From the Hood : Sorry, No Article This Week

Sorry, No Article This Week

by Lyndon Hood

I thought it would be good, in a month where new plans for Section 92a of the copyright act were revealed, and the Orange Election Man called his lawyers, to give my personal perspective on the changing legal issues around what I do, satire-wise.

Careful readers will note I used the past tense there. “Does he still think this?” such readers might ask. “Has he changed his mind?” “If so, why?” “Isn’t he just being colloquial?” I was concerned you might miss this literary device, which adds a certain amount of dramatic tension to what follows. So I’m being clear.

If I reveal that I have not in fact written such an article, I think it enhances, rather than detracts from, that effect.

Now: I also thought it would be good to produce an actual piece of satire.

I even had a good subject for it (if, as I’ve heard, anger is a good way of choosing targets for satire) and a passable plan of attack.

I have not written that either.

At the risk of overwhelming my more excitable readers, I will tell you that I did not write that article for the same reason I did not write the first one.

Or, to be frank – as will become clear, full disclosure is important – partly for the same reasons.

There was also my ongoing frustration at being unable to successfully play on the name “Bennett” by introducing the release to the media of private information into Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a welfare recipient in possession of a big mouth must be in want of cutting down to size.

… is as far as I got before being defeated.

Now, instead of these I might take the opportunity to provide some updates to what I’ve written previously.

For example, a commenter points out that ‘How To Misunderstand Satire’ would be improved by reference to Poe’s Law. According to Wikipedia, Poe’s Law states that “the limits of a poem must accord with the limits of a single movement of intellectual apprehension and emotional exaltation”.

As it happens, Matty was referring to the other Poe’s law. Or, in case there are more Poe’s Laws than these two, I’ll say another Poe’s Law. Again, I wish to be thoroughly accurate: this is not merely another law from Mr Poe, but a law from another Poe entirely.

This other Poe, who unlike the first did not write poems about ravens (or if he did, was not famous for it), asserts that “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.”

If the military-industrial complex is a form of Fundamentalism, one does not even have to generalise Poe’s Law (I mean the latter of the two mentioned above) to apply it to …

Is it wrong to hate recycling? I suppose it’s no more irreversible than any other form of waste disposal. But when one’s wife puts the magazine one intended to refer to in with the old newpapers (I admit, it had been on the floor for days) – when one takes it to the curbside with one’s own hands – well, it rather goes against the grain to hate one’s wife, or one’s self, so there it is.

And yet I take pride in recycling comic tropes. The depths of human nature are wondrous indeed.

The July edition of Harper’s Magazine, as I can confirm from happy memory, has a piece which rather neatly combines the questions I had raised – firstly of understanding satire and secondly of its usefulness. If we are to believe the blurb – we might reasonably be cautious – a professor of English and a historian of science were inspired by Lockheed Martin Corporation’s approach to Princeton University with a request for research initiatives.

They responded with a proposal for a $750 000 (USD) investigation into the use of irony in the national defence [subscription], the speculative clincher of which was neurological, literary and engineering work towards the development of ‘weaponised irony’; so powerful that (to paraphrase) it will literally blow your mind.

The fact that the proposal is entirely based on the concept of irony might be considered a hint. “Princeton declined to forward it to Lockheed.”

Now I think about it, the first Poe’s Law probably applies too.

Anyway, I won’t write about either if these things. Interesting though they are, it would be a bit lazy to base a column on other people’s work.

Besides, I still haven’t explained myself properly.

If, in the first case, I were to mention the mysterious discussion document on a copyright exemption for satire and parody…

The document was promised by the previous Government. Naturally, I could see some appeal. In this case, to choose a handy example, an exemption might protect me from the litigious ghost of Thomas Sterne, pursuant to my unauthorised use of his comic stylings.

The prospect of it went some way to calming me after the ban on the use of Parliament TV footage for “satire, ridicule or denegration”, which I felt was aimed at me personally. Seriously: who else

a) was a risk in terms of producing satire;
b) did not have access to their own footage;
c) was able to be commercially inconvenienced by a grumpy Privileges Committee.

Are there others among you? Take my hand, comrades!

If, as I say, I wrote about this document – and my dark suspicions regarding its fate – I would feel obliged to call the Minister (Commerce Minister Simon Power) and, perhaps after a quick chat about how the repal of the Commissioning Rule was going, ask him what happened to it.

I am not a natural journalist. Among other things, I am timid.

Simon Power is not a terrifying minister; still, calling him would be a step outside my comfort zone.

To call him in the same week when I had portrayed him ambiguously as part of a series of short satires and called his leader a trained hamster; this, I hope, would earn me a reputation for bravery.

But in a week when that same leader has said he has no problem with one of his ministers, in order to score political points, raiding the private files of people who complain about Government policy — it is impossible. I do not dare. I have a family.

And by that same token, I’m hardly going to write anything critical of Paula Bennett, am I?

There. My lack of topics is explained.

But perhaps I have said too much already…


Now you are all distracted.

No? But it works for John Key…

Then I had better say this: I have not problem whatsoever with any decisions Paula Bennett has ever made or will make in the future, or with the welfare system or for that matter any other state agency. And even if I did, I promise I will never, ever tell anybody.

I welcome the actions of the Minister of Social Development. And I encourage everyone who has ever received state support, paid taxes, received public health treatment or who appears anywhere in the records of the state to do the same.

Just to show what good friends we are, I will believe Paula Bennett when she says she consulted the Privacy Commissioner’s website before she released the information, and that what she saw there gave her a reasonable belief that she was allowed to release it.

I will also believe that, as a former beneficiary and current welfare minister, she didn’t dream there would be such a storm on blog comments and talkback over the money these women were receiving.

Further, I will not see the difference, privacy-wise, between, on the one hand, working out about what someone probably receives in benefits and, on the other, going and looking the exact figure up in their file, telling everyone, and releasing some historical information too.

Doing these things – I might add, quite difficult ones – it must surely be enough to show willing. If you want to join me here’s a hint: it’s easier if you imagine you’re the kind of person who thinks the tort of privacy is a kind of secretive cake made with eggs.

Before this goes on I should clarify: when I said, “I have a family”, I meant that I have relatives. I did not want to imply any children. So if the Minister of Progeny was feeling I had not told the full story, and was about to give the Herald my entire family tree back to Eric Bloodaxe, I have saved them the bother with this paragraph.

For those of you who require a sentimental image before forming your opinions, I will say that I have cats. I know that cats are not actually the same as children. But they are quite big cats.

Some lefties have even complained some of the information Paula Bennett released might be wrong. Well how can it possibly be private information when it wasn’t even accurate?

I think I’m getting the hang of this.

I, for one, welcome our new Paula Bennett overlords. And since she has the full support of the Prime Minister, it’s not like she’s going anywhere.

Though this does lead to one further question —

What does Paula Bennett have on John Key?