Observatory

Hey pretty lady

Do men in New Zealand catcall women? Is street harassment a thing in Aotearoa? The New Zealand Herald made a hidden-camera video, with a model walking around central Auckland and only one person approached her but he “sounds European”.

So is this not a problem in New Zealand? Well, New Zealand may not have the same street culture as New York, but for sure women get unwanted men approaching them.

Unlike the Herald‘s test person, I’m not a model. I’m not the kind of girl that random men approach in a “hey baby” kind of way, but street harassment has even happened to me.

This is a sampling of the more memorable situations that have happened in the past 10 years:

Karangahape Road

I was walking home from work along Karangahape Road, along the bit over the motorway. A man approaches me. He says something but I can’t understand him so I ask him to repeat himself. He again mumbles, and again I look confused. The third time I hear him say “If I give you money will you have sex with me?” I walked off, feeling a bit sorry for him because he seemed quite messed up.

kroad

Hobson Street

It was about 6.45am, and I was heading to work as I was on the early shift. I was waiting at the pedestrian crossing outside the Skycity Theatre when a really drunk guy came up to me. He was convinced I’d just come from the casino and suggested we keep partying into the night morning. I said I was on my way to work, which he didn’t believe as obviously I was heading over to the Albion Hotel to play their poker machines. He seemed bewildered as I didn’t walk into the pub and kept going along Hobson Street.

hobson

Courtenay Place

I was walking along Courtenay Place on a Saturday afternoon. I passed a random white guy and he said, “How’s it going?” I didn’t know if he was talking to me and also couldn’t be bothered finding out so I ignored him. He shouted “I said, how’s it going?” and I just kept walking. With anger in his voice, he yelled “Fucking… red neck”. I’m pretty sure he was left kicking himself that he hadn’t been able to come up with a better insult.

courtenay

Dixon Street

I was walking along Dixon Street on a Sunday afternoon. A guy started walking alongside me and said, “Hey, pretty girl. You wanna talk?” Really? I was not having it and shot back “get fucked”. He laughed and said, “Yeah, let’s do that!” I immediately turned and walked off in the other direction.

dixon

Munters in cars

And then there were all the times when munters in passing cars have yelled stuff, most of which is unintelligible. One time some teen boys yelled at me then turned down a nearby cul-de-sac (which seems like a real amateur move) so I found them still sitting in their car and told them they were dicks.

This is all a lot harder to capture on video, but who knows what the future of wearable tech will reveal. (Do men make passes at girls who wear Google Glass?)

None of these situations were pleasant. I had places to go, things to do and I was having to stop and deal with these random dudes. It doesn’t happen to me a lot, but when it does, it’s annoying and I wish it didn’t happen.

Standard
Observatory

Galore

Drill down

Last week I was at the dentist getting a filling. This is what happens when you move to a town that doesn’t have fluoridated water. Previously the water of Hamilton, Auckland and Wellington kept my teeth so healthy I barely had any fillings, but Waikato District’s no-frills water has now necessitated that I use a super-fluoridated mouthwash once a week in order to protect my teeth and/or become a compliant sheeple.

So I was lying in the dentist’s chair with the relevant part of my mouth in a state of pleasing numbness. Getting a filling is kind of boring, so I started thinking about what I’d done on the weekend, but then I was distracted by the radio.

It was on ZM and over the sound of the drill and the sucker, I heard the following songs play:

I knew that a few of those songs had been number one in New Zealand, so once the filling was in and polished, I checked. Indeed, all but “Next to Me” (which was number six) were number one singles.

And I thought, is that all it takes to programme one of New Zealand major commercial radio stations? Is it just an algorithm that makes a list of number one songs from the previous eight years, throws in a few iconic top 10 hits, puts them in a random order and squirts them out in between the DJ’s madcap banter?

If so, I could totally be the programmer for ZM. And I could do it from a dentist’s chair.

The time the lights went out

Bits of central-east Auckland recently suffering a major power outage. Comedy rule: it’s funny if it affects to someone who lives in the posh bit of that area (lol how will they get their lattes!!!!!!) but it’s not funny if if affects someone in the poorer area, especially if it’s someone who’s had to go into hospital because their home dialysis machine won’t work.

