Category: Social Media


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‘You say that you hate Max Key, but I think you mean you hate most 20 year olds’


I can’t help but think that Max Key would be far less despised if he was gay. At least we’d see him as an unthreatening, liberated party boy rather than the son of a popular, skilful, trickster Prime Minister. Twitter becomes angry any time he does anything public, so his recent Remix Magazine photo shoot justifies our Freudian hatecrush, whose exposure of exposed muscular chest has ruined our libidos.

This is desperation and helplessness under a popular National Government in action: unable to influence politics, we target our frustration at political leaders and their children’s appearances, bodies and accents in a way we would normally scream body/ fat/ slut/ class shaming.

I’ve always found it ironic in how my political and generational contemporaries react to Max Key’s vanity. There’s arguably little difference between Max Key’s Instagram account and photoshoot with our exotic holidayed, bikini bod and sunbathed leg shot, locally-sourced prosecco potluck, LP-playing, cycling weekend-infested Instagram and Twitter accounts. The digital generation and anyone digitally savvy enough readily indulges in promoting their political, musical, fashion, cooking, sport and sexual tastes, but at the same time are equally motivated to simply share and live publicly, even if they’re occasionally overbearing.

Yet, perhaps we too easily rely on promoting our personal political brand values in direct opposition to those we despise, like the Ya Ya Club or Max Key. They have become lightning rods for everything we despise – privilege, wealth, inequality and even lung cancer. There’s a degree to where I can understand why progressive values often fail to gain public traction. Often the loudest supporters appear to be just as shallow and mean as those they claim to oppose. If Max Key is truly an awful garbage person, then we all are; we just do it with less money and promote different political and consumer lifestyle choices.

His faults can far more easily be blamed on media culture. A social media personality with dreams of stardom is behaving just like we would expect him to and his name is viral on social media and news outlets thanks to politically-motivated rage, while Remix Magazine and George FM are commercial media outlets motivated to increase their audience share and profits. If the arts and media are driven by infotainment and networking, then find solace in the Radio NZ/ Guardian bubble or learn to live with all forms of media. Oppose the system that gave X Factor NZ on Air funding and keep this in mind when the inevitable Max Key reality TV series gets commissioned. The heart of this matter is that fanatical fury and condescension against a socialite son of a Prime Minister will not defeat the National Government and usher in a new age of equality and justice, nor would any of us appreciate being in the position where we are an extension of our parents’ actions.




If I said, “Boy, I really love corn dogs!” it doesn’t mean I actually love a corn dog. Because love has nothing to do with corn dogs. But it’s just language. It’s a state of mind. You take for granted that my intention is really to express that I enjoy them a lot and I want to eat one right now. That’s what it’s meant to do. But if you have an agenda and you want to take my sentence apart, you could certainly say, “Oh, my God! You love a corn dog? What do you mean by that? Do you want to marry it? Do you want to put it inside of you?” It’s like, “That’s not what I meant and you actually know that’s not what I meant and you’re only using it because you have an agenda so that you could get attention for whatever reason you have.”


We face daily pressure to behave according to gender, race and sexual norms, so it’s ironic that we use the same progressive values that aim to challenge these norms as a new standard of conformity.

In my pretty middle class, inner-city suburban existence, progressive values are mostly a given and something we strive to prove on a daily basis, not only as a personal aspiration but also for social credibility. It usually takes little to align this social-political algorithm, just the occasional Facebook post of a Ta-Nehisi Coates article or an Instagrammed Green Party ballot selfie every election.

Equally important is to avoid accusations of the opposite: racism, misogyny, classism, homophobia or transphobia, the recriminations of which are amplified in the digital age. As a result, personal ‘brand’ purity has become a dogmatic virtue. Our social media identities increasingly resemble political agendas, where our worth and effectiveness is measured by our ability to identify and call out marginalisation and privilege in face-to-face and online feeds. We’re easily wound-up and prone to react, with the onus always on the other, readily diagnose statements with ‘White, cisgendered straight male privilege’ – the predictive text judgement of these times – and respond to skepticism with privsplained logic akin to Hare Krishna or Scientologist street-bothering screed. Our focus has shifted from concrete political, legislative and social change to battles over academic and campus experiences. So dedicated to our new approach that proven allies who oppose our blanket judgements are criticised as enemies and the context of good satirical TV comedy is misinterpreted humourlessly.

These social media scraps against moral depravity is, in my view embarrassingly similar to those of the moral right – the same talkback callers, social conservatives and religious activists whose moral panic on welfare, sex and violence on TV, sacrilegious art and the role of certain musicians in social breakdown we snidely deride. Like them, we fear morally permissive values as driving bad behaviour and seek open confrontation to judge perceived transgressions. Like many born-again evangelists, there’s a tendency to blame others for preventing utopia. While certainly a combination of class, race, gender and sexuality reflect certain overall privileges or disadvantages, privilege, to me, is like meditation or prayer – a good exercise in self-reflection and contemplation of the state of the world. Yet, diagnosing others according to broad formulas that often rely on blanket assumptions simplifies complex individual human motivations and experiences and can easily misinterpret opinions and language without context.

