Janet McAllister on the arts

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

Janet McAllister: World Cup sitting duck for satire and dissent

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Renee Liang was told she would need a formal license to use 'All Blacks' in the title of her play. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Renee Liang was told she would need a formal license to use 'All Blacks' in the title of her play. Photo / Sarah Ivey

By Carter, there's a lot of comical Rubber Wool Cup hoo-hah around. All those ads, trying to turn our love of rugby and our loyalty to the gods/players into dollars for sponsors: buy Carter; get Carter. All those pricey bars and greedy landlords. All those graffiti-art-free walls. All those school swot-ups on the national anthem (happily, "in the bonds of Shortland Street" has replaced "Coronation Street" in the playground version).

I was naively hoping that one or two art-types would be poking fun at the whole money-grubbing, manipulative, jingoistic World Cup shebang - it's good fodder for satire, and art is traditionally a burner as well as a builder of sacred cows.

Take the phrase "All Black". It no longer belongs to the fans who helped make it so valuable as a "brand". Oh no, it belongs to commercial licensees as a "wordmark" and is then cynically sold back to genuine followers in the form of "official" merchandise.

When playwright Renee Liang approached the New Zealand Rugby Football Union for permission to call her new play The First Asian All Black, the reply was that she would need a formal licence, as book authors do. "While we're probably not in a position to subjectively judge the play, we would need to know how the All Blacks brand is being presented," she was told in an email.

Tee hee, I love the idea of the NZRFU board ruling on artistic merit. Take Foreskin's Lament (being read at Waikato Museum later this month). Would they have asked: "Nudity?! Whaddisit?" If anybody's writing All Black fan fic out there, take note: the email to Liang went on to admit that usually, once authors see the complexity of what was involved in obtaining a licence, "they have opted for a name change".

To mix my sporting codes for a moment: that's an own goal, NZRFU. Your mean-spiritedness rubs off on "your" premiere brand. Liang's opted for the coy title First Asian AB, or FAAB for short. Fabulous.

Apart from being less than reverent about the Rugby World Cup (TM), I wish some artist would also point out that even though rugby culture can encourage "pride, camaraderie, intensity, passion ...", as artist/ad man Dick Frizzell's official NZRFU T-shirts have it, it also still has a dirty underbelly. Racism, homophobia, drinking problems, a masculinity of hard detachment and antagonism towards art - put that on a T-shirt.

And let's not forget the sexism: not one woman will be performing at Auckland's $2.7 million RWC opening-night party.

I don't mind Frizzell being a paid witty cheerleader; I'm not expecting all artists to be anti-propaganda, just a couple will do. While Frizzell's work in the past could be interpreted as ironic commentary on cultural ownership, his RWC range includes a tiki made out of the NZRFU logo.

In Frizzell's earlier work, Mickey to Tiki tu Meke, Mickey Mouse's face morphed into a tiki. It turns out this was less a questioning of (mis)appropriation and more a blueprint for advertising. Just change Mickey to the NZRFU logo and voila!

Perhaps dissenting artists are out there, their voices lost in the roar of the crowd, but all I can see are artists wanting to jump on the rah-rah wagon. Another reminder that while art can change our thinking and set the agenda, it will give that up for enough dosh. It is first and foremost an opportunistic business.

- NZ Herald

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