Janet McAllister on the arts

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

Janet McAllister: Quiz night turns into a battle with a boor

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Penny Ashton.
Penny Ashton.

The pub was an upmarket, inner-suburb, floral-wallpapered one that had greeted marriage equality with rainbows on its chalkboard. We were there for an early evening quiz this month, about the usual fun geeky stuff: ancient Egyptians, 19th century symphonies and landlocked countries in Africa.

So I wasn't expecting the MC to make my fellow quiz nerds the butt of titty jokes. And I wasn't expecting him to ask customers to guess the colour of each others' panties.

I had assumed I was secure on cultural home turf, that I was safe in the large, non-sporting, middle-class shelter of boutique beers and quiz questions.

Which is why, when I politely let the MC know afterwards that I didn't appreciate his sexist jokes, I expected a patronising, "Well, I'll tone it down for you next time, luv, all right?"

Instead, his MC affability immediately changed to aggression. "You're just one person, it's not all about you; everybody else wants to have fun," he sneered.

"If you don't like it, you don't have to come here."

It turns out he was right: it wasn't all about me. He lost at least half a dozen quiz nerds - regular customers - in 12 seconds flat.

That experience, unpleasant as it was, pales in comparison to Hannah Spyksma's Eden Park experience this month, in which she was verbally and physically abused for requesting that her fellow rugby fans stop shouting homophobic insults.

But the arguments are the same: it's just part of the culture, toughen up, stop spoiling the fun. It seems bigotry is not just a rugby thing, but endemic in our entertainment industry as well.

How do we turn the tables, so that it's clear who the real wreckers are?

In her brilliant open letter to the rugby bigots, Spyksma talks of "decent human beings" - a more truthful archetype than "humourless PC fun-spoilers" for those who try to make the world a more inclusive place.

The vocal support of people who are not immediate humiliation targets is invaluable and powerful: it neutralises the bigot's assumption that everyone agrees boorishness makes the fun rather than kills it.

And newsflash: one can be a decent human being and be funny, and to have spent last weekend "MCing a whole lotta breast-flashing".

How so? Enter Penny Ashton, comedian, marriage celebrant and burlesque MC. Be as shocking as you like, advises Ashton, but be clear what you're targeting: things such as abuse of power, not their victims. The Civilian satirical website is a decent human being (honorary category) - see its hilarious "part of the game" headline on why Eden Park management is not a decent human being.

I may have to practise my funny some more.

I said that after his recent thoughtless "fag" tweet, I no longer want to be a Dagg hag. Zing! Ashton was kind enough to groan.

www.thecivilian.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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