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US HEGEMONY vs SATELLITE PEONY

In anthropology, politics on June 25, 2013 at 7:52 am

Granted that Americans have a right to worry whether their own government is spying on them. Hence the whole Snowden ‘whistle-blower’ controversy. Now consider the case of New Zealand, a US satellite that more and more, under a right wing government, seems intent on making peons of its own people. The ruling minority government, with an effective majority of one in the House of Representatives, is about to pass legislation that will allow its US ally (and presumably other ‘friendly’ powers) to spy on New Zealanders via their own spy station situated outside Christchurch. The government, dominated by the National Party, is of course eagerly whipping up a state of paranoia among chronically paranoiac and anxious citizens by warning of imminent acts of internal terrorism. By the end of the week it will be too late to think about which terror is worse: that of the state over its own people that is going to happen, or you might say, freelance internal terrorism that might never happen. New Zealand long ago discounted the remote possibility of aggressive influences coming from outside to this far end of the world. After all, why else would it have let its so-called armed forces be depleted over the past half-century to one SAS company and various peace-keeping units deployed overseas that could not contribute to defending the country?

The tendency of this country to infantilism in the face of Mother Britain for a century and a half and the United States in the past half century has, as some feared, bred a country of sheep only too willing to be led to a slaughter of the spirit by a sequence of cowardly judas goats in charge. Such easy efforts to appease bigger partners internationally come at the real cost of New Zealand taking committed action and assertive measures over its own realistic concerns, of which there are many. To name one, huge systemic gaps and numerous lapses in civil construction and inspection standards responsible for killing and maiming hundreds of people, and irreparably damaging the mental wellbeing of countless thousands of others in just the past two years. Responsible for extending the effects of specific tragedies out to years is the lack of accountability and ducking for cover of government departments, insurance companies and other private corporations and local authorities. The disasters in question are the explosion in the Pike River coalmine that killed 29; the Christchurch earthquake(s) killing hundreds; and the negligent grounding of a cargo ship in the Bay of Plenty that jettisoned oil and hundreds of polluting containers into the sea, left to drift and sink in the absence of any aggressive recovery plan.

The Christchurch earthquake, and after thousands of after shocks there are still tens of thousands homeless and without sufficient means to start again

The Christchurch earthquake, and after thousands of after shocks there are still tens of thousands homeless and without sufficient means to start again

The Pike River Coal Mine explosion in November 2010 killed 29 miners. At least it was assumed from the first that they were killed. As anxious relatives waited on hopes day after day though expecting the worst, willing volunteer rescuers were prevented from even entering the mine by the police. This is just one instance of the enculturated Kiwi habit of officials hanging back and waiting. Still after two and a half years only robotic surveillance has been allowed, the results suggesting all the victims were not killed outright. In the initial enquiry the company was found guilty of nine “health & safety” violations. But in July 2013 it was revealed that of $90 million in insurance coverage a total of $156,000 has filtered down to be distributed to victims’ families in ‘compensation’. You do the arithmetic. Two weeks later police announced there would be no prosecution of mine owners and management because there was no direct causal link established: New Zealand has no such charge as “corporate manslaughter”.

The basis of the fault lies with New Zealanders’ self-vaunted “No.8 wire spirit”, so-called for the gauge of fencing wire used for all purposes originally by farmers for everything from extracting ear wax to holding a car engine together. This myth involving inherent love of amateurism in all spheres is deeply ingrained in Kiwi culture — admiration of the ad hoc over careful preparation, which is seen derisively as prissy or over-intellectualized. In the Pike River (Westland province) and Christchurch cases numerous instances of unheeded warnings over many years, shoddy design, construction and inspection regimes, and overarching laissez faire management philosophies creating “disasters waiting to happen”, were looked upon with disbelief and downright disgust by Australian and US experts called on to testify to best practices well established overseas for generations if not centuries.

This has been the pattern of civil expectations in New Zealand life for the past thirty years, since the turnaround of the 1984 so-called Labour government to right-wing economics, and growing more emphatic in quantum leaps every time there is National Party government insisting on thousands more job cuts in what are increasingly recognized as essential services. I accuse this government of wantonly risking more lives in the cause of easing their own. This further indenturing of its own citizens to outside interests will strip away any vestige or pretence of independence this country might still cling on to.

PROGRESSING PAST VOCABULARY: The Three Essential Adjectives in Modern English

In anthropology, art, generational/fashion, Humor, literature, satire on June 11, 2013 at 1:38 pm
A little scholar of tomorrow, aspiring to fill her head with at least a dozen words for all occasions.

littlescholarIn days of yore, say back as far as the 1960s, there were massive tomes called dictionaries. Though it was known that the average person might have a vocabulary of some four thousand words or less, even “simplified” dictionaries would have as many as 65,000 to 75,000 words — so at least 60,000 too many for even the most talkative people. Those compiled by ancient, outdated educational institutions like Oxford and Cambridge Universities dating back to medieval times might include double that number in their more than comprehensive, overgrown volumes that contained the origin of the word, umpteen different meanings and senses, and examples of how these nuanced usages might be utilized in sentences by show-offs.

The language built up steadily, out of hand for over two thousand years, expanding to something with virtually infinite turns and twists. It came to be admired by so-called brainy people throughout the world just for its exquisitely descriptive value, unparalleled logical definition and finnicky grammar that qualified shades of meaning. All this was appreciated by just a few thousand elite around the world out of seven billion. If it had been confined to just one person’s head, like the maths in Archimedes’ this surplus knowledge could have been easily nipped in the bud as his was by his timely assassination by that Roman stud, cut and buff in his form-fitting battle dress making him look so hot.

But those dudes with their jive-ass — sorry — runaway egos painstakingly designed what they grandly called works of art based on this language, using imaginary imagery and tricky devices conjuring poetic beauty from a blank page — that went over the heads of everyone but a few of their own. When everyone knows that a work of art is something you can see in front of you like an awesome multicolored tattoo, mass produced so tried and true, with heaps of symbolic meaning, by a proper tattoo artist, or a nice mosaic coffee table with pretty colors, or hear, like a vocal on American Idol that can spread one syllable across eight notes. It all snowballed and got “stink”, to use a well chosen descriptive catchall in common New Zealand usage. So I say — All the more credit to recent generations who have simplified the language and made it accessible to a great many more people who are now able to be admired for their fluent speech, even their gift of the gab.

Those best at the art of simplification have invented an abbreviated written language too for text messaging, now coming into more general use and far more concise than the spoken word — an outmoded form of communication just begging to be clipped down to manageability. Soon we will all be speaking in grunts and moans, sighs and snorts, hand gesticulations and facial contortions that served our primate forebears so very well. Human communication is said to be 93% nonverbal anyway, so why not take this important lesson from our ancestors?

