Thursday, December 11, 2008
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Just a comic tramp Charles Chaplin warmed the hearts of the world during the Great Depression, so in our hard economic times New Zealand is enjoying the farcical comedy of its own favourite clown.
Before he was elected Prime Minister the nation had already recognised his considerable charm, but now John Key and his varied crew of sidekicks have revealed another much-needed talent: the gift of laughter.
It seems hardly a day goes by but there is some droll new adventure, with Our John declaring a position with a perfect parody of confidence and determination, then suddenly launching into a backflip or an ideological contortion that seems to take even him by surprise.
Perhaps it's because he's got such an endearing rag-tag crew to keep in line.
There's Billie English, with his giant novelty tax cuts, cunningly rigged to explode in the face of anyone earning the median wage or below. Or Gerry Brownlee, who began by getting lost among unfamiliar procedures and ended upsetting a pile of Parliamentary conventions - some of the few left undisturbed by the previous tenant. And who will forget the look on Phil Heatley's face after he announced a cap on the number of state houses - and then found out we didn't have enough of them!
The king of this merry band has commenced his reign with one of the most hilarious weeks of Parliament ever.
"Rushed legislation is bad. We'll need to fix it urgenty. And while we're in urgency, I've got some entire bills I want to pass. Better go write them. But we won't put the 90-days bill in urgency - Oh! There it is!".
The whole nation is watching, entranced. Why, at any second someone will throw a custard pie!
And he's not just entertaining New Zealand. Even for those gathered in Posnan for grave and difficult discussions on the global response to climate change, New Zealand has provided some light relief. How they are laughing at our increasingly chaotic, slapstick response to Kyoto and our select committee's hilarious parody of scientific investigation.
Here's Mr Key, gravely saying the science was not in question - and behind his back up pops Rodney Hide dressed up in a white lab coat. He's behind you!
After such a stressful few months, we're proudly giving the whole world just the Christmas gift it needs - the chance for a good chuckle.
So, laugh, world! Point and laugh at New Zealand, and its charming and feckless new leader.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
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In a surprise reversal, the Government has unexpectedly included their 90-day probationary employment bill in their urgency plan.
Even as urgency commences, neither the public, nor opposition MPs, nor for that matter many Government MPs have any idea what other bills might appear or what is in the ones that have been announced.
Good news! The following draft has appeared on Scoop's desk.
So if you're hungry for democratic accountability, we hope it will keep you going in the meantime.
National Government First Hundred Days Programme
The Previously Unpublished Second Page
- The Pass Our Whole Election Platform Under Urgency And Avoid All That Tedious Legislative Scrutiny Omnibus Bill all stages
- The John Key Adorability (Perpetuation) Bill
- The Sentencing (Special Auckland Islands Gulag For Winston Peters) Bill
- The still-being-drafted Education Standards (Extreme Prejudice) Bill, to improve results by identifying underachieving students and efficiently eliminating them.
- The Financial Reporting (Look, it really should have been Somebody's job to have told us about that ACC thing, and even if it wasn't, it would have been, y'know, nice. Thanks a bundle. Not.) Bill
- Further to the ACT coalition agreement, a bill suspending the proposed Government response to the circularity of the Earth and establishing a select committee to investigate the question.
- The Armed Forces (Never Mind South Seas Maritime Rescue Let's Have Them Build A Secret Island Lair For Wayne Mapp) Bill all stages
- The Antarctic Whale Sanctuary (Covertly Arming Whales) Bill
- The Energy Efficiency (Removing Standards At Random) Amendment Bill
- Some sort of motion to improve Parliamentary standards and behaviour. Also, make the Queen's representative talk about a "decade of missed opportunities" a few more times. That was awesome.
- The Speaking Of Which, Let's See Some Enthusiasm From The Governor-General When Reciting Speeches Prepared By Someone Else Bill
- The Accient Compensation (Can Everyone Just Stop Having Accidents For A While) Bill
- The Hidden Agenda (Pandering To Shadowy Right Wing Backers) Bill
- The Economic Stimulus (Some Sort Of Retail-Based Holiday In Late December) Bill all stages.
- The Purchasing More Monkeys And Typewriters (Possible Need For Quickly Drafted Legislation To Fill In Urgency Time) Bill all stages
Sunday, December 07, 2008
The way Silk tells it, something rather odd happened to criticism of classical satire in the 50s:
Juvenal’s target, it now seemed, was not the deplorable features of Roman life; the target was rather the bluster of the angry voice itself. Juvenal might or might not be righteous, but the indignant satirist is a pose, and himself the object of the satire.This is a peculiar idea and it's satisfying to watch Silk savage it.
Fifty years on, this kind of posing has been identified, more and more broadly, across Roman satirical writing, and then read back into satirical equivalents in ancient Greece as well.
I'm not deeply familiar with Juvenal but that interpretation looks to me like somebody getting lost among multiple levels of irony.