This got me thinking about the Auckland power crisis of 1998. It didn’t affect me much. I lived outside the blackout zone in Auckland’s CBD (lattes galore!!!!!!) but my workplace, on Newton Road, was right on the fringe.

The office wasn’t supposed to be affected, but the power kept going off – I think it was due to repairs or diversions. There was a generator sitting in the car park, so that was fired up and extension cords ran everywhere.

There wasn’t enough capacity to have all the computers running at once, so we had to take turns. For an internet company, there wasn’t a lot of paperwork to do. Once all the filing had been done, it all just turned into a general afternoon mucking around and bonding session, with a few people working hard on the remaining computers.

After work one day a workmate and I went sightseeing in downtown Auckland, but closed shops and dead traffic lights have limited appeal. We ended up going to Starbucks in Parnell where the electricity was rich and plentiful and there were lattes galore.

Viz biz

bookBetween 2001 and 2008, this was the book I rested my laptop on. I borrowed it from my dad’s bookcase to protect my lap from the scorching hot underside of my fancy new iBook.

I had read the book, but I didn’t think too much about its contents. The shape of the book was of more interest to me.

But then people started talking about the book. As it happens, it’s Envisioning Information by Edward Tufts, which is like a seminal tome on the world of data visualisation, or dataviz if you’re cool like that.

I think data visualisation is basically colourful diagrams and pretty maps. Except you are less interested in the actual content of the diagram or map and more interested in its datavizness. “Wow, great dataviz,” you say as you admire the multicoloured map that shows there’s a giant sinkhole under your house.

I’m sure there’s some sort of metaphor in me using a book on data visualisation as a laptop rest. I misplaced it when I moved to Wellington and switched to a book on New Zealand architecture instead, then later I used a wooden trivet that broke when I accidentally sat on it. So I thought why not do some dataviz on this very topic:

My current laptop is solid state and disappointingly doesn’t get hot.

Standard
Observatory

Votes and goats

ballot-boxHey guys, it’s general election times! I made an advance vote yesterday, which was rather thrilling. Previously advance voting was only available to people who would otherwise be occupied on polling day, but now anyone can do it. I don’t think “too hungover to get out of bed on Saturday” used to count, but it does now!

In a little meeting room inside the Waikato District Council office cum library, I cast my advance vote. It was the first day advance voting was available in Raglan, but I could have done it last week if I’d gone to Ngaruawahia or Hamilton or… Inglewood.

Whangamonona in happier times (i.e. when I went there in 2006 and had some wedges for lunch at the the pub).

Whangamonona in happier times (i.e. when I went there in 2006 and had some wedges for lunch at the the pub).

Oh, that’s right. The little Waikato town of Raglan is in the Taranaki-King Country electorate. This came about by Stratford being moved into the Whanganui electorate, so the Electoral Commission expanded Taranaki-King Country north to take in some parts of the Waikato.

I could have cast my vote in New Plymouth or Te Kuiti or even the little village of Whangamomona. In 1989 it declared itself an independent republic and elected a goat as the president. Election day road trip!!!

But I’m lazy so I just went down the road to the Raglan library and voted there. A huge burden has been lifted. I now no longer have to pay any attention to the pre-election amateur dramatics and tomcockery.

Highly symbolic.

Highly symbolic.

Standard
Observatory

Too many mistakes

Today my mum cancelled her subscription to the Waikato Times because there were too many mistakes in it.

Generally one of the most annoying things on Twitter is people who go on about mistakes that subeditors make, all “sack the sub” about online articles that aren’t allowed to be wrong for even a couple of minutes.

But what happens when you’ve bought a newspaper and you’re sitting down to read it while you have your morning muesli? You’d like to enjoy having a smooth read of the news of the past 24 hours, but instead all these trivial but annoying errors keep turning up.

