Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Don't let the weird nationalism break you up: thoughts on the Hobbit

She is 16 years old and she's an actress. Her friends may perform in school plays, but she is an actress - she has a job. She's in a TV show.

Today she is in wardrobe. One of the producers comes in - someone always checks the costumes. He touches her breast.

She tells her parents and her agent. They ring up the producers; they're angry. Her contract is terminated that day - breach of confidentiality - she talked about being sexually harrassed. By the next day the scripts have all been rewritten


I didn't make that up. It happened on a New Zealand film set this century.

The government is at the moment passing a law which will exclude those working in the film industry from being employees - the default position will be that they are contractors. At the moment as independent contractors actors (and others in hte film industry) can be fired at any time for any reason - they have no right of due process.

What this means is that there is nothing to stop producers firing teenage girls, because they sexually harassed them. And when there's nothing to stop people abusing power, sometimes they abuse power.

Often it's not about an individual abusing power, it's about saving money. If you can fire people for any reason they're much less likely to complain about health and safety.


At the moment (as you've probably already been told several times over the last few weeks) the conditions for actors are set out in the pink book - a non-binding agreement between Actors Equity and SPADA.

The non-binding bit is the problem - you can see how that'd be hard to enforce in an environment where someone can be fired for complaining about sexual assault.

This isn't actually something that has just happened over the Hobbit. Actors Equity have been working for years to negotiate binding wages and conditions for their members. They've tried lots of tactics some even made headlines - such as the negotiations with Outrageous Fortune. From what I've heard, the producers have thrown everything they had at keeping the union away from any form of negotiations.


Imagine if you could be fired for any reason every day you go to work. Then imagine you're asked to change your terms and conditions. Imagine you're asked to work in dangerous conditions. Imagine a boss touches your breast. Imagine worse.

At various times and places in various industries, these sorts of conditions have been really standard. The film industry is not the only industry in New Zealand where they still are, but it is a significant one.

I want people to understand how much power companies have when there is no collective bargaining, and no employment law. That's not because I think we should only stand by the actors because their conditions are appalling,but because I want people to know what they're endorsing, if they oppose the actors struggle to get a binding negotiatiation for their wages and conditions. I want people to understand how high the stakes are, and how much power the companies have now.


But this is not a story about the powerless screwing the people while the people do nothing. What is so important about the Hobbit is that the actors do have power. Outside New Zealand (including almost everywhere the Hobbit might have filmed in) the movie industry is well organised. The reason that Peter Jackson, WB and the government acted like the sky was falling in (to steal from Ian Mune) wasn't because the actors were powerless - but because the actors had organised and used their power. The threat of a global acting boycott was a real threat that they had the power to do real harm to the movie.

That is where some people who would agree with everything that I wrote in the first half of the post, lose patience and decide maybe they don't support the actors union. A lot of people have critised Actors Equity and MEAA for the way they used their power. Reading the Maps has a great post about the problems with fence sitting. I agree with him absolutely that is entirely compatible to stand in solidarity with the actors and criticise their tactics (although I also agree that only those who are knowledgable of the history of actors and unionisation beyond what has appeared in the news - I only know enough to know I don't know enough to enter the discussion). But I want to make a few more points.

My political position is that the only people to determine the actors struggle for union recognition and binding wages and conditions are the members of the actor's union.**

However, I understand that not everyone shares this position. Not everyone is a unioinist - and there is a part of the left where it is acceptable to balance and weigh things up and support the teachers because they're restrained, but think the radiographers might have gone too far, because they might hurt someone (hell there are, shamefully enough, parts of the union movement where this is acceptable). I want to unpack the implications of this balancing act in the case of the actors union.

Those who criticise AE and MEAA usually focus on the fact that the Hobbit could be moved out of the country, jeopordizing the film industry as a whole. Often they'll bolster their claims with talk about the right and wrong ways of negotiating, and how it's illegal for the company to meet with the union.**

There's something amazing about the passive voice - it can hide who is actually acting in the circumstance. The actors could not and would not have moved the Hobbit out of the country. The studio is the subject in a sentence about moving the Hobbit out of New Zealand. The studio could have agreed to meet with the actors, given them everything they demanded (which would have probably cost less than they spent flying the execs over from New York to meet John Key and see what they can get out of NZ government). They could have decided to move filming anywhere in the world. Whatever the studios decide, that's their responsibility.

To say otherwise is to support a "look what you made me do" position: don't provoke those with more power, and if you do you are responsible.

