Kiwi joker Jones spits the satirical dummy

RICHARD SWAINSON
Last updated 07:34 25/10/2012

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Richard Swainson

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Satire is not a laughing matter.

If you have wealth, position and power, are seeking to present and perpetuate a nice-guy, everyman image at odds with the brutal realities of capitalist advancement or are just a lying politician whose claims of faulty memory aren't quite cutting the mustard any more in the truth department, a biting piece of satirical commentary might just put your nose out of joint.

Better still, if the satirist is doing his or her job correctly and the public is paying attention, it could change a few people's minds, not only about you personally but, more importantly, about how your world operates.

The truest of words are said in jest: that's why they are so feared by those with a vested interest in the status quo. There are none so humourless as the powerful and the least attractive of us lack the ability to laugh at themselves.

You would think those on the Left would be all for satire.

It came as a surprise, then, when Labour's Shane Jones, a character whose past propensity for blue movies paid for at the taxpayer's expense indicates at least a prurient interest in the arts, expressed his dismay at an amendment to New Zealand's copyright laws proposed by the Green Party's Gareth Hughes.

Hughes is looking to bring this country's legislation in line with the standards of other Western democracies, allowing greater leeway when it comes to the parodying of copyrighted images and in the criticism of corporate behaviour.

Jones, ever the red-blooded Kiwi joker and perhaps mindful of some of the kinkier DVDs enjoyed back in his halcyon days as a free-spending minister of the Crown, has labelled such satire "piss-taking business". He equates any attack on sacred brand names as "economic vandalism" and raises the spectre of further unemployment during these tough economic times: "This is a bill which will definitely lead to the destruction of jobs, which makes it a crackpot idea. Jobs are not going to be maintained if brands are destroyed."

How disappointing that a member of a party with socialist roots is so quick to put the sensitivities of establishment business before basic freedom of speech.

What a sad lack of faith Jones must have in the fundamentals of democracy and the robustness of the corporate monolith if he fears that a few jokes will plunge the country into recession. How pathetic that he conceives of the debate in terms of a tradeoff between economics and principle, favouring a New Zealand closer to that of China and other Asian states where the whims of chief executives are rated ahead of an artist's right of expression.

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It is tempting to speculate that Jones' stance is influenced as much by personal history as political expediency. A man who was dubbed the "Minister for Pornography" by wags both inside and beyond the House is never going to be terribly well disposed toward satire.

Moreover, Greenpeace's recent manipulation of a Sealord advertisement, a witty over-dubbing of the original soundtrack which reverses the corporate message, questioning Sealord's claims of sustainable fishing practices, has raised Jones' ire. A former Sealord chairman himself, Jones has called the spoof "a step too far".

I would have thought that in a free society political activists have as much right to express their opinions on contentious issues as big business does. If Sealord takes up the opportunity for some feel-good self promotion that is little more than propaganda those who challenge its position should be extended the same privilege.

Jones and his corporate cronies must be feeling insecure about something if they object to an innocuous advertisement that runs just over a minute.

The form of the Sealord parody could conceivably be objected to. By electing to augment an existing advertisement rather than film its own version Greenpeace has clearly appropriated imagery that current legislation considers copyright.

However, like it or not such practice is today the stock and trade of the internet. The old rules of intellectual property no longer fit in a world where every 8-year-old with computer skills is capable of "mashing up" words and images to make their own art.

From David Low and Gordon Minhinnick to John Clarke and yes, even McPhail and Gadsby, New Zealand has a long history of satire. These artists never caused any job losses but they did make a few of us look at the world afresh. Any legislative change to encourage their like would only enrich us.

- Waikato Times

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