This is the kind of crap that bothered my mum this morning:

times2

To ‘to’ or not to ‘to’.

times3

Coming soon: Byline3D: The Return

times4

Curtesy would evade a spellcheck because it’s the word given to what a husband inherits upon the death of his wife.

My parents have been regular readers of The Times since they moved to Hamilton in the early ’70s. Not any more. Not with this complete lack of common curtesy courtesy.

It’s not reasonable to expect that Waikato Times and Fairfax reporters and contributors will have flawless spelling and grammar, but the paper’s subeditors should actually pick up all the mistakes and have near perfect copy ready to go to the press.

But is this possible anymore? I know newsrooms are getting downsized and that Fairfax outsource their subediting. Is this half-arsed standard just normal now? Are printed newspapers just a service for the fish ‘n’ chip industry, and therefore who cares what gets printed?

Well, I suspect the people who work at the Waikato Times and Fairfax still care but probably find themselves without enough resources to have things running at the previous standard.

I guess now it’s time to get my mum an iPad to read over breakfast.


Update: Thanks to alert reader David who spotted this in the same edition:

times5

Skulduggery is not duggery of a skull. And let’s not ponder the placement of the hyphen.

Standard
Observatory

Evolution, revolution

The backend

Ok, I have my website back working the way I want it. Let me tell you about what happened!!!!

Back in February I moved to a new web host. At the time, The Morgan said there was a chance that the new host might not be as good as the old one. And that’s what happened. So I had to quickly move to another host.

But I decided I didn’t want it to be a rush job like it was the last time (on holiday, sitting in the Treaty Grounds in Waitangi, trying to sort out URL redirections using my iPhone) so I took some time to clean things up and get things how I wanted them. This is mainly backend stuff, but it’s nice to to have a tidy backend.

Hard-working rock unit update

I’ve just discovered that Prime Devastation have updated their website with the latest news. There’s a full report of what went down on their 20th/23rd reunion tour. It might not be a surprise that things didn’t go so well for the band in Cambridge. And Te Awamutu. And Papamoa. Bloody Papamoa. The Hamilton show was apparently good, though.

There’s also an official statement from Prime Devastation on the mega successful (and totally real) Hamilton rock band Devilskin. The ‘Skins had the number one album for the past three weeks. Take that, Ed Sheeran!

If you haven’t heard of Devilskin, this is their most recent single, “Start a Revolution”. They’re notable for being a metal band with a chick singer (rare) who can rap in that death-metal growl (even rarer). And with metal now being almost as niche as country music is in the pop charts, it’s cool that New Zealand’s metaller community has a local band to get behind. It probably comes as no surprise that they have quite a good range of t-shirts.

Life on the street

At the moment I’m enjoying the Kim Kardashian: Hollywood iPad game. The aim of the game is to become an A List celebrity, which I managed to do in about a week. So now it’s just all going to parties and doing photo shoots and going on dates.

This all sounds like fun, but it’s all work. The parties are all paid appearances, so you have talk to people about the various fictitious products in the KKH universe. Going on dates is super hard as well. You have to wear the right thing and buy your date dinner and flirt with him and stuff. If you’re short of cash, you can put in a shift at one of the clothing stores. And if you’re totally broke, you can actually scrounge for cash on the footpath.

It’s horrible. Basically, if you want nice things, you have to work to get the cash to buy them. It’s all about the value of hard work. And if you want someone to love you, you have to be nice to them and be attentive to their needs. If you ignore them, they will break up with you.

My friend Johubris is also playing. I’d previously done a photoshoot with her, then later I tried to invite her on a date because she’s fun to hang out with IRL. The game was all, if you change your relationship from business to romantic you will lose your business progress. Which is bullshit.

The most fun thing about the game (apart from scrounging for coins in the gutter, which is actually surprisingly fulfilling) is changing outfits. But the weirdest thing was that the hairstyle that most resembled my own actually looked the worst on my play character. I guess I’ll just have to get some wigs.

kim-kardashian-hollywood

Standard
Observatory

Domestic duties

Frozen

NBC has a photo essay on the Russian mining city of Norilsk. It’s one of the few cities within the Arctic circle, and as a result there is total darkness for 45 days in peak winter. The average temperature is -10ºC, but it can get as cold as -50ºC.

