Saturday, 3 June 2017

Mahana: Taking in the backdrop

The main story of Mahana directed by Lee Tamahori is a drama of past romance, a coming-of-age tale, and a tale of rural New Zealand in the 1960s. I do not with to spoil the plot, but more importantly wish to look through this, into the thriving backdrop of culture and environment that pervades the film, based on one of the acclaimed Maori novelist Witi Ihimaera’s books.
            In a colonial and a postcolonial setting, where people are from is important, and speaks volumes about their perception of the world, and their place in it. It oddly took me a while to see the structure of race and culture present in Mahana’s rural mid-twentieth century New Zealand; the main story looks at a rivalry between two Maori Iwi’s (family groups), the titular Mahanas and the Poatas. While these two groups squabble and struggle against one another, the white employers, mostly shown in the character Collins, can take a back seat; they have guaranteed employment, why should they be involved? Indeed, the arguments between the Poatas and the Mahanas incorporate the contracts given out by the white man.

Although the patriarchal grandfather Temehana Mahana owns lands, it is accentuated that he started from nothing, and seeks out contracts for employment from white employers anyway. It is thus interesting that young Simeon and his peer group are so interested in American culture, particularly cowboy films featuring the likes of John Wayne; although in Mahana, the Maoris represented are the cowboys, in the cowboy films native Americans are the enemy, and Maori’s likely suffered similar humiliations and defeats, resulting in the drastic assault on the landscape with European land tenure systems and livestock practices, namely sheep rearing, which the Mahanas have settled into reciprocating and maintaining. While the sheep munch away the environment, changing the landscape, there is a scene wherein the main characters are ‘reduced’ to scrub clearing; not only do they maintain the livestock which has changed the indigenous landscape, they are forced to become the changers of landscape to settle the need for cash income. The Maori culture is attacked in more overt ways throughout; the Maori language is not allowed to be spoken in court and Temehana is fiercely biblical.
 I am also interested in the character of Mr. McKenzie. McKenzie is Simeon’s teacher, and seems to be more progressive, taking Simeon under his wing, and encouraging him to be honest and true to himself. I wonder if the character of McKenzie could be anything other than a Scotsman; the same role filled in with an Englishman or a white New Zealander would have a flattened effect, as their dominance as a teacher would merely be accentuated; but the Scottish are different, they have a culture separate from the English and an ecological history that has been similarly assaulted by capitalist agriculture.

            I am merely flexing my thoughts on culture and environment in this piece, and regret that I do not go into the complexities of feminism apparent in the film; outside of New Zealand, the film was released under the title ‘the Patriarch,’ and it is accentuated throughout the domineering social structures that oppress women in society, both in the mid-twentieth century Maori society, and New Zealand society more broadly.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A&E: a brief journal

I fell in love with the waiting room yesterday. The sort of place that usually makes me squirm and broil with general upset was suddenly a constant source of fascination. Perhaps my eyes were opened to this because I wasn’t in need of attention (my girlfriend possibly broke a bone in her hand) and also I was extremely hungover so all I really wanted was somewhere to sit and focus on nothing, possibly sleep, all of which was granted to me.
            On arriving in the taxi, we see three women waiting for a lift away. They were dressed in beautiful and precisely worn headscarves and shawls, of deep and satisfying colour and pattern. Inside, hospital staff are everywhere and attempting to get everywhere, in their various coloured scrubs with embroidered meanings on the back. It occurred to me suddenly that this place is never empty; the staff don’t close up shop when the last patient of the day leaves at 5pm sharp. The injured hordes will continually pour in, or stumble in at least (there seemed to be a lot of foot injuries.)
            The police appeared three times, an event that caught my attention as someone instantly alerted by sirens and their associated symbols. The first time they were dropping off a name and description at the reception. The second time, they brought in Barry, who was not under arrest; it appeared maybe he’d been found collapsed somewhere and they were helping them in. He looked like he’d had some form of stroke but it could’ve been something else. He wore a jumper back-to-front that should’ve had the Dr. Pepper logo on the front, but was instead of course on his back. Barry could not sit still; despite being told a number of times to remain in his seat by the patient staff, he would switch seats, converse with anyone, wander outside, wander down the hallways, and generally disappear. The third time the police appeared, they had someone in handcuffs. A short, unshaven man from the North, his arms covered in faded tattoos. From the conversations I caught between him and the officers, he was an alcoholic. He was obviously distressed, in his worn out blue t-shirt and grey jogging bottoms.

            There seemed to be quite a few Irish people working in the hospital and waiting for help. There was one Scottish man, in some deal of discomfort, with a young daughter who couldn’t sit still. She developed a slight fascination with the water cooler, and continually attempted to impress my girlfriend (who couldn’t care less what with the painful arm) with her acrobatic methods of getting onto and off of her chair. Inevitably Barry conversed with the child.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Some thoughts on WALL-E

            I can’t remember when I first saw WALL-E, but I definitely was under the age of 16. Rewatching it now, as a twenty-two year old student, I have realized what an ecological marvel it is; I was pointed to re-watch it in part by a brief analysis in Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought.
            I was struck by the overwhelming scale artificial objects were given; everything is gargantuan, such as the ship the Axiom, that blocks out the sky and is filled with unknowningly complex interior workings. Importantly, many giant things are defunct, and simply rubbish. A huge ‘Buy n Large Ultrastore’ sprawls in the urban wasteland, no longer used; enormous freighters are lined up in a row, rusting away and useless.
Most noticeably of all, the amount of waste rampant in the defunct planet is paradoxically larger than the environment it exists in, even in the compacted towers that WALL-E (and supposedly his deceased comrades) worked to turn it into. How can there be more waste than… well, anything else? We find this question crop up again later onboard the Axiom, where WALL-E is trapped in the waste disposal zone. Here, two giant robots work compacting the eternal stream of rubbish thrown into their compartment. Why would a ship with the purpose of conserving human life be so inefficient as to create so much waste?

Interestingly, the robots compacting waste on the Axiom are simply larger versions of WALL-E, suggesting that instead of solving the issue that has apparently followed humans onto the ship (i.e. over-consumption, wasteful lifestyles) humanity has simply upgraded the solution that was there, not necessarily solving anything, but with all the appearance of productivity.

Thursday, 11 May 2017


Just a little idea I had for a silly, sci-fi conversation, inspired in part by this piece:

“Are you busy?”

“A little, just picking flesh out of my teeth. Do come in though.”

“thank you, I just wanted to go over a few things about the little place we found with all the food.”

“Well you’ll have to be more specific than that. The purple one?”

“No- the green and blue one.”

“Ah yes, that one. Interesting little thing…”

“Yes, well we went and spoke with the food, and I thought you’d be interested by the finds. For a start, they’re not too different to us, they have to eat-“

“They’re all-eaters too! Finally, I couldn’t even attempt to understand the culture on that light-feeding place- I think that was the purple one…”

“No, no, they don’t eat all. It seems that there is one species that eats a lot of the others; they raise them and put them through killing factories and package their flesh and send them off all over the place. But they don’t eat each other.”


“Yes, but oddly enough eating is still hugely important; this species’ world is divided up into ‘eats a lot,’ ‘eats just enough,’ ‘eats very little’ and ‘barely eats.’”

“Well, that seems rather pointless. Why doesn't ‘eats a lot’ just eat the rest? Or why doesn’t ‘barely eats’ satiate their hunger and get themselves a bite of 'eats a lot'?”

“I’m not so sure. Having said that, in our initial tests they reacted strongly when we did the natural thing and ate one of them.”

“Huh! How odd. What did it…?”

“Bad. Quite exceptionally bad.”