The biggest corporates, teachers and other cultural leaders are not doing too badly though. If we look at just one part of speech, the descriptive adjective, the necessary vocabulary for anyone speaking English can be boiled down to three words: “awesome”, “not okay” and “inappropriate”. The word awesome is not the awesome that used to be, that is, inspiring awe — a word that has no useful meaning whatever — but more like the “fab” or “groovy” of yesteryear. It is therefore an ideally leveling word that exalts all achievements and accidents of birth alike. Where we might say a man who has developed the ability to smoke a cigarette with his lips and drink an alcoholic beverage through his nose on the same breath is truly awesome, we could also courteously apply the term — though we don’t really mean it — to a steady, admittedly boring researcher with nerdy hornrim glasses (actually a geek to be honest), progressing by inches towards a cancer cure, in order to make him feel good about himself for a moment and caringly bolster his self-esteem with a white lie.

Inappropriate is hardly at all like the inappropriate of before, meaning unsuitable. Inveterate diners used to say, “It is inappropriate to drink red wine with fish, and white wine with red meat.” But to dance a rhumba to a chacha rhythm is no longer inappropriate but creative, original and maybe freaky to those with an extraordinary vocabulary expanded to take in impressive technical jargon according to their specialization on tv shows, cooking, music or dancing. Today inappropriate should be applied only in those situations where a cover-all adjective is needed for “anything I don’t like.” In this way “inappropriate” is a useful conversation stopper and final judgment that precludes all debate on or enquiry about a particular subject that is probably unnecessary in the first place, maybe involving abstract concepts which don’t even exist anymore in everyday life; only in the minds of over-intellectualized dweebs.

“Not okay” is perhaps the most versatile compound adjective, handy for almost every occasion. A bereaved family member interviewed this week about the searing effects on the loved ones of his 15-year-old nephew being punched and kicked to death by two rugby team mates at practice was able to summon up composure enough in his grief at the funeral to say straight from the heart, “Violence is not okay.” The same well-spoken, obviously well-educated Kiwi, probably in a high-flying occupation, in a different circumstance might rightly apply this adjective to a gauchely misapplied dessert sauce on a television cooking show, thoughtlessly dolloped on the plate instead of tastefully and aesthetically drizzled.

WOMEN ARE MORE EQUAL — AND STILL COMPLAIN

In anthropology, psychology/psychiatry, sociology on May 16, 2013 at 7:13 am

Some of us are more equal than others, as various animal characters found out in George Orwell’s classic satire on Stalinism, Animal Farm. In coming musings I will discuss how this applies to different sectors of society. Tonight: women.

* Women are equal to men in numbers around the world — in fact outnumber them in virtually every country, PLUS retain the privilege of calling themselves a minority

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to form statutory groups exclusive to their own gender

* Women are equal to men in intelligence — PLUS have educational privileges and attainment to the point where there are now more female than male graduates in law, medicine and education to cite a few; but retain the claim to be downtrodden careerwise and economically and don’t hold more than 50% of political careers.

* Women are equal to men in talent — and command financial returns from talk shows, starring in movies and on music recordings often superior to that of males; PLUS demand equal pay for those activities in which they can never be as good as the best males or cope with the same physical demands, like police enforcement, special military services and sports.

* Women are equal to men in drive and motivation — but are notoriously fickle, even when favored, recruited, cosseted to commit to an occupation that doesn’t suit. The national intake of women police in New Zealand, a country that goes out of its way to please women, is 33% of the total of rookie recruits. Within a very short time, two to three years on the force, the female component of the police force reduces to 10%.

HateThatcher* Women are equal to men in political ruthlessness — PLUS bathe in the haloed glow of self-anointment as forces for world peace: after Baroness Margaret Thatcher, Catherine the Great, Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi, Mrs Mao Zedong, Boudicca, Jeanne d’Arc, all of them sainted in one way or another and all fit to dwell in Madame Tussaud’s chamber of horrors. This is not counting the Mata Haris, Eva Perons, Imelda Marcoses and Winnie Mandelas made to seem helpless victims of men by hagiographic movies and other rewritings of history.

* Women are equal to men in personal violence — but aren’t acknowledged for it because don’t generally have the temperament or physical force to apply it without lethal weapons, and haven’t built up such a record as serial killers, PLUS have been among the most destructive provocateurs in inciting genocides and individual homicides.

* Women are equal to men in physical force (sometimes) — PLUS have the cunning to paint themselves as victims to the authorities.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the prerogative of changing their minds for no given reason

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand they be wooed and won (or not won), before they change their mind again

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to ask a man to pick up the tab without opprobrium (i.e. being called a gigolo)

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have the right to demand their life partner take on the same activities, even the same beliefs, as them; women rightly call the reverse case in male-dominated cultures “oppression”.

* Women are equal to men — PLUS claim superior intuition, morality, caring…

* Women are equal to men — PLUS have far greater susceptibility when flattered for irrational beliefs, believing male clerics and other civic leaders are just as superstitious as they are when preaching orthodoxies such as the existence of a higher being and acquiescing in the delusion that many of these men don’t have ulterior motives.

EXACTLY HOW SPOILT ARE WESTERN WOMEN?

In anthropology, ideology, television on May 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

The theme of tonight’s ramble came to me as I flicked through a dating site of African women, then another of Asian women — representing most of the adult single women on earth who are searching for male partners. Time after time, in the slots for preferences regarding a prospective partner’s ethnicity, height, weight, occupation, earnings, was written “any, any, any, any…” At the bottom, invariably, was the conclusion that the main, often only qualification, that “he love me and look after our family”. Of course, this contrasts starkly with my other favorite haunts: dating sites featuring New Zealand, Hawaiian and Southern Californian women. Far from the men of the Western world demanding anything very specific from women — as is the subject of popular and politically correct myth — the women demand as their right men of a certain physical size and activity, personality, wallet, philosophy, religion. It’s testimony to how indoctrinated men are in the modern world that they take this in stride until it comes to abominably stupid women showing just how obnoxious they are in their demands; e.g. a woman of say, 5ft-11, insisting on her right to wear her in-fashion seven-inch heels and then specifying a man who stands taller than her, totally oblivious (and indifferent?) to the fact that she has just excluded 99.999 percent of mankind.

My mind went back a week or two to viewing an hour-long episode in the British tv series Tribal Wives. It typically features dissatisfied women from the British Isles who go to live for a month in an African tribal setting to discover… something. On seeing glimpses of it previously I got the impression of idle white women slumming, maybe living out the earth mother fantasy, or reliving a previous life, to great but much-deserved disillusionment. And back they went to having too much time on their hands and finding their true callings in crystal therapy or numerology.

But this time it struck me as one of the few reality shows worth the price of admission on free-to-air tv, usually a very hefty price of switching your mind off to receive some “aimless thrills” to quote Basil Fawlty. It involved an “African” English woman of 36 whose most recent ‘long-term’ relationship had broken up, giving her pause about whether she was suited to relationships at all or had she, even, been missing something in the mix. The Masai women who were her hosts were very concerned about her suitability for such a hard life and at first cosseted her through the hardest parts, including carrying heavy loads for miles every day. She finally adapted fairly well, with the exception of getting used to sleeping in a smoke-filled hut and defecating just outside the front entrance where everyone else did. After all, this, mixed with the mud underfoot, cattle dung and straw, had built the hut in the first place, she realised. I half laughed and half sneered, thinking of an aspiring San Diego dater who actually named the fragrance her man was supposed to wear.