So the photos are interesting, because what would it be like to live in such a bleak, desolate landscape. It’s a place where public buses travel in convoys so if one breaks down in the unforgiving tundra, passengers can safely transfer to another.

But is the photo that resonated the most with me:

norilsk

The caption reads:

Once a month, the “Mechanika” night club is put on, organised by a group of volunteers. The dance club provides a rare opportunity to listen and dance to new music.

It also notes that young people born in Norilsk usually have one wish – to leave the city. They study to get accepted to a high school on the “mainland” and hope to find work there. The extreme weather, pollution, geographic isolation and lack of cultural and employment opportunities all contribute to their desire to flee.

I imagine a 15-year-old looking at a picture of Moscow in spring, with blossoms and soft sunshine and flowing rivers. A dream of a magical climate where you can wear t-shirts outdoors and everything isn’t frozen all the time. Who wouldn’t want to run away from the UV lamps, the domino-playing uncles, and the months spent indoors for the chance to experience a bit of life in the land of the thaw.

And wonder when the little girls from Norilsk watch Frozen (or Холодное сердцеCold Heart – as it’s called in Russia), if they roll their eyes as they are so totally over all that.

The time in London when they all chipped in for a cleaner

I’m currently obsessed with this Stuff Nation reader submission, a post written on the theme of “the flats nightmares are made of”. In it a young New Zealander writesof the time she naively ended up flatting with a drug dealer in London.

Oh, so that sounds like it would be a real nightmare, right? Addiction, theft, overdoses, police raids, gang warfare with rival drug dealers? No. None of that. Nothing happens. The most dramatic thing is when the flat gets a cleaner to come in in once a week.

“We eventually hired a cleaner – £2 each a week and the lounge, kitchen and bathrooms were cleaned on a Monday”

But yet I feel oddly proud that a New Zealander has had this experience. Flatting with a drug dealer in London, then coming home with this idea that there’s an epic story in there somewhere, but not being able to parlay it into anything more than an ordinary tale of flatting.

Nothing or everything

One day in the late 1980s, I was watching Ripley’s Believe It Or Not on the telly and I saw the most amazing thing.

It started off fairly innocently – lovely Marie Osmond introducing the work of dada artist Hugo Ball and his sound poem “Karawane”. It was written with sounds, not words, designed to be read aloud. And then Marie stops, looks at the camera and recites the poem from memory. In that moment, all the cheesiness of the Donny & Marie variety show faded into insignificance as Marie became possessed with the spirit of dada. It was the funniest, weirdest and most magnificent thing I’d seen at that point in my life. For weeks after, my brother and I would recite random lines at each other – “ü üü ü!”

The clip of that segment has become one of those weird internet things that people stumble across and they’re not sure what they’ve seen, but they can’t stop thinking about it. This blog has a bit of background about the clip, but the best thing to do is just watch it. Ba-umf.

Standard
Observatory

The Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas

Newsreel archive British Pathé recently put 85,000 old films on YouTube. So I did what any good New Zealander would do – I searched for New Zealand films. My favourite is “Pan Am New Horizons New Zealand”, a promotional film from 1970 depicting New Zealand as a tourist destination.

It portrays and idyllic version of New Zealand, where even on cloudy days the sun is shining and everyone is happy. You know, like how New Zealand is when you’re overseas and drunk and thinking back to your sweet homeland. I have scoured the film for the mightiest moments. Here they are:

1. Citizens on patrol

traffic

This guy doesn’t even look like a proper traffic cop. It looks like he’s stencilled “TRAFFIC” on the front of his bike, bolted on a megaphone, and driven up to the Newmarket Viaduct on his office lunch break where he will spend an hour yelling out some DIY citizen policing. “Oi! Stay in your lane, sunshine!” “Don’t you flick that cigarette ash at me, you mongrel!”