That's why it's impossible to sit on the fence in any kind of struggle where there's a power imbalance. Whether it's "I must finely examine the behaviour of those standing up to the powerful before I decide whether to support them. As if they make one mistake they are responsible for their provocative actions." Or "They appear to have lost, and therefore it should have been apparent that they would always lose and therefore I cannot support them." All this is predicated on accepting the power imbalance, and holding the actors responsible for the studio's power. The justifications people have offered for withholding their support from the actors have been grotesque.

Actors are workers, workers who at the moment gave access to neither collective bargaining, nor legal employment protections. They are organising to change that. If you stand with the bosses there's nothing I can do about that. But if you don't are your reasons for not standing with the workers really good enough?

Or you could just watch Florence Reece, who sums up the situation nicely:

* At this point someone always tries to execute a gotcha and say "well what if they were organising against women or Maori workers, . This isn't an unreasonable question - within in my lifetime unions have organised to exclude women from certain jobs. However, the point I make there is that the difference between a demand aimed at the boss and a demand made at other workers is a startlingly obvious one, and it is very easy to support the first and oppose the second.

** Which is just the kind of bullshit it takes two minutes to think through and expose. If WB can legally follow SAG minimums for American actors and MEAA minimums for Australian actors without that being price fixing. Then they can have collectively negotiated wages and conditions with their independent contractors in New Zealand. It's just that they don't want to with New Zealand actors, so they're hiding behind the law, and getting Chris Findlayson to help them out with that.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

So, this is huge

Regular readers will know that I'm a fan of television. I have in fact written an ode to television.

I have also written about the problems of television - the ways how it is produced limits what we can see

For one brief shining moment this winter I was proved utterly, utterly wrong as I watched 10 episodes of Huge.

Then I was proved right again, when they cancelled it.

But I thought I'd write about Huge anyway. For a NZ audience who probably won't have seen it - so no spoilers - just general raving about awesomeness. This is how it begins:

Huge aired on ABC Family a US cable network that I hadn’t even heard of until a few months ago, that apparently makes a TV version of 10 Things I Hate About You and sells airtime to Pat Robertson when it doesn’t have enough programming of it on. It’s set in a fat camp – where teenagers are supposed to lose weight.

So far so avoidable right? But it’s by the Winnie Holzman, the creator of My So Called Life (New Zealanders of a certain age may remember My So Called Life’s run on IceTV), and her daughter Savannah Dooley. (who I know next to nothing about, but think is unbelievably awesome – she is threatening my decade long commitment as a one-showrunner woman).

I want to explain what's so amazing about Huge, because I think it's important. It is the most closely observed show I've ever watched. This is not a show where the main character has to stab her boyfriend to save the world - this is the world we live in, or close to it.

I've always loved bangity-flash big moments on TV. But there is another way, instead of metaphors Huge delivers us the fine details of people's life.

The show appears not to take a side. For weeks the big question as I was watching it was - what is this show saying about fat? Will, played by Nikki Blonsky was fierce about not hating her body. But she was surrounding by people who normalised dieting. Where did the show stand? And it didn't appear to stand anywhere. Then at the 8th episode the kids had a weigh in and it showed, without judging, the effect that had on them. That's when I realised that standing nowhere can be a much more radical place to put the camera

Many things that are normalised in the world are shown on Huge without the appearance of judging: slut-shaming, body-hatred and adults bullying children. But in this light they appear as grotesque as they actually are.

While things that we are treated as something to be ashamed of like fat, but also asexuality, anxiety, live action role-playing, disability, queerness and many other aspets of the character, also appear differently when observed closely and without judgement. The things we're supposed to be ashamed of are not the same, so they don't appear the same on Huge. But collectively they are seen as ordinary, joyous, ok, real and a source of strength.

That is, in the end, what made Huge so beautiful.

It's been cancelled in America (because American TV executives enjoy stabbing anything that is beautiful or true to death). At the moment it is only available on youtube (or through other even less legal means), although it will come out on DVD.

I really do recommend that you watch it, and if you have older kids, show it to them. Because I think they'll probably get something they need out of it.

Friday, October 08, 2010

No More Jumping Through Hoops: A Belated Demo Report

Last Tuesday was a fabulous day for feminism in Wellington. Action for Abortion Rights organised a protest outside the Appeal Court. When we were planning the demo we were thinking about something that might only have twenty people there. Not because we didn't think people cared about abortion rights, but because we had no idea if we could find and mobilise those people.

I've been an activist for a long time, and I've organised a lot of demos. But this demo was something else. There was so much energy and enthusiasm - and so much excitement that we were able to do something about an issue which meant so much. The papers said we had 50 people at the demo - but it was easily three or four times that.

