that Michael (Redman), at this stage of his life, hasn't got the big balls (to make key decisions for the city). I think my balls are bigger than his."
The NBR will have to dig a little deeper than just following Mrs Hubbard to church if it wants to find out those kinds of details for its next attack on Hubbard. Perhaps it could send Kate Wrath to do the job?
At the time of going to press, we could not confirm the suggestion that Redman plans to respond with billboards that say, “At Least My Man Tits Are Better than Your Man Tits”.
Well done, Hamilton. You’re finally going to get a mayor that you deserve.
September 23, 2004
Make the Fag Write About Interior Decorating
There are two rooms in the Beehive that I doubt will ever be renovated. Both are decorated in early 1970s shades of newborn-calf-shit brown and are sorely in need of a decorator. Even that enthusiastic chap accidentally employed as a decorator for The Fence could do wonders here. (Incidentally: can somebody in Auckland please politely encourage the lad to wear shoe lifts? Watching the top of his head bob around a bedroom feels distasteful).
Back to parliament... The first Beehive room that will never see a builder's crack is the Beehive Theatrette - the lecture room where the prime minister delivers her weekly press conference with the New Zild flag drooping behind her. (Scoop has images of the Beehive Theatrette here and here). The second is the main pub known affectionately by its room number: Three Point Two.
These rooms won't be renovated because no government wants to be seen to be extravagant. It's not very complicated: every other area of the Beehive can be refurbished, but not the portion that you and I see on television every Monday night, or the watering hole.
For some reason, these two rooms are my favourite areas in all of parliament.
I haven’t worked for a government so I haven’t spent much time in the Beehive Theatrette. I would have spent five minutes longer there if Labour press secretary Jocelyn Prasad hadn’t spotted me loitering at the back of a ministerial announcement and spanked me until I left. (I was a press secretary, too - but for an opposition party. For some announcements I would sneak into opponent’s briefings and pay attention at the end when journalists asked questions. I’d take note of who asked the sceptical questions and what criticism they were implicitly making. My employer would then be first off the mark with a response, because we wouldn’t have to wait for the media release to arrive electronically. More importantly, our media release – on a good day – would echo the areas journalists were most cynical about. We would follow up the release in person with the media who seemed least convinced at the announcement).
I have slightly more experience pestering people at Three Point Two.
My very first time there was heart warming. I was introduced to a former prime minister’s harried press secretary. The poor man wanted to drink, not get introduced to an upstart like me. But he also seemed to feel he had an obligation to pass his wisdom to the next generation. So he fixed me with tight little eyes and jabbed his handle of beer at me for effect.
“If you want to know how to get on around here, mate..."
He paused to heighten the dramatic effect and leaned forward.
“...you’ve got to learn how to drink properly.”
He glared at me to show he was serious, and returned to drinking.
That was when I realised that I was going to enjoy working in this special, special place.
Single Paragraph Seeks Feature Story for Meaningful Encounter
Needing to buy new shoes one Sunday, I ventured into the city.
Walking down Queen Street across from Myers Park, it struck me that the three haggard men with Australian accents in front of me looked very much like part of the Australian contingent at the previous night's Trans-Tasman MC Battle. As usually happens, there was a reasonable explanation for this, and it transpired the trio were in danger of missing their flight to Sydney.
I gave my phone to the one who had been eliminated in the first round (let’s call him “the fat Ali G” whose “only Battle was the battle against obesity”, as local boy Cyphanetic introduced him), and the baby faced guy who didn’t make much of an impression (by his surprised stage manner on Saturday, you’d think a seven foot tall Samoan man had never threatened to rip off his head and ejaculate into his stomach before). And so I was speaking briefly with the lanky, bearded Dragonfly. He had been knocked out of the competition by MC Ali, a crowd favourite who excoriated Australia’s shameful record on race relations, and finished off by rhyming “whakarongo” with “go fuck a homo”. He told me about his job.
“I’m kind of a social worker with at risk kids. I work in government funded programmes doing hip-hop workshops and classes, to build up their self esteem. And then on weekends I’m up on stage with these kids – sometimes the same kids - and I’m like,‘You’re Nothing ! You ain’t shit!'”
Then I visited the Footlocker, a central city footwear store, but I couldn’t find any shoes I liked.
September 21, 2004
Don't film me - I'm praying
Should church be off-limits to the press? Auckland mayoral candidate Dick Hubbard thinks so. "Saying prayers in church is a deeply personal moment and I think no reporter under any circumstances has got any right to go and comment on somebody's body language in a moment of prayer," he told the New Zealand Herald's Bernard Orsman.
The reporter who had gottten Hubbard's awful rainbow tie in a twist was National Business Review's rising star Coran Lill. As part of a comprehensive series of articles looking at the political ingenue, Lill popped into the (charismatic) St George's Anglican Church in Epsom when the mayoral challenger and wife Diane Hubbard were at prayer.
He wrote: "I could tell things were about to get good, but I wasn't quite prepared for what happened ... First there was a noticeable shake, like an electric shock running through her frame. Then the right arm shuddered and headed for the ceiling. It was closely followed by the left, reaching to the heavens in a shuddering fit of biblical emotion while her devoted voice hit the rafters."
This colourful description earned him the scorn of media commentator and breakdancer Russell Brown, who said Lill had descended to the gutter. I disagree with Brown. Neither Mrs Hubbard nor her church-going should be off limits.
As she subsquently told the Sunday Star Times, Mrs Hubbard wants to reactivate the dormant role of Auckland's mayoress. That's a big call, and means that voters get more for their buck than just Dick.