She also had chances to meet and chat with local, eligible single men who were openly complimentary of her beauty and personality. Though their aspirations to have more than one wife jarred at first this was countered in her mind by their alarm expressed at the thought of deserting a female partner and children as she knew young men in the Western world were apt to do. From the point of view of local men, love for a wife was based on her worth as a person, to his and her children, to the tribe, and a much broader feeling of caring; not the narrow definition of so-called love in the Western world, an ego-centric mix of glorified mirror-gazing, enhanced status and passing lust that is dressed up as “romance” and more often than not ends up as two people callously manipulating each other to do the other’s will. Her attitude at the end for all their nurturing and all she had been taught, was one of gratitude and the feeling that she would genuinely miss the place and the people.

Hope there’s a follow-up episode some time.

PHILOSOPHICAL REVIEW: Metaphysical Observations on the Value of a Human Body (Deceased)

In anthropology, morality, philosophy on March 19, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Price-of-Life-by-Linda-Cai

“Price of Life” by Linda Cai

This article is not one of those grossly scientific assessments of how many cents the chemicals inherent in a human body are worth — that arcane knowledge that scientists used to be fond of bragging, accidentally showing how much they didn’t know about the value of a human being. Nor is it that equally sociopathic assessment beloved of life insurance assessors that sizes a person’s ultimate worth up in dollars and cents by age and theoretical future earning potential had they lived. But I fear high-earning basketball players, for example, who might be a drain on society in every way as individuals, are valued much more by society today than, say, a poor parent who devotes his or her life to kids and other deserving.

Every now and again you catch something in the news (or on the tv crime shows) that just doesn’t sit right, in fact seems very, very wrong. So wrong that you wonder if you haven’t missed something in your upbringing, some essential moral or cultural message you failed to read between the lines. A message apparently so central to the human condition that you wonder if you’re not irretrievably divorced from the rest of humankind. One of these is the fact of how very much value the Judeo-Christian ethic places on the physical remains of deceased persons.

In christian metaphysics people are taught that the human spirit — all that which is of value in a person — flees the body at the point of death. All that is left is the worthless husk, the vessel in which a person’s being was carried. So what great lengths people will go to recover a body that is lost has always been a total mystery to me. The concept of “closure” seems inadequate to explain why a believer in afterlife should need physical remains to grieve over. Yet, serial murderers have been set virtually scot-free just for telling the locations of their victims — risking the possibility that they might destroy more actual lives. The value of a cadaver — a gruesome abomination of a remnant that carries no hint of the worth of the person when he or she was alive — to grieve over, if even that much is left of the beloved’s corporeal remains, is set higher than viable lives.

Strangely, the third apex of the original European-Arabic-Jewish religious-cultural triangle, Islam, holds comparatively very little sacred value in human remains. Indignities and atrocities are meted out by Muslim tribesmen to the remains (and live bodies) of enemies that even brutal modern Westerners might wince at. The imbalance in values has never been shown better than when, first, a few years ago, the dead bodies of two Israeli soldiers were traded by Palestinians back to the state of Israel in return for setting 300 to 400 prisoners free. Last year (2011) when 1,000 Palestinian prisoners were set free in exchange for one live Israeli soldier, this highlighted a large disparity in the value different cultures set on life. You have to wonder at the sanity of a government of an independent state — Palestine — that would place so little value on its live citizens, officially in the ratio of one thousand to one Israeli, for the whole world to see its priorities.

Admittedly in Western culture cremation is increasingly recognised as an option in which there is no mourning place where remains of the loved one “rest in peace”. This is becoming a logistical necessity where dead people in often lavishly decorated graves meant as permanent monuments are taking up vast tracts of lebensraum which could be used by the living or preferably left to revert to nature; seven billion specimens of humankind currently overpopulating the planet seems like more than plenty.

At the same time in the West, I think mere existence of our bodies in a breathing, pulsing state tends to be vastly overrated. We all die, but except in the case of people who can’t afford health care every possible resource is brought to bear in prolonging what is often a torturous clinging to vital signs that show that life still lingers, technically. Trendy people spend cumulative years of their lives ensuring that they have every chance of existing what statistically might be just a fraction of a year extra, and not even guaranteed that. Given the fragility of existence, a previously undetected condition or a thoughtless moment crossing the street or at the wheel is likely to cancel out all well laid plans for the future. Such absurdities, sometimes bordering on obscenity, as preserving as a right the existences of confessed, proven-beyond-any-doubt serial murderers, convolutes morality to the point of turning it on its head. The attention span of many humans being what it is, the mass murderer is fast switched to the poor downtrodden underdog in prison, and is wept over and proposed to by seriously irrational women awash in protective hormones. And, just as likely, convinced in their girl power to change him; at least, dress him better.

In cases where rehabilitation/born-again appeal doesn’t work the value of a human body (deceased) tends to rise beyond all reasonable expectations of inflation. As a symbol of martyrdom to the cause against unfeeling officialdom it is carried like that of a saint from one generation to the next of Dead Man Walking fans.

ROCK MUSIC — ENGLAND SWINGS?

In anthropology, celebrity, generational/fashion, history, music on June 4, 2009 at 10:15 pm

— an excerpt from another chapter of G. A. De Forest’s book ‘Beach Boys vs Beatlemania: Rediscovering Sixties Music’, published by Booklocker.com in November 2007 and available for around $17.95. Highest position thus far on Amazon’s sales list in the Music: History & Criticism category is #23 on April 26th 2008.

“Eng-a-land swings like a pendulum do/ bobbies on bicycles two by two/ Westminster Abbey, the Tower, Big Ben/ the rosy red cheeks of the little chil-dren.”—Country Music’s Oklahoma stump philosopher of the mid-Sixties, Roger Miller, observing the myth of Merry England. By the time of Miller’s paean—what, in any other era, would have been a giant pain—England had ruled pop music for two years and was conquering the rest of pop culture. The miniskirt, fashion designer Mary Quant, supermodel Jean Shrimpton (Twiggy to come), and Carnaby Street were all household names around the world. In London they took their fashion so seriously that anyone walking down Carnaby Street or Chelsea’s King’s Road out of fashion might have been ritually stoned, in both senses of the word.

The coolest tv program was The Avengers—karate-kicking Emma Peel and immaculately Savile Row-attired John Steed. The chic actresses were Julie Christie on the big screen, by acclaim, and by definition Paul McCartney’s girlfriend Jane Asher, and Mick Jagger’s, Marianne Faithfull—by her own account blessed by an accident of birth with “The Look” and so doubling effortlessly as a chic rock star.

The Beatles in '65: John and Paul styling their hair, Ringo and George still generic moptops

The Beatles in '65: John and Paul styling their hair, Ringo and George still generic moptops

The Beatles came in 12th at American box-offices for 1965, 6th UK. America’s two no.1 movie stars through 1965-66 were Brits Sean Connery (James Bond) and saccharine songstress Julie Andrews, dis-placing all-American team Doris Day and Rock Hudson —suddenly hopelessly outdated 40-year-old born-again virgins, plopped down from Planet Quaint into The Swinging Sixties. The British had cornered the movie market (apart from westerns, fading fast): Bond and Michael Caine the nattiest dressed screen spies; Peter Sellers superseded Jerry Lewis as America’s most popular comic; Hayley Mills still the world’s no.1 child star, turning 20; Margaret Rutherford was the screen’s adored septuagenarian. An entire generation of British actors—Peter O’Toole, Albert Finney, Alan Bates, Tom Courtenay, Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Glenda Jackson, Oliver Reed, Susannah York, Sarah Miles—were said to be the most interesting on screen. The swingingest middle-aged affair involved fifth-time-around Liz Taylor/Cleopatra and her consort Richard Burton/Marc Antony. And more UK actors—Richard Harris (‘MacArthur Park’), Noel Harrison (‘Windmills of Your Mind’)—were held to be the most expressive vocalists in recording.