Rebecca from Mothers for Choice gave a great speech:

We have a very strong message for the Right to Life brigade – not only do you not own women’s bodies, you don’t own families. Your ilk has spoken on behalf of families for too long. Most people in most families want a decent law that means everyone who needs an abortion can get one, without having to make the kind of case necessary under current law.


My daughter is four. I hate the thought that when she is older, she would have to jump through hoops to get an abortion if she had an unwanted pregnancy. I don’t want any more women to have to do so. The time is long overdue for the law we need, and together we are going to make sure it happens.

Ally Garrett, of I'm Offended Because, lead us all in a round of chanting "Hey, Hey, Mister, Mister, Keep Your Laws off Your Sister" dedicated to Peter Carlisle. Check out her amazing blog post which explains why Peter Carlisle deserves special chants towards him. (Also she has the best blog title ever - I'm super jealous).

We also had some great speakers from Action for Abortion Rights, the Women's Studies Association, Women's National Abortion Action Committee, Abortion Law Reform Association, and young labour came out against their parties refusal to allow Steve Chadwick to put the bill in the ballot.

Then we headed to parliament - because parliament, not the courts, are responsible for the current laws.

We had chalk so people could leave messages at parliament:

The current abortion law requires that women jump through hoops to get access to abortion. Right to Life want those laws to be higher and smaller. That's why we called our demo No More Jumping Trough Hoops - and did some hoop jumping:

As an added bonus pro-life NZ recorded our demo and put it up on youtube. So even those of you who weren't there can see it. Aren't they considerate:

This was just the beginning. Things are full steam ahead in Wellington. I'm sure there just as many people in other areas who are keen to be part of the fight.

Photos of this protest come from John Darroch and Stuff.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Local election - who I'm voting for.

The time has come again where I have to try and figure out which of the various candidates for local body elections I can bear to vote for.

Here is a brief summary of my decisions - too late to do anyone else any good sorry.

I'm not opposed to voting for lizards so the wrong lizards don't get in. However, I have my limits. So I'm not voting for Mayor. I am aware that a large number of Wellingtonians will outraged by this, but I'm not convinced that Kerry Prendergast with a slight green tinge will be improvement on Kerry Prendergast. Celia Wade-Brown, the only serious contender for mayor, has made it clear that economically she is no different from Kerry Prendergast. Recently the rates burden has moved from commercial to residential - a move Celia Wade-Brown supports. A 'green' approach to local body politics, can and has been cover for privatisation and an anti-people pro-business way of working.

I would get great pleasure from Kerry losing her job, and while normally that would be enough for me too vote for her opponent, but I cannot support Celia Wade-Brown.

Lambton Ward
What's super frustrating about local body politics is how hard it is to vote for any of them, because they seem to think voters are more interested in their CV, their love of Wellington and their family, than their actual policies.

1. Stephanie Cook - She's probably the reason that I bothered to vote at all. She has a good record of being on the right side of issues - and manages not to mention her family. So I'll vote for her - even though I think making her main campaign planting fruit trees is pretty inane.

2. Marcus Ganley - He has a clear statement against privatisation in his blurb, and is equally clear about his position on water metering. I've made me feelings about the labour party known on this blog several times. But with obvious (Alick Shaw) exceptions I think you can sometimes do +worse than a Labour party candidate on a local body. They tend to be on the left of the party, and they have a basic grasp that they should pretend to be on the side of people rather than business - under like their Green party counter-parts.

3. Mark Greening - I shouldn't rank him - because he believes in engaging youth to stop Graffiti - whereas I think that Graffiti is awesome. However, he's pro-library and he doesn't support water metering, or mention his family. Plus free wi-fi.

Yep I'm super unprincipled.

I'm not ranking:

Ioana Pannett - I vote for her last time, because I hate Alick Shaw just that much. I have appreciated her work against the liquor ban. But she supports the shifted burden of rates - Green party politics are particularly suseptible to neo-liberalism on councils. Plus she mentions her kid in her bio - which is the last straw.

John Bishop - I respect that he puts in that he's business friendly, I do like to see some policies, and respect for that fact that voters might want to know where you stand. But business friendly is Maia unfriendly.

Adam Cunningham - He actually ends his profile - SO IF YOU LOVE WELLINGTON TOO - VOTE CUNNINGHAM 1 IN LAMBTON WARD - just like that all in caps. I am not ranking him Number 1 - so clearly I hate Wellington.

Michael Fowler - He goes into the third person in his bio 'most of our lives were spent in Wellington' - I assume he means him and his wife - but he hasn't even mentioned her. Or possibly he has delusions of grandeur.

Ian McKinnon - Like John Bishop I respect that he made his politics clear, but I don't share them.