2. Walk shorts

walkshorts

It was the early 1970s. Women’s fashion was gripped with the miniskirt (or dress), and because New Zealand is a fairly egalitarian society, men’s fashion had its equivalent in the walk short. There is notable variation in styles in this shot. Black Bum on the right has longer shorts with standard knee-length socks, with Bluey on the left flaunts his pins with shorter shorts and lower socks. Well, hello! Meanwhile in the middle, along comes a lady in a minidress, looking surprisingly modestly dressed in comparison.

3. Tanning

beach

They’re probably both covered in coconut oil, or maybe playing it safe with some SPF 5. The tanner on the right has the power combo of a shower cap along with a smear of zinc on the lips and nose for further sun protection. Meanwhile, the ginger friend is quite happy to force her naturally pale skin to the tan in the harsh New Zealand sun. Make the most of it, ladies – the ozone hole will soon be discovered and the Slip, Slop and Slap campaign is only a decade away.

4.Meter maids

rotorua

Are you a Rotorua tourist annoyed that the man wants you to pay for parking while you spend up big on sheepskin slippers and paua shell ashtrays? Well, the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association got a couple of local wahine to dress up in plastic tikis and put coins in near expiring meters. Sadly this service no longer exists, but then, nor does the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association. E hine, hoki mai ra.

5. Stormy weather

tongariro

This is the magic of New Zealand. The bottom half of the shot is two ladies off to play a round of golf at the Chateau Tongariro on a sunny day. The top half of the shot is the most ominous looking storm clouds ever. It doesn’t just seem like, oh, it might rain. No, it seems like there’s going to be a huge once-in-1000-years storm, the rain will never stop, the Chateau will be washed away and everyone’s fun skiing and golfing holiday and will be ruined.

6. Tickets to the gun show

tattoos

The kiwi is being all bad-ass with its gnarly claws, but check out the muscular physique of its handler. Was everyone in the 1969 really tanned and fit looking? Not only that but this fellow has some proper navy tattoos, probably done during the war by a crusty old seadog using a rusty nail and a bottle of Indian ink, as part of some sort of booze-fuelled initiation ceremony. You don’t mess with a dude like that.

7. Bloody goths

kiwi
Meanwhile, the rotating kiwi statue looks thoroughly miserable. Does this reflect the mental state of the person who sculpted it, an expression of inner turmoil in the medium of plaster and chicken wire? As the kiwi turns, it surveys the cold, heartless world that surrounds it.

8. The before time

christchurch

It’s almost impossible to look at historical footage of Christchurch without a sense of ominous foreboding. While these carefree teens relax on the banks of the Avon for an afternoon waiata, in 42 years time the historic bridge behind them will have sustained a bit of damage, while the Municipal Chambers in the upper right will be severely damaged, propped up with huge steel brackets. Enjoy the delightful folk music while it lasts, girls.

9. Thigh gap

mtcook

The film’s voiceover proclaims New Zealand to be “the Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas”. This is cruel, making me think of an alternate New Zealand where Queenstown is an hour’s train journey from Italy or Milford Sound is just a ferry away from Denmark. No, because this is New Zealand, we have ol’ Royce waiting for his wife to come back from the toilet, exposing his thigh to passing tourists like a harlot.

10. Too cool for gloves

skiing

Just look at that hipster. He’s about to ski down the mountain, but he’s come dressed in a Libertines jacket, like it was 2004, and no gloves because he’s too cool for gloves. Well, don’t come crying to me when you have to have your fingers amputated due to frostbite. This is a cautionary tale.

Standard
Observatory

Tab-b-gone

I currently have 28 tabs open in my browser, which is way too much. Some of them have been there for weeks (months?). It’s like a to-do list or inspiration board, except I tend to forget about stuff and not be inspired by it.

A lot of these tabs are YouTube videos, so I thought I’d dump them here because they are all a bit interesting.

Very very gently

There’s this thing called autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) which this idea that watching and listening to a very sensual experience can remotely evoke the same physical reactions as you’d get if you were actually doing it.

So that’s led to a whole genre of YouTube videos of people (usually women) doing things like hair brushing, hair washing, scalp massaging, or just a verbal description of exploring various body parts. Like the nose.

