Posts Tagged ‘Cartoons’

Depicting Julia Gillard

datePosted on 14:27, July 5th, 2010 by Lew

I’ll be watching with interest the characterisation — and caricaturisation — of Australia’s new PM, especially as compared to Helen Clark. Some of you might be aware that I once wrote a research paper on the characterisation of Clark by John Banks and Lindsay Perigo in talk radio during 2007. I was informed at the time that, via the usual academic networks, a copy made its way from Victoria University of Wellington to someone at the Australian National University in Canberra who had contacts within the then-Deputy Leader’s office, and that Gillard had read it with some interest. I’m not sure how true that is, but I do know she took a keen interest in Helen Clark’s public image, likely with this very eventuality in mind, so it isn’t altogether implausible.

The Clark-Gillard comparison is a natural one, due partly to geographical and temporal proximity; but also due to genuine similarities between their politics, manner and ascent to power. The comparisons have been highly ambivalent. The usual slanderers have already begun spreading the same ludicrous assertions that Gillard, like Clark, is a closet lesbian, on the grounds that she hasn’t had children and is more apparently bolshy than her husband. Apparently very deep in the closet, since she’s come out against gay marriage. (But then, she would, wouldn’t she?)

Peter Cresswell described her as Helen Clark with lipstick, which I guess is negative as to her politics but positive as to her perceived femininity, notwithstanding that Clark did in fact wear lipstick herself. Auckland University’s Jennifer Curtin pointed out some comparisons as to the two women’s assumption of their roles, though I can’t help but think she must have a more nuanced and complex position on the topic than was suitable for an AAP statement:

“They’ve both started off on the left but moved kind of to the centre of their party,” she said. They both appear to be hard workers, good speakers and have made similar choices in selecting their political allies and portfolios – opting to avoid women’s policies specifically. “If they represent women they do it in a more mainstream kind of way,” Curtin said.

Clark’s biographer Brian Edwards, speaking on ABC Radio National, outlined the similarities in more detail:

Well there are extraordinary similarities. I’ve been reading some of the reports about Julia Gillard in the papers here in New Zealand, and it’s absolutely uncanny, and what we’ve just heard is also true, that from the start, Helen Clark was a professional politician, she was absolutely focused, her intention I guess, long term, was to be prime minister, and she would do everything possible to do that. And if you look at the two women, as I say, the similarities are remarkable. Both unmarried, both decided, clearly, that being a politician and aiming to be prime minister did not go with having children, that was the decision, a positive decision which Helen Clark made, she and her partner, Peter Davis. Helen in fact, never wanted to get married and was actually more or less pushed into it by the Labour Party, and wept on her wedding day, which was relatively unusual. She was an atheist, she received some of the same sort of criticisms that I gather Julia Gillard has received in your country for her voice, she had a strong Kiwi accent, a rather deep voice; for her looks, people didn’t like the look of her hair, they didn’t like the look of her teeth; she was accused of being a lesbian, primarily by her opponents admittedly in those early days, and had an extraordinarily hard struggle to make it at all.
And these were all things that a man would not expect to happen at all in politics. None of those things would have come up if the man was a bachelor or was married or didn’t have any children, or any of those other things.

Clark fought these attacks, in part, by recourse to a “makeover” in mid-2005, when she appeared on the cover of women’s magazines — notably Woman’s Weekly — more heavily made up, more softly and sympathetically portrayed and generally appealing more directly to women, and to men who, if they had to be led by a sheila, wanted to be led by a real sheila. This was probably crucial to her winning the 2005 election. Gillard, The Australian tells us today, already has a similar glossy campaign well underway. It’s a good move. (Anyone who wants to call it fake or staged or a cheap trick or blatant media sycophancy to make such an appeal had better first recall John Key’s appearance on Gone Fishin’ (audio), and accompanying article by host Graeme Sinclair in — you guessed it — Woman’s Weekly. Incidentally, if anyone has or can find a copy of the video of that Gone Fishin’ episode, I’d love to see it. I missed it at the time.)

