The Politics of Indignation, and Capes and Tights: Superhero Comics, Sun 31 August, WORD Christchurch

The Politics of Indignation
finlay_mcdonald
The Politics of Indignation featured Australian writer Richard King, author of On Offence, in conversation with journalist Finlay Macdonald (right) about our culture of offence-taking, particularly in the media and politics. It was a lively, fascinating discussion that I really enjoyed.

King’s thesis is that the act of publicly taking offence has become a toxic presence in our democracy, shutting down valuable arguments where it should be the start of the debate. He spoke about how offence-taking has become part of our political currency, with politicians being rewarded for being seen to be offended with extra media coverage and headlines.

The reason we have freedom of speech, says King, is to protect the search for truth. And it is meaningless unless it includes the freedom to offend. He spoke scathingly about how a sense of victimhood has become part of our cultural self-awareness, where ‘me being offended’ is automatically ‘your problem’. King also criticised the act of being offended on behalf of others, the way the middle classes can be patronisingly protective of “the marginalised”.

There was an interesting discussion of the place of satire: the act of being deliberately offensive in a humorous manner in order to make a serious point. It reminded me of the conversation yesterday between satirist Steve Braunias and The Civilian’s Ben Uffindell. Both Uffindell and Macdonald made the point that satire in New Zealand is difficult because too many people don’t get it. Macdonald said this means that journalists get tired of being misunderstood and simply stop using satire – and this has the effect of “making us all so bloody pious”.

Of course, these days, no discussion of offence is complete without mentioning Twitter. King bemoaned the fact that Twitter, which was originally touted as being the great, international conversation-enabler, has instead become a place where vital debate is shut down. “140 characters is enough to convey strength of feeling, but not reasoned argument.”

This was a fascinating session and really got me thinking about how feelings of offence affect my own behaviour. Good on King for bringing up a topic that we all need to consider.

Capes and Tights: Superhero Comics

Capes and Tights was my last session at the 2014 WORD Christchurch Writers Festival, and it was a wonderful note to end on: lively fun with an infectious passion for books and story.
dylanhorrocks
Cartoonist Dylan Horrocks (right)  chaired a panel discussion on superhero comics with filmmaker Jonathan King, author Karen Healey and philosopher Damon Young. All four spoke with humour and real feeling about their love for superhero comics, and the different ways they had read them at different stages of their lives. For example, Young spoke movingly about being an angry teen wanting to see his own rage reflected in the characters, needing to see vengeance as noble.

No discussion of superhero comics is complete without an examination of violence. King pointed out that, since 9/11, US superhero films tend to show seriousness by having entire city blocks destroyed and people and rubble covered in dust. Young spoke about how articulate violence in comics can express character and play a valuable role in storytelling.

I was very struck by Healey’s thesis that all comics are fanfiction (she has written her PhD on this topic). All comics are built on characters, situations, stories and artwork that have come before them – there is no definitive first story or ‘right’ version. I was also interested to learn that, in this context, ‘canon’ means ‘having the official masthead’ (eg. of DC Comics or Marvel).

Horrocks asked all the participants what superpower they’d have if they could: Healey said invincibility, Young said telekinesis, and King chose the ability to fly. Horrocks said he’d had invisibility, and spoke very poignantly about his idea of his invisible self continuing after his death, observing the world.

The session ended with Horrocks inviting Rachael King, one of the WORD organisers, to come and receive a very well deserved round of applause. Horrocks praised WORD 2014 for being the year’s best literary festival – bring on 2016!

by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher
www.elizabethheritage.co.nz

Advertisements

The Changeover: 30 Years On, and The Secret Diary of the Civilian, WORD Christchurch 31 August

The Changeover: 30 Years On

I was so excited when I saw this session advertised. As a child and teenager, I loved Margaret Mahy’s chilling YA novel The Changeover, and reread it many times. The engrossing story of Laura Chant having to ‘change over’ to become a witch in order to protect her little brother felt both magical and real at the same time. But I never met anyone else who had read it.

WORD Christchurch Writers Festival brought together authors Elizabeth Knox and Karen Healey and filmmaker Stuart McKenzie to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of The Changeover (chaired by Bill Nagelkerke).

It was the changeoverwonderful for me to hear the admiration and enjoyment I had experienced as a child for this book expressed with such articulate passion by these highly intelligent speakers. Both Knox and Healey acknowledged Mahy’s influence on them and their work: Healey said The Changeover “blew up my brain”, Knox said “Mahy’s naturalism made the supernatural natural”. I particularly liked Healey’s description of Mahy as “an enchantress who made books appear”.

And I am thrilled that The Changeover is to be made into a film! McKenzie has decided to set the movie in present-day Christchurch, rather than in 1984 when the book is set, and Nagelkerke drew the parallel of Christchurch having dramatically ‘changed over’ from a pre to a post-earthquake city. Hopefully the film will mean republication of the book: as with the Reading Favourites session yesterday, the panelists noted that, despite its prestigious Carnegie Medal win, The Changeover is now out of print.

Some copies are still available from the 2003 reprint, however, and I would urge you all to go out at once and buy this wonderful, profound, magical and terrifying NZ spec fic novel.

The Secret Diary of The CivilianWORD-Web-Event-CIVILIAN

My second session today was Steven Braunias in conversation with Ben Uffindell, creator of the satirical (and reliably hilarious) news website The Civilian.

There’s always a danger with these kinds of sessions that analysis will render the comedy unfunny. Happily, this was avoided, both because Braunias and Uffindell are both just very funny men, and also because they largely stuck to discussing the nature of satire rather than the nature of comedy.

The one-liners flew thick and fast, from the cynical to the surreal: Braunias introduced Uffindell as “New Zealand’s most credible politician since Judith Collins”; Uffindell said “I feel like the Pope [sharing God’s truth with the masses]”; and “crayons are inherently funny”.

There was a very amusing moment when Uffindell recalled the title of one particular article: “Joe Karam, several others found dead in Bain home”, which caused Braunias to spit out his beer in a burst of laughter.

Uffindell was very strongly of the opinion that satire needs to move out of “a dark corner of Twitter” and closer to the mainstream. He name-checked other satirists – Toby Manhire, Danyl McLaughlan – but said they’re insufficiently well known. He believes that New Zealanders are often too poorly educated to appreciate satire, and he gets a lot of feedback online which makes it evident that people haven’t understood that The Civilian’s “facts” aren’t real.

So where does The Civilian draw the line? Uffindell says that writing something that hurts someone personally and individually is a step too far. Other than that, pretty much anything is fair game. He says he has at one point or other in his 23 years occupied so many different points along the political spectrum that he no longer has any firmly held political beliefs; thus allowing him to satirise all parties fairly.

The Civilian is not a force for good” said Uffindell. “I am here to create chaos on the page”. Long may he continue to do so.

Written by Elizabeth Heritage, Freelance writer and publisher
http://elizabethheritage.co.nz/