For the first time in centuries England defined cool. Three months after the Beatles arrived in America, Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan were trying their luck with extended tours in England, previously a whistle-stop. Those who could fake being English to Stateside audiences were flavor of the month, often literally. New LA groups the Byrds—first goofily calling themselves the Beefeaters—and the Turtles, false-advertising themselves as from England, strained mightily for Beatle accents in the frenzied quest for fame before stumbling on to Dylan and folk rock. Others hoping to fool the public were the Buckinghams and Golliwogs (later Creedence Clearwater Revival). For more than two years Americans were mindlessly Anglophile, and it took an English songwriter, Ray Davies of the Kinks, to debunk it all in the spring of 1966 with the flaying derision of ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’. Still, only slowly was the spell broken: Britons had nine number ones in America that year.

While it lasted the edict—more powerful than if a law had been passed—shut out the all-too-American Beach Boys for their obvious aural and visible handicaps: being so un-English as to commit a heresy against revealed wisdom. The Four Seasons, older and more brittle, broke—no longer superstars in ’65 due to media neglect. Wide-ranging surveys in the mid-Seventies by WNBC-New York, WFIL-Philadelphia and WRKO-Boston to discover the most popular hits long term showed that the Seasons were done in by someone: ‘Dawn’, ‘Ronnie’, ‘Rag Doll’, ‘Bye Bye Baby’, ‘Let’s Hang On’, ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin’, ‘Opus 17’, ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, ‘C’mon Marianne’, mostly greeted without fanfare on release, ended up like most Beach Boys hits among the top dozen or so Eastern Seaboard sellers from their respective years— rated higher than Beatle number ones ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘Day Tripper’, ‘Yellow Submarine’.

Frankie Valli: “A lot of American groups got lost… Everybody has to have their own identity—it’s very important. That’s what we did. We said, ‘Sink or swim, but we’re going to stay with what we do’ and it’s the only chance that anyone could have.”

The towering, enduring irony was that the best to come out of Britain in the Sixties by its best—The Who, the Kinks, the Stones, Cream—was created on vinyl by American record producers, resettling in Britain because anxious to get in on the scene. Foremost among an array of dominating American producers was Shel Talmy, who described Dick Rowe, “the man who turned down the Beatles”, as “one of the few people in England who was pro-American”. The anti-Americanism was a pathetically hypocritical defensive screen erected by a domestic industry built on a framework of American music as its direct inspiration, and now heavily reliant on imported American talent to make it work.

The Beach Boys would have to overcome the dictates of fashion—a feat unheard of in the pop scene—generated in London and pervading America via New York, always susceptible to trends crossing the Atlantic. In choosing artistic integrity they chose values that held no currency in the prevailing showbiz climate. And if they won they presented a danger that show business might never recover from, a threat to the whole basis of marketing: “Go with the bestselling commodity of the moment. Undersell, then dump, yesterday’s goods.”

For Capitol/EMI, the Beach Boys’ primary business connection —the multinational that manufactured and distributed their recordings but was now dependent on the quick-sale Beatles—the course was clear.

WHEN SIXTIES HISTORIES RECORD THE BEATLES saved pop music from dreary, saccharine crooners of no originality it is partly true—in the UK, not the multifaceted, ever-changing American scene. The Cliff Richards, Shadows and Joe Meek acts including the Tornadoes had already made strides in Britain. For all their individual qualities their passing would not be mourned by the Beatles who, pre-fame, derided them as smoothies in suits. While rock’n’roll had cooled from its original white heat, the American mainstream had the vital three-pronged thrust of the Beach Boys, Motown and Atlantic primed to explode, a mainspring integrating black and white performers now put on hold by the Beatle-led aberration.

The year the Beatles had their first hit—1962—the UK top 20 was full of inferior covers of American records, as bemoaned by Britain’s own industry spokespersons: ‘Moon River’, ‘Tower of Strength’, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, ‘When My Little Girl is Smiling’, ‘Roses Are Red’, ‘Spanish Harlem’, ‘Bobby’s Girl’, ‘Up On the Roof’…. These remakes and their performers—Danny Williams, Frankie Vaughan, Karl Denver, Johnny Spence, Craig Douglas, Jimmy Justice, Shane Fenton, Ronnie Carroll, Mark Wynter, Susan Maughan, Maureen Evans, Kenny Lynch—weren’t heard overseas except in dutiful British Commonwealth markets loyal to the mother country. Orchestra leaders left over from the big band era purveyed restful ballroom numbers: Acker Bilk, Joe Loss, John Barry. If Kenny Ball—popular in America with ‘Midnight in Moscow’—hadn’t introduced post-War-styled ‘Sukiyaki’ it is unlikely Americans would ever have let the original out of the bottle to contribute to the apparent malaise of 1963.

While rare knowledgeable British fans have been praised by American rock’n’rollers for recognising quality, the UK had an all-powerful clobbering machine keeping rock’n’roll down—“Auntie BBC”, which in its duty to young and old ears alike efficiently suppressed black music under the guise of preserving the country’s cultural heritage: akin to the White Australia Policy elsewhere in the Empire. It was the brief liberalisation of the airwaves, 1964-67, when they finally got some exposure as private ‘pirate’ radio stations flourished around the British Isles, that the rock’n’rollers were thankful for.

So it was that the run of new UK groups formed by 1963 left much to be desired in originality and style, but what did America’s fashion-conscious youths, white middle-class teenyboppers who hadn’t heard real rock’n’roll, care? Most British rock’n’roll in the invasion was about as convincing as Italian westerns or Japanese Elvises. The Beatles and other UK r&b groups always preferred the original US recordings, if they could get them—then spoilt the effect by performing inferior covers themselves, true to the English spirit of anyone-can-put-their-hand-to-it-rock’n’roll, one level removed from the makeshift skiffle groups. Obviously, like the Rolling Stones, the more up-close exposure the Beatles had to American practitioners the better they got, though Paul, George & John’s dumping of virile drummer Pete Best (with his bass-drum and tom-tom driven sound a spotlighted feature of the band) had defeated creating a distinct English rock style for themselves in favor of Ringo’s ballroom versatility.

Still, Music Hall style and sensibility were deeply ingrained in the Brit psyche. David Jones, a struggling singer with several bands, as late as 1967 put out novelty parodies of rock’n’roll: ‘Love You Till Tuesday’ and ‘The Laughing Gnome’ in the style of early-sixties comics Mike Sarne (‘Come Outside’), Bernard Cribbins (‘A Bird Up On My Bike’), Tommy Steele (‘Little White Bull’) and Anthony Newley (‘That Noise’). It was a breakthrough tactic that caused im-mense embarrassment later. With a leap towards cool and a hefty push by Yank producer Shel Talmy he released ‘Space Oddity’ to be one of the great English figures of the early Seventies. By that time he had changed his name to David Bowie.