It’s like a guided meditation recording, but accompanied by a video of someone else getting it done to them. Anyway, here’s a video of a ASMR practitioner sensually washing the hair of a metaller. You can hear the soap bubbles crackling. So hot?

Aloha, Mr Ulrich

I’d always known that Lars from Metallica was born in Denmark, but I didn’t realise he didn’t leave his home country until 1980, when he was about 17. He speaks fluent Danish, so of course I had to find a video of him doing this.

The internet provided this interview from the early ’90s, and there he is, happily chatting away in Danish. I wouldn’t recommend watching the whole video, but maybe like a minute.

The best thing is this comment from a Dane: “hahaha Lars has a very funny accent when speaking danish. like he’s living as a young guy in the 70’s.” This seems pretty reasonable. I imagine he sounds like the Danish equivalent of Jeff Spicoli, with his language skills frozen at a youthful, slangy, ’70s point in time. Gnarly.

In and out

I won’t shut up about Eurovision. Ok, so the show is live and there’s about one minute after each performance for the next lot of staging to be set up. While all that happens, television viewers see a short clip called a postcard.

When the staging changes, it’s not just moving microphones around. Everyone has stuff that has to be wheeled on, things hung from the ceiling, giant hamster wheels set in place, etc. It’s complicated and the crew have less than a minute to do all that and for the next act to be in place, ready to go.

As a result, the backstage activity is like the showbiz equivalent of a Formula 1 pitstop (only not as insanely fast). Everyone has a task and they get in there and do it with a quickness. In this video, while Iceland’s postcard plays, back in the stadium Sanna Nielsen from Sweden has just finished performing. The crew remove her mini stage, lighting ring, and disco ball and get set up for the Icelandic band Pollapünk. It’s so precise that the Icelandic performers step into place just seconds before their song starts. That’s showbiz.

I now only have 15 tabs open. Well, that’s an improvement.

Standard
Observatory

In a strange land

The rivers of happiness

Pharrell Williams in Happier times.

Pharrell Williams in Happier times.

I don’t think this has been mentioned yet in the media, by Pharrell Williams’ impossibly catchy song “Happy” has now spent a record 15 weeks at number one in the New Zealand singles chart. This breaks the record previously held by Boney M whose song “Rivers of Babylon” previously spent 14 weeks at number one way back in 1978.

There’s a big difference between the charts of the ’70s and today. For a start, in the ’70s people actually had to go to a record shop and buy a little black 45, whereas today it’s a quick click digital purchase anywhere you feel like buying it with your smartphone.

Most singles only chart for a few weeks. For comparison, “Royals” was only at number one for three weeks, while 2013’s biggie, “Blurred Lines” managed 11 weeks.

So what has attracted New Zealanders to “Happy”? Are we generally, as a nation, feeling a bit glum and in need of cheering up via a neo funk/soul song with an uplifting churchy gospel sound?

The churchy undertones of “Happy” ties in nicely to “Rivers of Babylon”. That song was originally written by Jamaican reggae band The Melodians, with its lyrics adapted from the Bible – specially Psalms 19 and 137. Are New Zealanders in need of some old time religion? Or is pop music our religion?

But even though “Happy” has broken this record, it’s still significant that “Rivers of Babylon” spent 14 consecutive weeks at number one, whereas Pharrell was interrupted after 12 weeks by Australian boyband 5 Seconds of Summer with their rather good track “She Looks so Perfect”, and then again by New Zealand pop power duo Stan Walker and Ginny Blackmore and their serious love song “Holding You”.

But “Happy” keeps ending up on top. It’s like the default number one song for 2014. What will finally usurp this happy ditty? Something miserable? Hey, that new One Direction song is pretty depressing.

That is a beard on a lady

I’m in full-on Eurovision Song Contest fangirl mode at the moment. This week is rehearsal week, which means tons of smartphone videos and fan analysis.

I was thinking of doing some sort of run down of this year’s songs, but then I realised that it would take too much effort to explain it all for anyone who hasn’t drunk the Kool-Aid. And, really, y’all should not be introduced to a Belgian man singing an emotional and slightly creepy operatic ode to his mother.

