Janet McAllister on the arts

Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Revelations a mix of delight, shame and pain

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Middle-aged slightly goofy Frank Warren is a sharing-and-caring-girl-power hero. Photo / Supplied
Middle-aged slightly goofy Frank Warren is a sharing-and-caring-girl-power hero. Photo / Supplied

PostSecret's Frank Warren may be a little bit too perfect. Is his name really "Frank", or did he choose it to advertise his website that publishes candid secrets the public send in anonymously on postcards? He seems so wholesome, earnest and squeaky clean - his smile is large, his crisp shirt striped like toothpaste, his blog the most popular ad-free site in the world - but was his polished show last week at SkyCity Theatre really so genuine? He is so perfect, he even showed a sense of humour, telling us the most common secret he receives: "I pee in the shower."

Did he - as he claimed - really walk across Grafton Bridge from town and order a curry only to find that his American credit card didn't work, whereupon a stranger volunteered to pay for his meal? This story, with its random act of kindness and mention of bridge barriers, seemed especially cute, segueing as it did into a discussion of the cause Warren works tirelessly for: suicide prevention and helplines such as Lifeline.

I checked out his curry story and, damn it, according to the woman behind the counter at the Jewel of Bombay on Park Rd, he was telling the truth. Yes, he switched on uplifting epic music as he left the stage, but so what? He's American; of course he's warm and calculating.

But still, there was no discussion of the art in what is pegged a "community art project". Little acknowledgement of the potential for narcissism or voyeuristic creepiness. And Warren only talked about the ability of secrets to bring people closer together: "They can be buried like a coffin or shared like gifts." But this approach treats all secrets alike, whether serious or silly, with no thought to who the listener is. The danger is that pearls could be cast before swine - or swine could be cast before pearls.

Yet he got a standing ovation from the mostly young female audience, many of whom clearly have found his approach useful. This middle-aged, slightly goofy guy is a sharing-and-caring, girl-power hero. "I'm 20, and if I've had a bad day, I go home and talk to my Little Ponies about my bad day," said one of the handful of fans who shared their own secrets at the show, using a microphone in semi-anonymous darkness.

As on the website, the live revelations were a mix of delights, slight shames and huge reservoirs of pain. Someone confessed she'd stolen all the PostSecret books out of the public library - such is the non-judgmental nature of the "PostSecret community" that she was cheered. Others were clearly emotional as they talked of their struggles with family and mental illnesses. Happily, one was able to reinforce Warren's message that "you will get through it": "I haven't cut myself since I broke up with my boyfriend [last year], and it's the best." Thanks for being frank.

www.postsecret.com

- NZ Herald

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