Other Gillard comparisons have also been made: to Margaret Thatcher (as Clark before her was), and to British Labour’s present acting leader Harriet Harman. In contrast with Jennifer Curtin’s observation that neither Clark nor Gillard emphasise their femininity in policy terms, The New Statesman‘s Alyssa MacDonald argues that the public treatment of Harman illustrates that it’s still not politically viable to be an overtly feminist female leader, even in 2010:

Both come from legal backgrounds, hold multiple political posts, have strong union connections, speak with distinctive voices and are always politically “on”. But while Gillard is popular and respected, Harman is often, very unfairly, spoken of as hectoring, dowdy and not very bright. Even before Gordon Brown’s departure, her chances of becoming Labour leader were the same as the number of forthcoming Harman biographies: zero.
Politically, there’s a glaring difference between Gillard and Harman. One has fought consistently for a feminist agenda, while the other has approached her political career with individualistic ambition. Not to do Gillard down — she’s very good at her job and she deserves her success — but her premiership isn’t necessarily any more of a great lunge forward for women than Margaret Thatcher’s was thirty years ago.
Meanwhile, Harman’s drive to push issues such as rape laws and the Equality Bill into the spotlight has undoubtedly been good for British women — and a huge contibuting factor to her unlovely public image.
Gillard’s success is still a symbolic step forward, signalling that the presence of women in Australian politics has become normal. And it looks likely to be good news for the country as a whole. But it’s not as if Australian women now have a Harman at the top to look out for their interests.

As MacDonald notes, Gillard is much more favourably-portrayed than Harman (and I would add, than Clark was at any point during her leadership). I think a lot of this is down to the “lipstick” to which PC refers: a metaphorical sort of lipstick which speaks to a particular notion of femininity, like the kind which Sarah Palin made famous. For one thing, Gillard’s attractiveness has been emphasised by the favourable comparison to Scottish actress Tilda Swinton:

This distinctive visage, the “bricklayer” voice to which Brian Edwards alluded, and her speaking style have been welcomed by the Australian media and satirical communities, who found Rudd “almost irritatingly bland”, according to editorial cartoonist Bill Leak. This from an article, also in today’s Australian on the topic:

Gillard’s wealth of striking anatomical attributes is almost too much of a good thing, says Cathy Wilcox of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sun Herald. “She’s got so many features that if you just go for one, it isn’t enough. The challenge is how to get all those things in there without her head being enormous.”
Since Gillard took power, editorial artists have been studying her face with the obsessiveness of a lover, poring over photos and freeze-framing the TV to parse her every angle and expression.
Australia’s first female Prime Minister, seen through their eyes, has a “striking head of hair”, “incredibly beautiful skin”, eyes that manage to be simultaneously “squinty” and “big and distinctively shaped”, “chubby cheeks” with “pronounced cheekbones” and a mouth that “sits small and low” above “a small chin that tucks into an incredibly long neck”. Not even her earlobes escape attention.
And who else but an artist would notice that the new PM has “a reasonably ample bottom in relation to her head”?
But there is one facial feature in particular about which they all rhapsodise: Gillard’s “pointy”, “assertive”, “wonderful” nose. A nose, as Leak puts it, “that looks like you could chop wood with it”.
Fiona Katauskas, freelance cartoonist and producer of the Talking Pictures segment on the ABC’s Insiders, says Gillard’s nose is a defining feature that artists can utilise to express her character, just as the jutting lower-lip of former PM John Howard came to represent his determination, or obstinacy.
“I will take a punt and say Gillard’s nose will become the equivalent of Howard’s lip,” she says.

What’s interesting about all this is that, unlike most of the discussion of Clark and Harman’s appearance, it is robust but not unkind. Gillard’s relatively warm reception is being put down to her status as Australia’s first female PM, and I think there’s some legitimacy to that view; a genuine preparedness to “give her a go” tinged by a fear that bagging her too early would come off as sexist. We’ll see how long that persists, and how long her distinctiveness — of appearance, manner, and political character — is portrayed as quirky and endearing rather than bizarre and threatening.

L

False mean

datePosted on 18:24, February 11th, 2010 by Lew

idt20070815
I never get tired of this cartoon. It reminds me what being a Sensible Moderate™ is not at all about.