Actions motivated by moral zealotry are always driven by political agendas. As social media users with the ability to play the role of moral arbiters in public, too frequently we act disproportionate to the situation and context to justify our political outlook and to accumulate gravitas as legitimate commentators – including those white, straight, middle class cisgendered males who appropriate others’ experiences. In a New Yorker article on this issue, the generational gap between an English lecturer at Oberlin College in Ohio and her students was noted: Her generation, she said, protested against Tipper Gore for wanting to put warning labels on records. “My students want warning labels on class content, and I feel—I don’t even know how to articulate it,” she said. “Part of me feels that my leftist students are doing the right wing’s job for it.” Moral politics is ironically turning us into the very people we oppose.

Humanity chafes under moral conformity and history shows progress tending towards the blurring of gender, sexual and racial norms. Feminism, LGBTI and ethnic rights movements have made gains because they have rebelled against such conformity. Not only through protest but by developing concrete goals for bold political, legal, economic and cultural change, working with similarly-minded allies – many of whom they disagreed with on many issues – they have gradually won widespread public support.

Surely, genuine public belief in progressive ideals is more preferable, which depends on opposing moral panic of any political stripe. While real bigotry is inexcusable and should be challenged, not every perceived slight is worth a reaction nor every bigot merely the value of their transgression or their perceived privileges. Rather than replace one set of moral norms with social algorithm and forumla as another, real change must question all norms.



In the light of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, many have, like in the Muhammad Cartoon controversy of 2006 and Pastor Terry Jones’ Koran burning attempt, have raised the absolute right of free speech against ‘Islamo-fascism’. Here’s something to consider.

We talk about the idea of free speech as an absolute right, which at the end of the day is hard to argue against short of incitement to violence. Problem is that most people don’t practice this, nor do we live in a world that does – not even in most liberal democratic societies. Think of how many friendships, romantic or family relationships or workplace relationships we navigate daily. Mostly we don’t speak our full minds, partly out of sensitivity but also out of self preservation. Simply put, it’s better not being seen as a cruel asshole, not upsetting the status quo or getting booted out. Overall, tact is a good thing. So we censor ourselves and choose our language carefully to make others feel better, to climb the professional ladder, and to find and continue satisfyingly sexual or romantic partnerships and friendships.

Since so much of our lives is navigation, as a result we often end up choosing battles where we will run our mouths off without self-censorship, often with far less consequence if our peers find our views agreeable. The more marginalised the group, the more carefully selected the language is, the easier to get away with this free speech. Hence the ability to get away with speaking out against people receiving welfare payments or in this case, Muslims who are hardly in the best position in France, let alone Europe. Free speech, in this case, is more likely when the people are removed from our immediate sphere, and of less consequence. 

For all those who talk about reduction of free speech and PC brigades, you can still have free speech to say as you want, especially if you are considered within the mainstream and speaking against those considered outside.

Free speech is, by default and millennia of thoughtful philosophy, an inalienable right – within reason. Satire is certainly one of the most effective tools against oppression and bigotry. But depends on how you use it and who your target is. People or structures? What kind of people: those in positions of power and influence or those without? If you see your own house isn’t in order, shouldn’t it be considered a greater priority as it affects you more? If the basic legal principle limit to free speech as “not yelling out fire in a crowded theatre”, surely it is similarly harmful in principle to yell “cunt” whether at the family dinner table, in a Twitter feed, or at a crowded mosque. Otherwise the right to be a dick is trumphing the basic right itself.

If you really think free speech is sacred, apply it to every aspect of your life. Otherwise it’s a slippery slope between stubbornness and ending up being that guy – a Kapiti Coast councillor wearing a KKK outfit with blackface underneath.



This isn’t about the philosophical argument over whether Stephen Colbert’s tweet (or that of whoever runs his Twitter account) or his show segment was racist or trivial. Nor is it about the drawbacks of disproportionate offence. I’ve done that here and here. This is about the politics of manufactured controversy.

Last November, controversy flared up regarding TV producer Elan Gale’s viral Twitter battle with a rude, pushy traveller named Diane. Did her rudeness to flight attendants deserve to be publicly shamed around the world? Was he being sexist by passing a note telling her to “eat a dick?”. Turned out it was a manufactured conversation dreamed up by Gale as both an entertaining and cautionary tale. To his credit, Gale stated:

I wasn’t trying to paint myself as a hero. I said horrible things in those notes that I would never say to a human being. That nobody would ever say. In fact, in all of my live tweets, I try and portray my character as an anti-hero — as kind ojerk with good intentions.”

Problem was, if used unwisely, Twitter can, among other things, channel mob mentality where the individual, real or fake, can be sacrificed for public satisfaction and amusement for the whole world to see. Before being revealed as a fake, this event was celebrated by as ‘This Epic Note-Passing War On A Delayed Flight Won Thanksgiving.’ Seeing ‘Diane’ get her comeuppance perfectly channeled our feelings of frustration whenever we’ve seen someone be rude to service staff or be racist on public transport and said nothing. Even though fake, Gale channelled our desire for revenge through vicariously cheering on a collective sacrifice.