A persuasive view contra to Beatle omniscience comes from the British documentary tv series Dancing in the Street: American music was progressing very well, thank you, on diverse fronts most broadly represented by an r&b/soul barrage, only to be stifled by a cheapened homogenised product from UK groups with fashionable hair as their claim to popularity, a qualification unmatchable by the black originators of the music.

The coup was resented in some circles to the lengths that a “Stamp Out the Beatles” campaign was organised by Detroit student activists, fans of Motown and devotees of the grassroots r&b and blues of their city. When Paul McCartney heard of it he sensitively riposted that the Beatles would stamp out Detroit. British musicians were by and large clueless to the nuances of Blues, Gospel, Soul and any number of other American idioms of expression. And entrepreneurs of Epstein’s ilk would never have understood the dedication to quality and authenticity of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, Phil Spector, Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic, Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil of Brill Building ‘pop’ and many others in the American recording industry of that time: Jewish aficionados of black music.

Fans of Motown invaded the broadcast of the Beatles’ second Sullivan show in Miami, in vain. By the end of that year, 1964, a Leiber-Stoller produced, blues-tinged ‘Go Now’ was commandeered by new English group the Moody Blues for their US debut; and the Shirelles’ ‘Sha La La’ overwhelmed by a Manfred Mann cover following up ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, yet another song (by Mann-Weil) with girl group written all over it. As Dancing in the Street concluded, if the English acts had saved American music, what had they “saved” it from?

THE BEATLES WERE WORKING-CLASS LADS RAISED as pets of the English business aristocracy (and fast favorites of royalty for that) and a year later were enthroned by America, having freed itself from the British Empire two centuries before only to now don the chains wholeheartedly. Homebred musicians withered from unrequited wooing, shunned by their own media. Who would challenge the invaders?

Not a few bluecoats turned redcoat, going mod in a half-assed process totally out of cultural context. Peroxide-blond ‘surfers’ had carried surfboards through fashion-governed Chelsea in 1963, just for the look, and now the tables were turned with a vengeance. To make the switch was to be “fab”, “smashing”, “gear”. But instead of carrying it off with aplomb as the Beatles and Kinks did, Yanks started looking and acting like Austin Powers: aping foreign fashions, and parroting music alien to them. Just as the English did, to American music. In some twisted sense of karma the Byrds and Righteous Bros latched on to British wartime heroine Vera Lynn, suspecting that her flagwavers of a generation before might be just the ticket, and produced hideous remakes of ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘The White Cliffs of Dover’. The Beau Brummels (‘Laugh Laugh’, see John Candy comedy Uncle Buck) posed English enough to appear on The Munsters as Beatle standins. Their Revolutionary War period costumes were outdone by the bluecoat uniforms of Paul Revere & the Raiders, cashing in on lace and frills but sticking for a while to a tough LA r&b produced by surf music alumnus Terry Melcher.

P. J. Proby: introduced to the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

P. J. Proby: introduced to the UK by the Beatles and had talent overflowing enough to go worldwide and then some.

Ponytailed and knee-breached on the same theme, P J Proby from Texas was befriended by the Beatles, annointed by them on UK tv and had his career made—in England, joined by Righteous Bros-soundalikes the Walker Brothers. The highly talented Proby blew his chance of continuing superstardom (or more important, widening it to his homeland) when in early ’65 he was banned by UK theatre chains and BBC-TV for deliberately splitting his tight britches to get a reaction. Tom Jones, on the same tour, took over as the star. Jones and Dusty Springfield squeaked in by the back door—welcomed by American audiences who thought they were black. The favored groups in both Britain and America now typically offered a maximum of volume and minimum of finesse, or hummable singalong melodies set amid this mishmash of so-called “rock and roll”.

Precipitating all this, the shock of the Beatles hitting America was all the more so when it was realised they were only the tip of an ever-broadening iceberg. England was soon so central to the pop culture of the Western World that within two months of the Beatles landing her two feeblest rock and roll pretenders, Brian Poole & the Tremeloes and Freddie & the Dreamers, were greeted with screaming fits in Australia on a package tour with Gerry & the Pacemakers, Dusty Springfield and adopted Yank Gene Pitney. That May the Dave Clark Five were mobbed by 5,000 fans in Washington DC, helped by well-placed pre-publicity; Fred Vail recalls being told that only two of their tour dates made money. In June the Stones dropped in to Chicago’s Chess studio to jam as equals (in fame) with their teachers Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon; but in Sacramento the Stones managed an audience of only a thousand, not helped by the exorbitant $6 price (personal communication, Fred Vail). Yet by the end of the year top US acts Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Supremes and almost the entire Motown star roster on a package tour—aside from the Shangri-Las and many less stellar—were obliged to pay return visits to England for sheer commercial reasons, if not to bow to the new Mecca of reconstituted rock and roll.

Cliff, c.1964, now with pompadour and sideburns trimmed like the tamed-down Elvis

Cliff, c.1964, now with pompadour and sideburns trimmed like the tamed-down Elvis

English teen idols with swished-back hair—but otherwise hardly differing from the Beatles—were not welcome in the US and chief among them, Cliff Richard, had suffered more initial rebuffs than the Beatles. ‘Livin’ Doll’ had made top thirty, prompting an invite from The Pat Boone Show New Year 1960. But his only apparent advance was to lead Elvis Presley’s move from rock’n’roll. A huge seller in Europe, especially Germany where Elvis was still stationed in the army, it is hard to believe the song’s sedate shuffle beat didn’t lead directly to ‘Stuck On You’, ‘Good Luck Charm’ and more sounding a lot like Cliff’s pace.

Three years later ‘Lucky Lips’, another massive world seller on the same lines, made a reentry and then late 1963 Cliff’s remake of ‘It’s All in the Game’, his biggest in the US yet, though short of top 20. Unfortunately the Beatles arrived in America just as Cliff was “peaking” and his pompadour went stone-cold-dead out of fashion. Songs like ‘Don’t Talk to Him’ and others written by a combination of Shadows/Cliff were better than Beatle music of the time though maybe it was matched by ‘Please Please Me’ (after being immensely improved by song surgeon George Martin’s revamp). But he was disqualified from serious consideration Stateside for another twelve years, continuing a household name almost everywhere else. His biggest English teen rivals, Adam Faith and Billy Fury, each had a dozen (shrinking) hits into Beatletime at home. Though Faith was pushed by all-powerful Englishman Jack Good, producer of American tv’s Hullabaloo and Shindig, this resulted in a solitary US top forty hit backed by the Roulettes, the rollicking-good ‘It’s Alright’ early in ’65. Fury too had contacts, but neither got within a bargepole of American acceptance.

The Shadows too—backing Cliff but having a spectacular career of their own ex-USA—were surplus to requirements. They’d been blocked in 1960 by one-hit-wonder Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann’s cover of their world multi-million seller ‘Apache’; after that, well America already had the Ventures, thanks for askin’.

