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Upton-on-line: The Sewers of the Mind

Upton-on-line July 7th

The Sewers of the Mind

People are so used to Parliament being a bear pit that news of Mr Grant Gillon’s obscene attempt at humour during Question Time has probably anaesthetised many people against the grossness of what he said.

What other explanation can there be for people like Liz Gordon calling for compassion and Marian Hobbs describing his comments as 'inappropriate'. The need for tribal solidarity can turn political outrage into mature resignation (and vice versa) depending on whether the tribe is in attack or defence mode.

From the point of view of National MPs, the Government’s determination to keep Mr Gillon in office as a Whip seems oh-so-expedient when the same crowd in opposition hounded John Carter from office for pretending to be a Maori caller on John Banks' radio talkback show.

Crude things have been said in Parliament since time immemorial. So there will be people who question (as Pete Hodgson did) whether the protests aren’t a bit hollow. Upton-on-line has pondered that point since indignation can start a moral reactor meltdown in which objectivity is frizzled up in the gamma rays of righteousness.

That’s a nagging worry. But upton-on-line was there when it happened and can’t help feeling this was different – and for a not particularly political reason. Like Mr Speaker Hunt, upton-on-line didn’t quite hear Mr Gillon’s question. Or, on reflection, heard it but got an automatic signal back from the brain that there must have been a processing error.

That’s because Mr Gillon said what he said quietly and calmly. He’d prepared his ‘joke’ and felt quietly pleased with himself. And, furthermore, seemed quite uncomprehending about what he’d done. He was completely transparent – the window was open on a truly warped mind. It was as though someone had removed the manhole cover and effluent had flowed out.

Upton-on-line used to work in the fellmongery at the Horotiu freezing works. It was a cess-pit of foul language and sexual innuendo. But somehow it didn’t ever sound as calm and calculated as this was …

No-one wins from these sagging moments of parliamentary vomit. Particular losers have to be the Government women MPs who would have been in a dionysiac frenzy of anti-male hate had a National male MP said something lewd about female members. Helen Clark would have been down to the House in a flash. And Trevor Mallard disappointed in declining leave for a censure motion proposed by Roger Sowry immediately after the event.

If there was a winner it was Jonathan Hunt who was instrumental in seeing that things weren’t swept under the carpet. But I expect it’s an accolade he would prefer not to have had to have won.

Is there a moral? Well, Parliament is supposed to be a House of Representatives. Government members have just learnt that amidst their moral triumphalism lurks real, living depravity. They’ve decided to go on co-habiting with it.

Te Papa Rampant

One of the most significant events to go unnoticed this last week was the publication on Tuesday of the review of Te Papa commissioned by Helen Clark.

In the first flush of victory, the Prime Minister didn’t mince her words on MONZ. After months of patriotic gush (which clearly rankled with her austere sensibilities), the new arts tsarina doused the institution with an icy flow of arts invective.

Her comments had something of the dark, sparkling menace of the Queen of the Night about them. “Paintings or Maori art are displayed as though they have the same value as a used refrigerator” she had decreed. Having cringed as she read the verdict of the New Statesman (that essential notebook of the British left-leaning intelligentsia), she was determined to clean out the Augean stables of post-modern value relativism.

Upton-on-line’s art-literate friends thrilled to the condemnation. Upton-on-line privately agreed that the national art collection seemed invisible amidst the narratives and meta-narratives that abound. There seemed to be even fewer paintings on display than before.

But the full frontal tactic seemed over the top. Certainly, Clark had little concern for morale down on the waterfront. It was as though a frightening new chatelaine had taken possession and it was out with the Pop art and in with the Poussins.

Now we have the report. And it is incredibly complimentary to Te Papa – and, by inference, its own resident Queen of the Night, Dame Cheryl. Specially singled out for praise was the Museum’s understanding of its audience (surely the widest and most egalitarian in the world). In this respect, the review team stated that it compares “more than favourably with the very best museum practice world-wide”.

In fact, the overall tone suggests Clark’s rhetoric really was overblown. But on the presentation of the art collection, the Prime Minister and her allies were vindicated. The team recommended an urgent review – and Te Papa has wisely sniffed the wind and made a start.

So all’s well that ends well. Except that it would be a nice gesture if the Prime Minister now said something warm and commendatory about the Board and Management Team who have put the whole show on the road – and under considerable budgetary restraint. Sir Ron Trotter in particular deserves an accolade for steering through the shark-infested shoals to hand over the museum to Rod Deane in such good shape.

The Prime Minister was quick to chide – and not without justification. But it will leave a sour taste if she’s not prepared, now, to issue the praise that the review team’s report also calls for. Taking no hostages is a flinty policy. But one day the PM may need some friends too.

Advance Notice:

Upton-on-line will be filing a special report early next week on the Institute of International Affairs’ conference on The Consequences of the Crisis in East Timor for Indonesia and the wider Asia Pacific Region including Australia & New Zealand. This was a spectacular and important exchange of views by well-informed commentators – and virtually ignored by the local media.

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