Kris Price - So I almost ranked him 4th just for not mentioning his family. Buthis complete lack of politics, as opposed to urban design ideas put me off.

Wellington Regional Council
I find it super difficult to choose candidates for the Wellington Regional Council. They're very pro-business.

Paul Bruce - Just to prove that my prejudice against the Green Party is not my ruling emotion.

Judith Aitken - I suspect she's less than awesome, but she has some good policies, and activism in the women's liberation movement goes a long way with me.

Chris Lipbscombe - clearly I'm getting soft near the end of the ballot, because I voted for him even though he mentions his family.

Not voting for

Sally Barber - Her water policy sounds suspiciously like she supports water metering

Dianne Buchan - More 'business is awesome' 'look at my business experience'

Charles Finny - I would vote for most people in Wellington before I'd vote for the former CEO of the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce. Plus he hates bus drivers - how can anyone hate bus drivers? Bad person!

Michael Gibson - He hates trains, and writes about himself in the third person. Where do these people come from?

Chris Laidlaw - I may get soft on Labour party candidates in local government. But I draw the line at former MPs.

Terry McDavitt - Blurb is non-stop inanity.

Daran Ponter - If he'd had more actual politics I probably would have voted for him. But his material is so slimy - and he spends so much time talking about his family that I just couldn't do it.

Bill Rainer - Why do these people think we want to know about their experience rather than how they will vote?

Fran Wilde - See I have these vague warm feelings towards her, because of her role in Homosexual Law Reform, but that was almost 25 years ago, and she's pro-business.

My main criteria is choosing people who believe in fighting for the health system, and it's workers. Also avoiding anyone who might think their religious beliefs are relevant to other people's health care.

1. David Choat - I broke my very important rule and forgave him for mentioning his family - partly because I know them, but more importantly because he has policy that I agree with.

2. Margaret Faulkner - Nurses who are clear where they stand on politics are worth voting for.

3. Maureen Gillon (you may notice that I'm voting for people in alphabetical order - this is because I'm lazy). Another nurse.

4. Malakai Jiko - On my list on easy gimmes is people who have worked for Primary Health Services such as Newtown Union Health.

5. Peter Roberts - He used to work for the doctors union and the coalition for public health - I would totally have voted him higher if only his name was further up the alphabet.

6. Peter Kelly - He used the phrase 'social justice' in his list. When it comes to the Health Board it doesn't take a lot.

7. Judith Aitken - see above.

8. Russell Franklin - his heart is obviously in the right place, even though he has a dodgy past and 8 is pretty far down my list.

9. Mark Jacobs - You were inane enough that I ranked you 9 - congratulations.

Not Ranking

Elizabeth Anderson - She accepts the funding limitations, and thinks her management experience is what's important. Nope.

John Apanowicz - Management. Management. Management.

Maureen Cahill - She doesn't just mention her family - she mentions her cat.

Camilia Chin - She used to be the 'Corporate Management Reporting Accoutnant for the CCDHB' - not my priority.

Barbara Donaldson - I don't disagree "Our DHB is in trouble" I do disagree "The Board needs poeple like me with experience in governance, management and health systems."

Andrew Holmes - actually your young family don't give you perspective for visionary governance FFS.

Virginia Hope - All management speak all the time.

Helene Ritchie - I'm PREJUDICED against random CAPS.

David Scott - If you're going to advertise your christianity when you're running for the Health Board that better come with a disclaimer - "I support a woman's right to choose" or else I'm not voting for you.

Donald Urquhart-Hay - I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I saw a House of Cards at a far too impressionable age to vote for anyone called Urquhart.

Nigel Wilson - The ratio of meaningless jargons to actual words is far too high.

Jack Wood - Funnily enough when thinking about who I want to run my health system and 'international business consultant' isn't it.

Now I've done my democratic duty I'm going to bed. I'll do a report of the abortion protest tomorrow I promise.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

No More Jumping Through Hoops: Abortion Rights Demo

I've talked a lot on this blog about the problems of abortion laws in New Zealand. If you live in Wellington, you can do something about it this Tuesday.

5 October · 12:30 - 13:30
Outside Court of Appeal (Corner of Aitken & Molesworth Streets)

Right to Life is taking the Abortion Supervisory Committee to court, to try and further restrict women's access to abortion in New Zealand (I'm going to try and get to at least some of the court case, so I'll try and provide a summary soon).

Our current law requires women to jump through many hoops before they can get access to abortion. Join the demo to demand that the current law is repealed, rather than interpreted more conservatively.

All welcome - bring your friends (If you're on facebook, you can invite your friends here)