The latest proposal for the foreshore and seabed is PC gone mad — put it in the public domain, but not really the public domain per se, and everyone’s happy. Or not unhappy. Hopefully. And if they are, they’re just being unreasonable.

It’s blending half the kittens in order to avoid tackling the complex and painful political and historical problem which the issue represents. It’s the cop-out option which aims to offend nobody, but really only achieves that goal on the surface. It’s like a butchered mihi delivered by someone who’s not really well-meaning but wants to appear so, ignorant of the fact that wairua matters.

This has Peter Dunne’s fingerprints all over it, and he’s the one tying himself in verbal and conceptual knots: “no one owns it but we all own it and so therefore we all have an interest in it”. The unnamed sources are no better, arguing that since there are no rights, “everyone’s rights are protected.” You couldn’t make this up.

The trouble is that Māori — and the māori party in particular — don’t just want everyone to get along; they want their historical claims to the takutai moana tested and upheld, or negotiated to mutual satisfaction. This will necessarily include some positive determination as to the ownership status of those stretches of land and sea, from which will derive other rights — to development, to exercise kaitiakitanga, and so on — which can and should be negotiated on the merits of the original determination. This proposal commits a similar legal fallacy to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, in reversing the legal test as to customary title. Prior to the FSA all land was presumed to be in customary ownership unless alienation could be proven — the FSA reversed this, forcing claimants to prove that their rights to the foreshore and seabed had not been alienated. To be satisfactory to Māori, any resolution must address this change, and either provide recourse to that pre-existing legal framework, or a negotiated framework which satisfies all parties. Māori don’t want a Clayton’s solution in which they gain nothing except by losing slightly less than the Foreshore and Seabed Act took away, while things literally do not change for Pākehā.

Let me be clear, though: I don’t so much mind the function of the proposal as its justification. I prefer Hone Harawira’s proposal — full customary title, inalienable, with guaranteed access for all New Zealanders in perpetuity — but recognise that this is probably too ambitious in reality. A solution which mimics public domain in function while resolving the question of customary title could work. But this isn’t such a proposal. There is no short-cut, no easy way out of this. It’s time for both major parties to stop avoiding this fact, and face up to the responsibilities — and the opportunities — these historical times present.

Update: Yikes, even Marty G sort-of agrees with me!

L

Polysemic text, context and objective meaning

datePosted on 14:16, July 11th, 2009 by Lew

If a door is closed, karate chop it open.

If a door is closed, karate chop it open.

The basic critique I and others have made about the s59 referendum question is that it only makes sense if you accept the implicit assertions with which it is loaded. Linguistic or semiotic texts don’t have wholly objective meanings – their meaning is partially subjective to the interpreter, and meaning approaches objectivity only to the extent to which people can (or will) agree on the interpretation of a text. What we call ‘objective’ meaning in a text really describes a particularly strong agreement on interpretation within a notional audience, and frequently what we call an absence of understanding or comprehension of a text really just describes an absence of agreement on the interpretation between one part of a notional audience and another. It’s easy to overstate this: usually within a given audience there is a reasonable degree of agreement on interpretation, and this is particularly true with regard to ordinary or mundane language or imagery. Some texts are more complex than others, and some are more controversial and will tend to divide the agreement of an audience more than others, but this is not a pure subjectivist or hyper-relativist argument that there is no useful meaning in anything or that definitions or the understanding of common referents are irrelevant or somehow unattainable. Just to say that meaning is not strictly encoded in a text but is as much a function of interpretation. Texts with more than one reasonable reading for a given notional audience (such that ordinary people within an audience group can reasonably differ on interpretation) are called ‘polysemic’, which is just a fancy technical way to say they have multiple meanings.

Broadly speaking the task of a propaganda campaign, or of political speech in general, is to pose a monosemic question or scenario – one which a reasonable person from within the target audience group can only read or answer in one way. This often relies on loading one’s text with as much implicit context as possible so as to avoid the possibility of part (or all) of your audience misreading it; shipping with instructions, as it were. In a strategic sense, it is not the text itself which is the payload – the frame and its implied norms enable the propagandist to construct (manufacture) the audience’s consent for their preferred reading of the wider text.