The wannabe Mayoress is the first to acknowledge that faith is a large part of her life. She believes Auckland would be more beautiful if more people embraced God. What better way, then, to convey a snapshot of her personality than to do what Coran Lill did? Brown read his piece and saw mocking. I read it and saw an attempt to flesh out public figures that we know very little about.
In his column, Brown wrote: "I wonder if all the people who got up in arms about the Herald's really rather sober assessment of Banks' claims for himself - and all the stuffed shirts who have been noisily defending the churches from "liberal fascists" - will have something to say here?" I'm not a member of either group. But to be a little playful, here's my question for Brown: Where was the scorn about "hatchet jobs" and "acid" when Metro Magazine did its own 'expose' on incumbent mayor John Banks?
Post script: MediaCow placed an illegal $20 bet with the best press secretary in parliament that Dick Hubbard would win the mayoral race. The reasoning at the time was: how could anybody vote against Berry Berry Crunch? MediaCow expects to lose $20, however: Hubbard has run an abysmal campaign, and seems rather short of ideas.
September 20, 2004
Being There Is Everything
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.
How Ben and David Met
We know you really don’t care, but this story is going to be foisted upon you nonetheless. Fortunately the tale involves book burning, rampant drunkenness and threats of lawsuits.
David starts the ball rolling, because he’s marginally less lazy:
It was 2000, the year that the world was supposed to end. I was in Hamilton (where anybody would want to be when Armageddon comes, because each day feels like an eternity).
I had just completed a Bachelor of Mediarts™ at Waikato Polytechnic. I’d had a taste of journalism as a student reporter at the Waikato Times. (Highlights: I broke a nice story about the city dumping the “Where it’s happening” slogan, plus the lovely editor held my hand when I somehow ended up on the phone for half an hour with an absolute nutter “covered in blood and shit” threatening to top himself).
I entertained thoughts of becoming a real journalist. Like Eugene Bingham. There were three problems: I couldn’t drive; I didn’t like writing about things that bored me; I had a distracting and persistent habit of drinking myself to black-out.
I settled for the only job that would have me: being editor of the atrocious Waikato University student magazine, Nexus. Yes, it was actually a full-time, paying job.
David spent most of this period in black-out, so the slightly more reliable one (Ben) takes over:
What David hasn’t mentioned is that the “atrocious Waikato University student magazine, Nexus” was as red as the blood of the workers – and so was Mister David W Young. He occupied university registries, sang socialist drinking songs, and possibly even paid real money for Spark newspaper.
On the other hand, Nexus’ big brother – Auckland University’s Craccum – was the voice of the mob. The elected editors: James Cardno (the nice one) and me (the law student). While David’s Nexus prepared for the revolution, our Craccum studiously cultivated an air of cool.
The air turned noticeably fecund one day when David and his merry band arrived in Auckland in a clapped-out car daubed with socialist graffiti. David imperiously swept through the Craccum offices without revealing the point of his trip: to distribute 1,000 copies of Nexus’ “Free Education For All” issue at Auckland University (having taken over Hamilton, the socialists wanted Auckland next). His team dumped their magazines in Craccum’s sales boxes and then David demanded they drink.
After several hours in Shadows bar, the revolutionaries emerged to discover many of their magazines had been ripped up. Their response? They gathered a huge pile of Craccums in the quad. They lined up facing the Craccum offices, and then then broke into (ahem) "song".
Build a Bonfire…
Build a Bonfire…
Put James Cardno on the top,
Put Ben Thomas in the middle, and
BURN THE FUCKING LOT.
As socialists, they all had lighters. The ensuing blaze of Craccum magazines was really quite beautiful. Being a media outlet, we had many cameras. I took a dozen photos, documenting the charming incident from the moment they piled up the Craccums until realisation dawned that the police and fire departments were probably on their way.
At that point, they ran.
David sobers up enough to take over the account.
I was still drunk the next morning. I remember discovering I’d slept with an anarchist punk. Also, I remember a radio journalist calling. She told me the Auckland University student union had issued a release “condemning” me for setting fire to Craccum magazines. I assume I slurred denial at her. My boss, the president of the Waikato Student Union, phoned.
It slowly dawned on me that I could be in deep shit.
I have no idea how I got from the anarcho-punk’s decrepit house to the University. I do remember storming into the student union. I was on the attack and full of bullshit. I self-righteously told some union guy that my uncle was a QC, that I had spoken to him about suing for defamation and that Uncle told me I had a watertight case. I think I used a real QC’s name. By the time I finished my rant I had convinced myself it was all true. (This quite often happened when I was drinking and makes remembering reality quite difficult).
My uncle, I said, had advised me to try to settle the matter without court action. I have absolutely no idea why the union guy took me seriously. I was a raving loon stinking like a brewery. Yet he allowed me to sit at his computer and draft a “retraction”, which was then issued. It said that although I witnessed the disgraceful burning of Craccum magazines, at no stage did I take part in the burning. The AUSA unreservedly apologised to me and to Nexus magazine.
I later saw photographs from that night, taken during the middle of the “Build a Bonfire” chant. I’m yelling so loudly there is spittle coming out of my mouth. In my right hand there is clearly a lighter.
Now Mr Neil Falloon brings the story home.
Puffed up with arrogance, David knocked on the door of Craccum and broke the news to Ben that his union had agreed to retract their press statement.
Ben thought David an utter arse, but he was grown-up enough to move on. As they were both students and it was after 9am, he suggested they have a beer. David could feel sobriety beginning to pound at his skull and had no money. He would drink with anybody, even a rightwing fascist whose mother had paid for his membership to the ACT Party – especially if the other person was paying for the beer.
So they went together to Shadows where Ben bought enough beer to keep sobriety at bay.
And that’s how Ben and David became lifelong friends.
All together now: Awwwwww.