For UK audiences local teen raves Helen Shapiro, hitting at 14, and Kathy Kirby, specialising in speeded-up Doris Day retreads, vied with Brenda Lee and Connie Francis. Shapiro even went to Nashville to record in 1963 but remained unknown to the rest of the States but for minor Easy Listening hit ‘Tell Me What He Said’. Anyway, Lesley Gore already had the teen girl franchise in America, Connie Stevens runner-up, and sultry Connie Francis and wholesome Annette Funicello between them cornering beach movies. In January of that year the Beatles, with just ‘Love Me Do’ under their belts, were ranked fifth on the Helen Shapiro show touring the UK, behind secondary American teen idols Tommy Roe (‘Sheila’) and Chris Montez (‘Let’s Dance’). By the end of the year they were at the top and she was nowhere, her demise highlighting the useless waste and anti-female bias at the onset of the Beatle era. The Beach Boys would choose her as the main support act on their spring 1967 UK tour and she later made a go of a jazz career.

There were legitimate, barely decipherable routes to American hearts other than on the lacy cuffs and billowing shirttails of the Brit Invasion.

Dusty, late '63, with the thick mascara and beginnings of a La Ronette hairdo, but still in the gingham a la the country-styled Springfields

Dusty, late '63, with the thick mascara and beginnings of a La Ronette hairdo, but still in the gingham a la the country-styled Springfields

The husky ‘black’ voices of Dusty Springfield (‘Wishin’ and Hopin’’, ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’) and Tom Jones (‘It’s Not Unusual’, ‘What’s New Pussycat?’) saw them embraced as Blue-Eyed Soul, as coined by the Righteous Bros. Neither was quite as successful in the blue-eyed genre as Bill Medley & Bobby Hatfield under Phil Spector, though they lasted longer. And each was courteously credited by black artists with opening ears to black tones, though Britain remained immune to any “black” sounds but the poppiest of Motown pop for some years yet. In reality, Dusty was an acceptable torch singer, her forté the intimate whisper that Cilla Black did badly. There was a whole vocal ladder between her and Nancy Wilson or Dinah Washington, and a good few rungs up to Betty Everett or compatriot Shirley Bassey. In the UK real soul singers of the day like P P Arnold, Madeleine Bell and the Flirtations were hardly appreciated compared with the acclaim showered (mainly justly) on Macy Gray, Joss Stone and Amy Whitehouse two generations later.

Touring America early on with the Springfields, Dusty settled as a solo in New York City and remolded herself from a wholesome Irish-styled colleen belting out country-folk to the first Brit girl replicating Soul. To highlight the new image she took up a bleached-blonde variation of the big backcombed beehive hairdo and black eye makeup of the Ronettes. She cited the Exciters’ ‘Tell Him’ as her style model, and her backing vocalists the Breakaways had done a UK cover of ‘He’s a Rebel’ though Phil Spector and the Crystals’ original became the hit. Thank goodness for small mercies because the Brits had accepted everyone from Tommy Steele to Max Bygraves as stand-ins for the real thing—and continued to, as the French did their own in a rock toujour spirit.

Dusty rivalled Dionne Warwick as top songstress in the States through ’64, but then with the second big wave of invasion a songbird reminiscent of a French-styled Vera Lynn won over sentimental (white) hearts.

Euro-chanteuse Petula Clark as 'Downtown' broke, aged 32 -- an age before which Pete Townshend hoped to die.

Euro-chanteuse Petula Clark as 'Downtown' broke, aged 32 -- an age before which Pete Townshend hoped to die.

‘Pet’ Clark was over thirty and well established in middle-aged French cabaret when she introduced ‘Downtown’. A parallel movie career and accomplished stagecraft assured her place as long as the Invasion lasted and an American career as long as there were musicals on Broadway. In 1967, when Aretha Franklin discovered Soul, Pet’s days on Top 40 radio were numbered though two of her biggest hits came the first half of that year: movie director Charlie Chaplin’s ‘This is My Song’ and ‘Don’t Sleep in the Subway’ by her writer/producer Tony Hatch, by his account modeling it after the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.

lulu It wasn’t until this point, when the thrust of the Invasion was blunted, that Lulu made her biggest impact in the US, ‘To Sir With Love’, helped by the movie starring Sidney Poitier, America’s new no.1 box-office star. Resembling a Scottish Brenda Lee, Lulu went on from her ersatz stab at the Isley Bros’ r&b classic ‘Shout’— faked well enough for the British Commonwealth—to develop an individual delivery on her classics including ‘Oh Me, Oh My’. Some years later the Brits would again show their weakness for little girls in their early teens with big, put-on gravel voices by making Lena Zavaroni a star for her talent-quest renditions on tv of ‘Ma, He’s Making Eyes at Me’ and ‘Personality’.

But at the height of the Invasion America was impervious to Britain’s two best-liked girl vocalists, Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw, both tressed in Brit bobs, enjoying one Top 40 hit each, ‘You’re My World’ and ‘Girl Don’t Come’. Cilla, a Liverpool/Cavern mate of the Beatles, was the US flop for manager Brian Epstein—but a British institution, moving effortlessly to television hosting. Model-like Sandie, discovered by Adam Faith, scored a small consolation in ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ outselling Dionne Warwick’s version. But she reached her peak in Eurovision Song Quest winner ‘Puppet on a String’—not the Elvis ballad but a horrendous Bavarian-style oompah song beloved of Brits and other Euros that sold four million-plus.

Cilla Black

Cilla Black

Sandie Shaw

Sandie Shaw

Gawky Cilla, overflowing with English working-class “If she can make it I can make it” appeal, made pseudo-operatic versions of Bacharach-Warwick’s ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ and ‘Alfie’. English aping led to such disasters as a cover of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, just pipped to UK no.1 by the original. Cilla, with Manfred Mann, the Hollies, Tremeloes and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Titch, participated in the decline of British pop in the late Sixties, now reliant on homegrown writers and producers, laid to rest by styleless Marmalades and Love Affairs. The much better Foundations, Amen Corner, The Move and others were unfortunately short-lived.

But with all this—1964 being above all a novelty year—the biggest American impact by UK-based females was made by one-off novelty takes. Overshadowing Dusty and Dionne for three months, “Millie”, Small by name and frame, promoted her native Jamaican ska beat with ‘My Boy Lollipop’ performed at the World Fair in New York with a bevy of dancers sponsored by the newly independent Jamaica’s tourist board. It was a bouncy ditty that went to #2 in Billboard, attracting as much airplay but not sales as the Beach Boys and Four Seasons through early July. The same beat, same everything, was trotted out for lesser hits. Julie Rodgers in early fall trod her footnote in history with ‘The Wedding’, moving seven million in the next eight years—seemingly played at every second wedding in the Western World in that time. The key line “You by my side—that’s how I see us” rang out the death knell of a romantic era.

IN AMERICA PRODUCERS AND SIMPATICO ENGINEERS had wholly realized advances in the studio. Hailed above them all was Phil Spector as creator extraordinaire—now coming to be rivalled by George“Shadow” Morton and Motown’s team Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. All were widely acknowledged for weaving spells at the control panel—a bewildering press-button device looming large in the lives of girl artists as a metaphor for a loss of control over self-expression and their own careers. Spector in particular was widely modelled by aspiring Svengalis around the world but living up to the substance was something else. In Britain the dark shades and bodyguard-henchman clearing the rabble for the royal procession were embellishments adopted by Andrew Loog Oldham, the echo chamber effects overdone by independent producer Joe Meek.