Instead I will introduce you to Conchita Wurst, a beautiful bearded lady who is representing Austria with her song “Rise like a Phoenix”. Conchita is the elegant drag creation of Tom Neuwirth, who is challenging gender stereotypes, don’t ya know, by giving Conchita a beard (Tom is normally clean shaven). Ms Wurst (German for sausage!) sings a Bond-inspired power ballad, a self-affirmation anthem showing that Conchita won’t let no one get her down.

By the way, if you want to watch Eurovision, this year Sky channel UKTV are screening both the semi finals and the final live. If you’re up at 7 on the morning of Sunday 11 May, you should tune in and watch the final. Alternatively, there’s a web stream on the official website. Until then, here’s Conchita.

Corruption and bribery

Have you ever been involved with some sort of competition and someone jokes, “The judges can be bribed with chocolate fish!!!” And everyone laughs and laughs and laughs.

But wouldn’t it be brilliant if this were actually true? Like, that you could slip a competition judge one of the chocolate marshmallow treats and buy their favour, ensuring that your watercolour painting of the Parnell rose garden is shortlisted for the community art award.

Maybe it’s because New Zealand always ranks so well on the Corruption Perceptions Index that this is such a popular joke. Currently Aotearoa is first-equal with Denmark as having the lowest perceived levels of corruption. So with this perception that bribery seldom happens in New Zealand (or does it, etc), do we feel free to joke about it?

But what if New Zealand was further down the Corruption Perception Index, like Italy at #69 and we had a culture of actual chocolate fish bribery? Would there be cases of High Court judges being busted for accepting cartons of chocolate fish in exchange for a favourable verdict? Or instances of midnight deliveries of chocolate fish to backbench MPs?

I think New Zealand can afford to lose a few points on the index. I’d be happy to be down in third place with Finland and Sweden, with the trade-off being getting a backhander of chocolate fish.

Standard
Observatory

BRN, baby, BRN

Back in 2001, the New Zealand music industry organisation Recording Industry Association of New Zealand (RIANZ; now known as Recorded Music NZ) launched a campaign to combat the new practice of illicitly burning copies of CDs, which deprived artists and record companies of income. The campaign was called BRN&GTBRNT, i.e. “burn and get burnt” and its aim was to educate young people that burning CDs or buying burnt CDs was not cool.

BRN_GT_BRNT

The campaign’s name was inspired by newfangled text-speak, targeting the youth who were texting and burning, burning and texting. And probably even texting about burning. (Here’s a funny side effect of the spelling – in HTML, > is the code for the greater-than symbol, so while I was googling up about BRN&GTBRNT, I kept finding webpages that had displayed the name as BRN>BRNT, which is truthful, though unfortunate for the campaign.)

The idea was that around New Zealand, enterprising whippersnappers were burning copies of popular CDs on their home computers, then taking them to school and selling them. A Herald article noted that, “American pop act Destiny’s Child, English rock star Robbie Williams and Britney Spears are said to be big sellers. Kiwi music is also holding its own in the playground, with Che Fu and the Feelers in high demand.”

This is nothing new. Back in my day, it was very ordinary to lend friends one of your tapes so they could go home and dub off a copy on their Sanyo ghettoblaster. No one was selling anything, but maybe you’d buy a blank tape for your friend to dub onto. Back then, my friends and I didn’t have $15 to plonk down for every new tape we wanted, just as the kids of 2001 didn’t have an unlimited supply of cash for those $35 CDs.

Oh, but other rapscallions were selling burnt CDs down at local markets. How dare members of the public have the option of paying $10 or even $5 for a CD that should rightfully be retailing for $35? Something had to be done.

Well, the industry’s reaction was to launch a campaign that included Dave Dobbyn in burn makeup looking like he was going to a fancy dress party as a comedy Satan, warning the burners not to burn. The Herald article noted, “Dave Dobbyn is probably less popular with the kids.” Well, he’s no Beyonce.

brngtbrnt-dave-dobbyn

The campaign was all over the media, including youth and music media. I remember full-page ads in music magazines with Dave Dobbyn’s red face imploring kids to just stop it.