Returning to the s59 referendum question, it is a fair and credible attempt at freighting a question with an implicit value judgement which renders the answer obvious if the question is read naïvely. But it goes too far; reasonable people don’t need to try very hard to see the payload, which is the implication that (a) a smack can be part of good parental correction and (b) such a smack is a criminal offence. In a successful propaganda campaign of this nature, the textual agenda is more obvious and the contextual agenda less so, and the referendum’s supporters have been working very hard to try to shut down contrary readings of their campaign in order to de-emphasise the frame and context, and emphasise the naïve text. They’ve failed in this, but it is instructive nevertheless, and that isn’t to say they haven’t achieved any of their objectives. The problem is that the referendum question and campaign is essentially preaching to the choir – it makes sense to a conservative segment of the population who care a lot about this issue and are riled up by the constraint on their “freedom” to smack, and it speaks to them because they already accept its premises. But it isn’t much use as a polemic device because, for those who don’t accept its premises, it just looks like a stupid question. This is the problem with developing political strategy in an echo-chamber – just because you believe your own hype doesn’t mean everyone does. To pervert Schneier’s Law: anyone can design a political campaign so clever that he or she can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t agree with it. This feeds back into my ongoing critique of the state of Labour politics: toward the end they believed their own hype, in much the same way as the AAS lobby believes theirs.

Campaigns which employ symbolic or propaganda methods, whether for beneficial purposes or not, are ultimately about social control. A society which responds uniformly and predictably is, all else equal, easier to control than a diverse society, so a great deal of effort is put into the crafting of messages, delivery systems, textual and contextual input to a society which will generate predictable output. Public campaigns, to be successful, require their audience to share strong agreement about interpretation and common understanding of context for their payload to be effective. Robbed of context and freighted assumptions, even something as apparently intuitive, important and uncontroversial as a FEMA public readiness campaign can be highly puzzling and confusing if read naïvely.

Edit: And sometimes, when the context seems obvious, it’s not:

Get the context at BAGnewsNotes or YouTube. If you read the video right, he’s being a gent, not a cad.

L

Welcome Standardistas

datePosted on 11:18, June 26th, 2009 by Lew

Lynn has linked through to us while The Standard is down – thanks. I won’t have time today to put much up, so in order that you’re not disappointed by the relative lack of content, here are a few other unusual suspects worth your attention:

  • BAGnewsNotes, because politics sometimes needs to be seen to be believed.
  • The Dr Seuss propaganda cartoon archive.
  • My old mate Gabe runs a radio show on FleetFM called Playing Singles, Drinking Doubles, dedicated to outlaw country, honky tonk, gospel, rock & roll, western swing and the blues.
  • The Objective Standard, whose watchword is Exploit The Earth Or Die. Magnificent in its delusion. Even the ad links on this site are interesting – here’s one to a book called The Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles. Who knew Harry Potter (by implication: JK Rowling) was a Rand cultist? Or wait, is it that Rand cultists are actually wizards? Clearly, since I can’t figure this out, I’m a muggle.
  • Here’s a wonderful montage of Fox News screengrabs. It’s a big file, but truly the gift which keeps on giving.
  • Save The Media – career journalist Gina Chen blogs on how old media can learn from new media.
  • The Peoples Cube – life behind the irony curtain. So overdone it initially made me wonder whether it was propaganda or ironic counter-propaganda, but nevertheless, an almost-endless trove of remarkably original material. Particularly righteous is the Pascal’s Global Warming Wager.
  • Submit on the Auckland local government reforms. Last stop today; train’s going to keep on rolling until it reaches the end of the line or the engineer dies.
  • Why Obama really won the Democratic primary.

Add your own unusual suspects in comments, if you like.

Cheers,
L

[If anyone has a post they’d like us to put up please email us (kiwipolitico @ kiwipolitico.com) and we’ll get it posted! Anita]

Four-day week – analysis?

datePosted on 23:17, February 19th, 2009 by Lew

Since I spend my workday up to my eyeballs in the media, it’s very rare that I watch ONE News Tonight, and even rarer that I come across something I don’t already know.