The Rolling Stones in 1964. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger,  a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts; a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richards.

The Rolling Stones in 1964. From left, Bill Wyman, Mick Jagger, a stoned Brian Jones, Charlie Watts, a young, relatively humanoid Keith Richard

The Animals in 1964: better musicians and singers than the Stones. Eric Burdon is up front, Alan Price on keyboards and bassist Chas Chandler partly obscured

The Animals in 1964: better musicians and singers than the Stones. Eric Burdon is up front, Alan Price on keyboards and bassist Chas Chandler partly obscured

Along with the scene came girl group songwriters admired by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and others. Goffin & King, writing for Little Eva, the Chiffons and Cookies (‘Chains’), wrote ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ for the Animals and later Aretha Franklin’s breakthrough ‘Natural Woman’. Other major New York spousal teams were Mann & Weil—now with ‘Walking in the Rain’ (Ronettes), ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’ (Animals), ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’ and ‘Soul and Inspiration’ (Righteous Bros); and Barry & Greenwich—an array including ‘Leader of the Pack’ and ‘River Deep, Mountain High’.

Spector, the model of the go-getter entrepreneur, reveled in the chutzpah it took to make a hit out of nothing in a make-or-break showbiz world as the rock’n’roll era wound down in 1959 and businessmen who made their livings from teen music looked for certainty in trends—a predictability that the best, most vibrant rock’n’roll abhorred, by definition. Three of the Beatles turned to Spector above anyone to produce their starting projects and reignite their solo careers. But as rock moved on, the spontaneity of the original rock’n’roll would only be recaptured in moments, and by the most talented artists.

MEDICAL REVIEW — THE THERAPEUTIC EFFECT OF ARTISTIC ACTIVITY FOR PSYCHIATRIC SURVIVORS

In anthropology, art, literature, music, politics, psychology/psychiatry on March 21, 2008 at 2:41 am

By G. A. De Forest, presented 4th October 2007 at the ‘Planting the Seeds’ Conference, Wellington, New Zealand

Artistic endeavours are one of the few ways people enmeshed (and often emotionally entombed) in the mental health system feel free to express themselves on their own terms. That is, if the artistic effort is not closely monitored by an NGO [‘non-governmental organization’, in the form of a charirable trust, incorporated society or business that is deemed to be providing services for mental health ‘consumers’]. There are cases of NGOs appropriating the work of ‘their’ artists for promotional or other purposes without asking permission of the artist or even attributing the work to the artist. An attitude of such disrespect would not be tolerated towards artists in the commercial world outside the mental health system, where an artist’s intellectual property is definitely his or her own—created by the artist and owned by the artist, morally and legally.

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

Comedian Spike Milligan -- might have been lobotomised in the South Pacific for his irreverent bipolarism

The aloneness of the dedicated artist, especially an eccentric one, is emphasized in a society where the Pacific priorities of family and wider social hierarchy are highlighted and conformity and ‘team play’ are foremost. The lumping together of culture and heritage in the same government ministry has cemented tradition as a prime societal objective, when the genuine artist might have as his goal to change culture and damn heritage. Overtones everywhere of cultural-political correctness and the economic importance of the tourist trade make it plain that to be exhibited in Te Mana, our national showcase to the world, is to make it big in New Zealand’s contemporary art world.

Too frequently clients are fed a diet of conformity by providers in the guise of helping. A wounded psyche, already disinclined to complain for fear of some backlash from the system, is encouraged to ‘think positively’. Genuine and deeply held opinions may be brushed aside as symptoms of the person’s condition by staff—who may lack a great deal less insight about life, about the possibilities and potential of the mind, and about simple person-to-person ethics.

This problem has unfortunately not been eliminated by including more and more ‘highly functioning’ former clients among staff, who are often picked for well developed logical functioning and who perform administrative tasks competently and efficiently but might understand little of the artistic process. Moreover, for fear of being seen as ‘a little loopy’ themselves by health authorities, many tend to err on the side of conservatism. The phenomenon of the professionally distanced client advisor or peer supporter is a recognized problem. Just as there are cases of ‘supporting’ NGOs exploiting their artistic clients, so there is no shortage of former clients, now staff, who censor their own kind for fear of being thought of as a collaborationist in nonconformity. It can be seen, then, that artistically inclined clients are stuck in an environment where opinions and emotions unpopular in society at large might be better expressed through fictional works, visual imagery and music.

I have learnt from experience as a writer that an article telling the unvarnished truth—with first-hand facts and statistics to back it up—should probably not be circulated within the so-called ‘The Consumer Movement’ (which actually shows very little if any movement). The result can very easily be vilification, even victimisation. A ‘nonfiction’ writer wanting to be heard by other mental health clients should go into satire, where the names and specific situations are changed to protect the guilty; or preferably fantasy, where the creative spirit is allowed free rein and there is no real risk of a backlash rebounding on a sensitive individual with the anguish that can cause.

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

Salvador Dali, super-eccentric Spanish painter

The therapeutic effects of a healthy fantasy life have long been recognised as far back as Freud and beyond. These fantasies, however frowned upon in polite conversation, are of course essential to the human condition. Most are safely tucked away in dreams, even daydreaming. It is the dedicated artist’s job to bring them up from the unconscious and expose them to daylight, where in art form they are allowed to be openly appreciated—though no matter how skilful and insightful, even inspirational, still the artist might be the butt of disparaging remarks from those who have no insight into their own human condition.

It is no wonder that music in whatever form is the most universal of all pastimes—either performing or listening. Its rhythms were first engendered in the womb from our mother’s heartbeat, and after birth our mother’s tone of voice—hopefully singsong baby talk—assures us that all is right with the world. A baby learns to sing—wordless tunes in pure music—long before it learns to talk. In times of stress through teenagerhood and full adulthood what better resource to turn to when the world around us seems to be spiralling into chaos? It is no wonder, either, that many of the most ground-breaking musicians and other artists have been victims of mental disturbances—and found that artistic activity was their one reliable outlet and friend in times of real crisis.

Too often thrown back on their own inner resources, the artistic client must maximize both the quantity and quality of his creative time. For visual artists and writers this will inevitably mean more solitary time—which could create problems of its own if taken to extremes. For performance artists it means more time socialising in their most rewarding activity, generating much-needed feelings of wellbeing. For all, the time spent engaged in their chosen field will usually bring a feeling of satisfaction, often at least moderate pleasure and sometimes elation, even ecstacy. Hence the well-known catchall term for the creative process: The Agony and the Ecstacy.

It is a paradox that onset of serious mental symptoms leaves a person less inclined to perform music, while driving oneself to vocalise or play his or her instrument could very well act to somewhat relieve a depressive mood. It is in this way that structured daily sessions provided in various arts and crafts by NGOs alleviates the need for a high level of motivation on the part of the participant. Once in the class the creative instinct takes over and the therapeutic value gained will be related to how much is put in.