The next logical step would be to suggest that, instead of being the main point of the work, Juvenal's indignant pose was in fact a masterly satirical trap designed to make literary critics embarrass themselves with convoluted over-interpretation. It's just that up until the 20th century, they were wise to him.
Or perhaps there is a simpler explanation.
I suspect most people who can pull off accussing the entire world of moral turpitude are smart enough to realise they themselves, if they're right, don't have the authority to do the condemning. So, even if they had no other reason, they might satirise their own indignation from time to time. They might also do so in passing as they savage their main target, in the hope it might be mistaken for humility.
I'm not certain about examples in my own work (unless you count that bit when I said I wasn't "deeply familiar" with Juvenal, which is true as far as it goes).
Perhaps this one, all the way back in '05: Satirist 'Apologises' to Howard. Perhaps not. If you wish to pursue the question you should probably read this one first: Howard Demands Emergency Anti-Wolf Legislation.
Anyway, Silk also has a lot to say about what satire is. And his observation on the conserativeness of the mode - not just because it attacks rather than constructs but because your audience has to share a moral and factual paradigm or it doesn't work - I had considered this.
In the latter respect - the shared point of view - it's a bit like a joke. Although humour is more of a method of satire than a part of it.
I think of a laugh as the sound of a surprise you like. There are lots of ways of achieving this. At a clowning workshop a learned that it can be done by setting up a rhythm and breaking it, even by breathing at the right moment.
In a joke - and what follows I got from a footnote in David Foster Wallace's Consider The Lobster (it might have been this piece about Kafka [pdf] but I haven't checked) - the punchline moment is where you're jumped by the intersection between the setup, which is internal to the joke, and what you already know about the world, which isn't mentioned in the joke at all.
[For another literary-review type discussion, about jokes, see this Spiked article. It takes a more freudian, and hence less right, angle on the definition, but one that might help for explaining why some things are funnier than others.]
I suppose that business with externalities and assumptions is part of what makes jokes educational; if you can work out why it's funny you can understand the teller.
What's more, that act of rearranging those ideas in you head has probably shook up your preconceptions just a little.
Which helps reconcile me to the whole "satire is inherently conservative" thing.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
I would also like to credit The Incredibles for something, seeing as I saw it on the tele the other night and it was awesome. Unfortunately it left no trace on my column, so I can't. Though the idea of Wayne Mapp using the military power that would otherwise be monitoring pacific whaling to build an island supervillian-base appeals.
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
John Key Meets Queen, Avoids "Pants" Faux Pas
Prime Minister John Key has met the Queen. In an attempt to differentiate his leadership style from Helen Clark's he did not wear trousers at the event.
"The response to Helen Clark's behaviour made it clear meeting the Queen with trousers on is not respectful," said the pants-less Mr Key.
The Queen is unused to seeing women in breeches and, before meeting the pantaloon-clad Helen Clark in 2002, was unaware your earth females had legs.
"I've said before I don't have to adopt all of Helen's policies," Key added.
The Prime Minister went on to say that, while it was inevitable the New Zealand would eventually become a republic, he didn't expect it to happen under his government.
In the absence of pants Mr Key wore a pastel blue Trelise Cooper gown, set off with a pauashell-and-silver necklace and white stilettos.
Blogger Still Maintains Clark Just Like Mugabe
The power-sharing arrangement Helen Clark has permitted after the opposition National party's election victory may dissolve into violence at any time, reports an anonymous blogger who continues to insist New Zealand has become exactly like Zimbabwe.
There is increasing concern for the blogger, who appears to be trapped in the imaginary alternative universe where he lived for the last two terms of the Labour government.
Readers had believed the blogger to be freely interpreting real world events, and expected the tone to settle following the election of a National-led government. But they have now realised he is in fact mentally locked in "a whole nother universe".
His recent posts indicate that in 'HelenGrad' violent unrest and oppression are increasing, inflation has hit a record 500 000% and refugees are fleeing across the border to South Africa.
Jim Anderton Loves Labour So Much He Is In Fact Marrying Them
The Progressive Party will form an "opposition coalition" with the Labour Party, leading commentators to suggest that Progressive leader Jim Anderton love Labour so much he wants to marry them. The two parties are expected to remain up a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, until such time as Anderton leaves parliament.
The move has been long expected as Anderton has been in bed with Labour since 1999.
"Well I happy for them and all," said one observer, "But aren't they related?"
New Press Secretaries Busy Reprogramming AutoText
Newly-hired members of Ministers' and MPs' staff are now preparing for the new session of Parliament. A high priority is adapting their word processors' auto-complete function to their post-election position.
For example, instead of "chainsaw massacre", "out of touch", "exodus to Australia" or "rising rate of violent crime", new Ministers will be able to type phrases like "on the right track", "reporting of domestic violence" and "has welcomed the release of the report into" at the touch of a button.
If the software is correctly changed from "Government" to "Opposition" mode (or vice versa), MPs will not be required to think for another three years.