12152008_bigdig
(Red Planet Cartoons)

Today, I managed to elude the fact that the government is considering support for a four-day week for businesses which might otherwise consider layoffs, paying (part of?) the fifth day’s income, while staff undertake training or community work. Until Tonight, that is. This seems to me an excellent idea, if it can be well-implemented. It accounts for the necessary scaling-back in production which some industries will experience, while subsidising future productivity increases to come from improving the skill base of NZ workers, which means that once the recession passes, the country will be better-positioned to hit the ground running, as it were, and enable the government to pay back the debt which will necessarily accrue from the scheme.

(As a sidebar: that a National government is even considering such a thing represents a huge change in political culture.)

There are certainly pro- and contra- arguments to this sort of scheme which I’ve not considered; as you can tell by the cartoon, I’m not unaware of the general uselessness of make-work-for-the-sake-of-making-work schemes. Friedman’s quote, on the linked site, is especially well-taken:

“If all we want are jobs, we can create any number — for example, have people dig holes and then fill them up again, or perform other useless tasks. […] Our real objective is not just jobs but productive jobs”

The question is one of implementation: what would be necessary for a make-work scheme which results in productivity improvements down the line to be better than redundancy – the consequent productivity increase that brings as they try to better themselves, less the productivity drain they represent, being out of money and therefore not consuming, or on welfare?

This is a complex question, and I invite you to argue your corner. But please, I’m not interested in ideology-bound doggerel of the `OMG statist corrupt meddling communism’ sort, or its inverse – I’m not an economist, but I expect a high standard of analysis, the more formal the better.

L

Ka ora!

datePosted on 23:27, February 18th, 2009 by Lew

Ka ora! (I live!) – the triumphant second part of the famous challenge in Te Rauparaha’s haka Ka Mate, composed after his narrow escape from seemingly-certain death. Ka mate is itself a symbol of life and vigour and indomitable spirit, a rowdy celebration of vitality, and one of the most vivid and tangible symbols of New Zealand culture, both for Māori and for Tau Iwi, and much-loved and admired by people the world over, so ubiquitous that many simply know it as the haka, as if there were none other.

Now the rights to this famous tāonga are to be vested in Te Rauparaha’s descendants, Ngāti Toa Rangatira. This is a sore spot for many people, who for the reasons above feel as if they have a stake in Ka Mate as well. Much of this hearkens back to the old `iwi/kiwi’ rhetoric of the 2005 election campaign, and in particular I’d like to point to one small exchange which I think illustrates that that rhetorical line no longer has quite the currency it did; then I’d like to engage with the actual matter of the issue: the meeting of intellectual property, identity and mātauranga Māori.

Backdown

haka13The Rod Emmerson cartoon at right appeared on the front page of the New Zealand Herald on 11 February 2009, the day the Letter of Agreement between Ngāti Toa Rangatira and the Crown was signed, and is the most direct reference to the old iwi/kiwi debate. The image was also attached to the online story. However, that day during Question Time, Minister for Treaty Negotiations Chris Finlayson harshly criticised the cartoon, saying it was “puerile and inaccurate […] highly offensive to Ngāti Toa. We are not talking about that kind of redress”. This position was reiterated by John Key, and was the subject of another article the following day. They’re absolutely right: as I will demonstrate below there is no merit whatsoever to the argument.

After Finlayson’s statement in Parliament, the cartoon was detached from the article – but it remains on the NZ Herald’s server, and that it was attached to the article is proven by google images. Tangentially, the cartoon appears to be one of a batch by Emmerson, including this one, very similarly composed. At least two other cartoons emphasised the financial issue – Mike Moreu’s and Tom Scott’s.

The importance of this very minor editorial backdown by the NZ Herald is huge. I’m not arguing that Finlayson’s statement in the House caused the Herald to take it down, but it was undoubtedly an influence: perhaps the Herald saw that the tide has turned. The very fact that a National Minister would so firmly repudiate such an allegation of graft among Māori business interests, against the editorial line of both our major press outlets, shows how far they have come since the bad old days of Don Brash’s populist point-scoring. It also shows that they’re in government and mean to stay there.