The generally high and in some instances exceptional standard of art works seen regularly at exhibitions sponsored by Auckland NGOs can be matched by those who choose to remain totally independent of umbrella organisations or attend ‘brushing-up’ classes to hone their skills and share fellowship with other artists. The proportion of visually creative people (and other artists) making up mental health clients as a whole must surely exceed that of the general population. Many completed art school as young people only to suffer a serious breakdown interrupting their career. The slow and often painful return to art brings their life back on course to where it should have been, and the return of competence in their chosen field boosts confidence greatly.

The emergence of worthy singer-songwriters from the ranks of mental health clients, some gaining national attention and acclaim, has been perhaps the most impressive success in the arts. Among those less musically gifted, informal vocal and instrumental groups allow essential expression of primal emotions. It is obvious, from observing the dynamics of an informal musical group coordinated by myself, that simply expressing oneself musically is a freeing experience, enabling a quantum leap into a deeper mental and spiritual personal state than, say, polite conversation, even among friends. Someone who has been almost totally silent during a social gathering for two hours immediately previous, will burst forth with torrents of forceful communication. It is a painful paradox then, at least for performance artists, that they feel least like singing or playing when they are going through a bad patch. It is then that friends and supporters should guide them back into their art to reintroduce and sustain a habit of self-therapy.

For the visual artist, it can easily be imagined that the first stroke of paint on canvas brings forth creative possibilities. There is a fast rush of creation stimulated by the activity itself. On the second and third strokes more ideas suggest themselves and on the fourth and fifth maybe already a pattern is emerging. A direction steadily coelesces into a theme, or the work is finally abandoned. But either way the stimulation of higher mental processes has brought many hours of hopefully undistracted, undiluted spiritual pleasure for the artist. Any wider appreciation by friends, supporters, recognition by the mental health community, even general public, are bonuses which can boost general confidence but does not match the ultimate high: the very act of creation.

It has been said that the future of the world depends on its most creative, free-thinking individuals; certainly not those living by ‘the rules’ and striving for consensus. If this is true—and I believe it is, it is a shame that more research has not been done into the higher workings of the mind.

Sociopaths: Hunting for ‘Sport’

In anthropology, morality, philosophy on January 13, 2008 at 9:23 am

The modern man who hunts for enjoyment (a woman who does it must be even more warped so I’d rather not think about it) has so little function in the empathy centres of his brain that he must surely qualify as an undiagnosed sociopath — a psychopath in less polite language. The fact that he stacks the deck so far in his own favor against his quarry — arming himself to the teeth with the latest technology, and cheating by the fact that he hasn’t made his weapon himself — means that he doesn’t trust his own wits to be able to outfox a ‘dumb’ animal. Typical of humanity’s total lack of insight into itself, this definition of ‘sport’ is symptomatic of the win-at-all costs mentality prevailing today, and could just be the very definition of crass stupidity.

When I was young and saw hunting on nature study tv I felt sorry for men living in primitive circumstances who were still forced to do this in the mid 20th Century to survive — there being precious little protein in what scant vegetation there often is in marginal environments to sustain human habitation. When I reached an enquiring age, say early adolescence, I realised there must be something fundamentally disconnected about people who still employ hunting as a meaningless rite of passage for males, and acutely antisocial about those who do it for fun. To date I have managed to steer clear of them for fear of contamination. And I’m sure I thought that one day hunting would be banned by thinking people, maybe phased out so that those addicted to their own bloodlust might be helped by diversion programs. Instead, some forty years later in the year of Our Lord (you know, the one who said Thou Shalt Not Kill, and he might have added especially not for the Hell of it) 2008 it seems to be a PR imperative for anyone wishing to be President of the United States, supposedly the most advanced culture on earth, to conduct themselves for a media event as an unthinking, wanton destroyer of lives.

One of my uncles, who had suffered serious brain damage as an infant, had somewhat limited social skills and was reviled by sensitive people who witnessed his habitual callousness to tiny creatures — squashing bugs on table tops and the like. He was also an avid killer of larger game by shooting them in the forest at will. That is, until he shot a fawn and then saw her young tagging along, now motherless. The penny dropped, and it wasn’t so much fun anymore.

It was probably not so much a change on principle as one of crass sentimentality in the American-Hollywood tradition, this episode recalling a scene from ‘Bambi’. I don’t believe that the truly calloused can be truly rehabilitated. Something rudimentary is missing from their systems that simply can’t be manufactured or restored. I believe it has been proven, though, that mindless killers can be created. Comprehensive case studies have been examined longitudinally to show that men who engage in dehumanising work such as on the slaughter chain at an abattoir (such an elegant word for what it is) are more likely to kill supposedly more intelligent animals like humans. So desensitised, these are unfortunately precisely the kind of men women craving excitement in their love lives go for, and find themselves on the receiving end of a lot more excitement than they bargained for. Even otherwise intelligent women tend to right off these shortcomings in their men as something unfathomably ‘manly’ and fail to connect the dots. “Yes, he likes to go out and kill things randomly, but what’s that got to do with him being a poor communicator? I just want him to get in touch with his feelings…” No, you don’t lady. There’s a good reason why sensitive men who don’t make good soldiers, simply clam up or break down mentally after serving in a war. Men who start off killing humans, like soldiers and ‘security guards’ in Iraq, are much readier to one day run amok and commit mindless mass killings. Everyone from the president up knows this, yet politicians try to justify the thousands of lives needlessly lost in Iraq as “the price of freedom” while mass murders at home are characterised in contrast as “terrible tragedies”. The great American myth of the macho rugged individualist marches on, unexamined, through the generations. Unchecked, on a massive scale, it results in ‘preemptive’ wars.

Today, hunting is wrong on so many levels — including the simple urge to protect what might be the last wild examples of any given species — that to view a hunter objectively in modern society is to see an unreformed Neanderthal; as the common form of opprobrium — a genuine Neanderthal probably saw killing as a very regrettable necessity, one he had to apologize to the gods for. How far is this from the back-slapping, mutually congratulatory ‘fun’ atmosphere of a hunting party in Western ‘civilization’? Probably the only upside of such a ‘party’ is that occasionally the humans bump each other off — by accident, it is insisted — leaving at least one less psychopath to bother the world. Ironically, the hunting prowess of the current U.S Vice President might have saved the administration from unavoidable impeachment. Imagine the implications for the current US administration had Cheney’s aim been one centimetre worse than it is…

P.S. A week ago (October 2010) in a small New Zealand town a delightful 25-year-old female teacher at a tiny rural school, with so much to give so many kids, was shot down at a holiday camp while brushing her teeth at an outdoor faucet — mistaken for a deer by a 25-year-old hunter shooting from the road in his vehicle at night with aid of a flashlight. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision for him to hunting. He had been told there were deer in the area that evening, and assumed that the eyes shining at him from out of the dark must be…<p>

This perpetrator was freed recently, having served 10 months of a two year sentence. This proves to my mind that there is not even any thought of deterrence in sentencing these days. “Oh well, what’s done is done. If you were punished for taking a human life while committing a crime wit would only be revenge… And we’re above that.” Of course, there’s no justice either, and what is to prevent similar crims from doing the same?

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