Wednesday 28 January 2015

Neo-lib anti-culture support for the arts

Ok. Since moving to Wellington, we've seen Circa Theatre put on a production of Little Red Riding Hood and Bats put on a production of Richard III.

We thought the former would be good for the kids: it was an early enough show and was advertised as pantomime. The opening musical number was a lengthy rant on the evils of the National Party. The Big Bad Wolf was a scary awful developer who wanted to collude with evil scary politicians to turn some park in Karori into apartment blocks. We ducked out at half-time as the show was running really long and we were past the kids' bedtime - they're normally to-bed around 7, and we'd been expecting an hour-long kids kinda show. Our fault on due diligence.

The final Act of Richard III had Richard the Third's face on a National Party 2014 election placard in place of John Key's, and Henry VII's face in place of Cunliffe's on a Labour hoarding. The play's leaflet apologised for the strong partisanship in this performance, but because they just hate National so much and because they thought it was so apt, they hoped nobody minded too much.

Both plays were fun and I enjoyed them, but it's hardly unprecedented for tax-funded arts types to go all-out on how much they hate the government (if National's in office), markets, economists, developers, and businessmen. I might be misremembering, but I thought I saw various government funding body seals on both programmes.

Anyway, today a bunch of people got mad on Twitter that Eleanor Catton, a NZ novelist, complained about NZ's neoliberal profit-loving, culture-hating politicians. Half of them were mad she'd said that; the other half were mad anybody might complain that she'd said it; and some other half entirely were mad at Sean Plunkett. My Twitter filters must be getting better as I didn't see any of it until somebody pointed me to it.

To resolve matters in everybody else is wrong except me fashion:
  1. Catton's complaint is self-refuting: no neoliberal, profit-loving, culture-hating government would keep giving so many grants to so many productions that spend so much time complaining about our neoliberal, profit-loving, culture-hating government. 
  2. John Key's disappointment that she doesn't like him is entirely unobjectionable.
  3. Complaining that artsy types are going to be loud and lefty... would you blame the birds for singing, the fish for swimming, or the children for laughing?*
  4. That so many got so riled up over this whole thing... I guess the summer stupid season isn't over yet. Wasn't there a state-of-the-nation address on or something that people should have been paying attention to? 
* Don't answer this last part if you live in Stonefields.


  1. What is 'culture'? When people start bandying the word around in the context of demanding more money for it, I'm reminded of Goering's rather trenchant views on the subject.

  2. Do we really need government funding for the arts when Kickstarter and PledgeMe can come close to replicating Lindahl mechanisms?

  3. Eric, I'm glad you've already learnt the Circa lesson. It has been putting on largely the same play with largely the same actors again and again for about 10 years. Even in the Wellington Lefty Arts Scene its not well loved.

  4. I suggested this for the Chch cycleways, but was quickly told by the Mayor's mouthpiece that it wasn't an option.

    But yes, crowdfunding platforms should remove many of the frictions that have made government funding historically necessary.

  5. I notice that you don't offer any actual figures on the current state of arts funding under National, number/size of grants given, or even a definite statement that these particular productions were government-funded, and if so, to what extent.

    Full disclosure: I love Circa.

  6. Circa's pantomime has featured an opening number complaining about the government every year since it started. I can't be sure, but I think Labour was in power then. (And the jokes were both ruder and funnier; Circa's lack of new ideas is probably uncorrelated with the electoral cycle.)

    As for Richard III, I was actually slightly disappointed with the way they played Richard as Key so consistently. I was expecting some fiercely pointed commentary (true or otherwise) on a tyrant's ability to be personable in public and villainous in private. Instead they let their desire to lampoon the "smile and wave" persona dilute Richard's evil side. Disappointing, and not what we expect of the Bacchanals.

    Essay topic: Does the partisanship of the arts community undermine the quality of its art?

  7. I'm pretty sure that Key couldn't have ordered the murder of the princes in the tower for starters...

  8. Well, you could go to Circa's website, and to Bats's, and see the Creative NZ Funding logo on each.

    I hardly see it as controversial to note that it's pretty standard for govt-funded artsy types to complain about National-led governments.

  9. Except they wont. (Late to the party, I know.)

    Lefty productions wouldn't survive without government support. And the Lefty producers don't want to try. Money they can con out of inattentive, uncaring bureaucrats provides them much more "artistic" freedom, than actually having to appeal to a paying audience.

    The move over to crowdfunding would just lead to the Lefty artsy fartsy twats demanding that government become part of that crowd. You know, for balance.