It was ok to laugh at the campaigns of the 1980s designed to stop home taping, but the BRN&GTBRNT campaign was serious. If they didn’t do something, all those home burners would kill the music industry. Or as a passionate writer at NZGirl put it, “if you continue to purchase pirated CD’s your killing your own dream”.

brngtburnt-logo-1

This was all happening at the same time as labels were starting to introduce copy-protected CDs, which made no one happy, and could be cracked with basic geek skills. And then there was the awkwardness of Sony’s electronics division manufacturing CD burners and blank CDs while its music division raged against them. Worth reading is this forum discussion at electronic music culture website Biggie from 2002 – the smart music lovers of the site aren’t convinced.

I was a couple of years outside the campaign’s target age group of 12-to-24-year-olds and I didn’t own a CD burner and so didn’t do any burning (though I did rip a lot of my own CDs so I could listen to them on my brand new iPod). At the time, I did acquire a few CDs that friends had burnt for me – but most of them I didn’t even listen to, like a compilation of ska-punk tracks. My legit CD collection at the time was massive, and it’s where most of my disposable income went. But then, I wasn’t a 12-year-old with $20 a week pocket money.

brngtbrnt-stellar

So was the BRN&GTBRNT campaign a success? Well, former RIANZA president Michael Glading admitted in 2004 that the locally-focused campaign mostly inspired people not to burn albums by New Zealand artists only. When it’s Bic Runga and Stella fronting the campaign, it’s easy to see it as being about supporting local artists, whereas Britney and Beyonce, well, they’re millionaires already. And this wasn’t helped by the bling culture of the ’00s, where musical videos presented popstars as if they were living large – even if it was all a facade.

Music manager Campbell Smith told the Herald in 2004 that “The sentiment of the BRN&GTBRNT campaign was bang-on, but it always smacked to me of being a bit hastily put together. It seemed a little bit cheesy in the end.” And I think that’s pretty accurate. Despite its good intentions, the campaign’s message weirdly distilled down to “You should not copy that really cool Destiny’s Child CD because it will make some old New Zealand musician feel like he’s had really bad sunburn.”

And here’s another curious thing about life after the BRN&GTBRNT campaign: no one burns CDs anymore. Yes, no sensible 12-year-old is going to spend $5 on buying a burned CD in the schoolyard when they can legitimately stream it for free on Spotify or watch the video on YouTube.

The Herald article noted that one argument was that people copy CDs because they’re too expensive, with the counter argument from the music industry being that “the price of a CD reflects the money and effort which has gone into making and promoting the album”. Well, there’s another curious thing – during the BRN&GTBRNT campaign, a full price CD cost as much as $35. Now a full price album on iTunes is around only $16-$18.

And who buys CDs any more? Old people? Fans of Sole Mio and X Factor winners? (Third-place-getter Benny Tipene was amused that his debut single was being released on CD.) The technological issue that BRN&GTBRNT was trying to fight against was solved not by educating the public. Instead the troublesome technology itself changed the music business so massively and so quickly that CDs are now all but a relic of a bygone era.

When I was googling for info on BRN&GTBRNT, I was surprised at how few images remain from the campaign, being that it was so well known for the visuals of its ads and posters. What remains are tiny, low-res images, pixelly artefacts. That seems highly symbolic. These digital remnants of an earlier age, back when it seemed that technology was going to eat the music industry, not realising it had already been eaten.

brngtbrnt-logo-2

Update: Courtesy of Lower Hutt’s finest musician, Disasteradio, comes these photos of the BRN&GTBRNT sticker in the wild. The threat of a $10,000 loomed over anyone thinking about copying this easy listening compilation CD. Also of interest – the CD was full priced at $34.99, then reduced to $24.99. Today a cheap-as chillout compilation album on iTunes can be found for as little as $11.99, while the Chillout Lounge playlist on Spotify costs $0.

Standard