Rights

People talk about `intellectual property’ as if it’s unified by a central legal idea, or created from whole cloth. In fact the whole realm is a minefield of social, legal, technical, customary and common-law complexity from several intellectual traditions, dating back to the enlightenment, and very poorly updated to encompass things which have happened since. The S92 protests currently underway are an example of its deep and thorough dysfunction. It’s vastly more ugly and complicated than you might think: for an excellent critique of the whole system, I can recommend none better than Drahos and Braithwaite, Information Feudalism. Incidentally, like Richard Stallman, I abhor the term `intellectual property’ for this reason; though unlike him I don’t eschew its use when talking about the whole awful mess together.

When people talk about `intellectual property’, usually they mean `copyright’ but want to sound knowledgeable. Even when people talk about `copyright’ they are usually, in fact, mixing up two quite distinct parallel traditions: economic rights of copyright, and moral rights of the author. Simply; economic rights allow the copyright holder to extract a rent from a work, while moral rights afford other sorts of protection, such as the requirement of attribution. The two sets of rights can exist independently or apart; they need not necessarily go together, but can coexist happily if need be. The discourse inherent in the cartoons above, and in much of the news copy, is rooted in the supposition that economic rights are the only rights, and that Ngāti Toa Rangatira must therefore be looking to extract a rent from Ka Mate (even if only a piffling, `dollar dollar’ for the single most famous piece of Māori art in existence). This is also the foundation of Whale Oil’s rather smug argument that, since NZ copyright allows for a term of 50 years after the death of the author, copyright on Ka Mate lapsed in 1899 and it’s now in the public domain.

As is so often the case, the reality is quite different. The Letter of Agreement mentions nothing of the sort – no discussion of economic or moral rights, or of copyright, or even of that broadest of terms, `intellectual property’. No, the complete text in the LoA relating to Ka Mate is as follows:

– Ka Mate haka

The settlement legislation will also record the authorship and significance of the haka Ka Mate to Ngāti Toa and the Crown will work with Ngāti Toa to address their concerns with the haka in a way that balances their rights with those of the wider public.

The Crown does not expect that redress will result in royalties for the use of Ka Mate or provide Ngāti Toa with a veto on the performance of Ka Mate. Ngāti Toa’s primary objective is to prevent the misappropriation and culturally inappropriate use of the Ka Mate haka.

This stops well short of even the weakest copyright protection. It implies a subset of moral rights, and explicitly enjoins exercise of economic rights. The entire line of argument is therefore completely discredited, and if anything, Ngāti Toa Rangatira are faced with a hard task of staking a claim in any way other than the symbolic. If they choose – and there’s the big question nobody is asking.

Colonising Mātauranga Māori

Suppose Ngāti Toa Rangatira had been offered exclusive, authorial economic and moral rights to Ka Mate. Should they accept? Ultimately, of course, this is a matter of utility for that iwi, and them alone – but let me sketch a few of the issues in play. First, and most obviously, the adoption of Tau Iwi systems of knowledge ownership for mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) is a dangerous business. Those who have legitimate entitlement to the mātauranga might be prevented from exercising it by colonial IP laws; more importantly, the nature of the mātauranga itself is impacted upon by its presence within a framework, and the degree of codification and specification that requires. As M A Hemi said regarding the use of Māori terms in the Resource Management Act,

Māori concepts when treated in isolation are incapable of proper function and development. In fact, any concept when divorced from its cultural base is subject to dysfunction and cultural reinterpretation or hi-jack. (Quoted in Mason Durie, Te Mana, Te Kāwanatanga, p33.)

Nevertheless, there can be great utility in protecting these things by colonial means, in order to prevent their exploitation by colonial systems. This is the foundation for the WAI 262 claim, to my knowledge the longest-running and most complex claim ever brought to the Waitangi Tribunal, with enormous precedent value. And why shouldn’t they see any tangible economic benefits from their mātauranga now, given that for generations it has been exploited and co-opted and adapted without their consent or input, and to great commercial gain?

The question is a live one – ka ora.

L