I was initially upset about the #cancelcolbert viral tweet because the outrage made no sense, at least until I read this post, which featured an interview with creator Suey Park, an Asian-American writer and activist, and fan of the Colbert Report. Park’s agenda for #cancelcolbert becomes pretty clear: “to argue that white liberals who routinely condemn what she called “worse racism” will often turn a blind eye to, or even defend, more tacit forms of prejudice, especially when they come from someone who shares their basic political beliefs”.

Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot,” Park told me. “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”

I can sympathise with her aim. Similarly, during the Roastbusters case, I perceived that social media and Twitter attention celebrated the views of men defending women against sexist views, rather than a more valuable debate based on the experiences of womens’ experience with sexual assault and the judicial system. The blogosphere had not shortage of excellent women-led coverage but the public preferred to hear from men. Perhaps this was a matter that men still tend to dominate at least the most popular blogs. Like this, perhaps #notyourasiansidekick expressed a desire that Asian Americans want to defend themselves and be listened to rather than have their anti-racism debates being led by well meaning non-Asian liberals who might not share their sense of satire.

The way #cancelcolbert was manufactured sullied this valuable point. It was akin to Colbert as the kidnapped damsel in distress to lure the real target: a posse of condescending liberals. Park manipulated and channeled the collective experiences of verbal, even physical racism, stereotypical assumptions (which I’ve experienced at primary and grammar schools) and limited/ negative portrayals of Asians in the media to make her point, albeit disingenuously. Denigrating one of the bravest American satirists, twisting context, and portraying his defenders as racist and condescending completely destroyed her point. The result made it about Colbert, so in fact didn’t achieved the meaningful debate she wanted.

Fake controversy can be revealing. In the Elan Gale case, it was an undercurrent of frustration and the cheering of others to take revenge and humiliation for all our experiences we’ve remained silent. For #cancelcolbert, it was an aim wrecked through manipulating peoples experiences to lure out a phantom enemy, who in fairness saw an injustice in the way a comedian they liked was being treated to prove a point. In the latter, the means do not justify the ends nor aid the point.


An NZ Herald article on Saturday titled ‘She’s Back – The Return of the Nanny State’ claimed that the National Party government has engaged in forms of social coercion to force behavioural changes as the previous Labour government did. The concept of the nanny state always misses the point. Subtle measures and incentives for ‘correcting’ social behaviour are used by whoever is in charge – whether centre-left or centre-right – but built on different concepts of both the social good and the relationship between citizen, the market, and government. These concepts typically dominate mainstream confines of both camps. This two part series addresses the rationale and consequences when both centre-left and centre-right overreach.


Helen Lovejoy: “You’ve got to lead our protest against this abomination!”
Marge: “Mm, but that’s Michelangelo’s David. It’s a masterpiece”.
Helen: [gasp] “It’s filth! It graphically portrays parts of the human body, which, practical as they may be, are evil”.
Marge: “But I like that statue”.
Helen: [gasp] “I told you she was soft on full frontal nudity! Come on, girls…”

This isn’t about lightbulbs and showerheads – rather the roots and consequences of the modern mainstream left approach to inequality and oppression prevalent in the modern public discourse – rooted in politics, journalism, and social media.

Since the 1970’s and 80’s, mainstream left wing politics in the Western world has become dominated by conservative rather than radical elements of social movements working within the establishment, whose approach has emphasised racial, gender, and ethnic identity rather than class as the cause of oppression and inequality. Chris Trotter effectively highlights the resultant dominance of the NZ Labour Party caucus by middle class managers – teachers, social workers, academics, civil servants, parliamentary staffers, and trade union hierarchy – rather than formerly working class heroes such as Norman Kirk. From this time, centre-left parties have implemented gender equity legislation, gay anti-discrimination and couple rights laws, and racial quotas while simultaneously have enacted and/ or maintained economic deregulation, privatisation, and tax reforms similar to conservative parties.

Mainstream journalism equally transformed though the inclusion of sexually and ethnically diverse viewpoints but with a decline in discussion of working class viewpoints and commentary on welfare and poverty dominated by opinion columnists lacking personal insight or solicitation of the opinions of those who do. Consider this thoughtful piece from the perspective of a working class American woman on why poorer people are perpetually in debt – an exception rather than a rule. Similar claims could be made of the blogosphere.

Without class, elections and public debate are centred on social issues: gay rights, law and order, gender rights, racial equality, and modest adjustments to economic policy – all within the acceptable realm of modern free market economics. Within the context of identity, the working class is seen as the cause of social ills and poverty as a disease – bogans, chavs, white trash and helpless victims – in which the cure is to end class and transform everyone into socially tolerant middle class consumers. The villains in this reality are not structures and cultures but individual broadcasters, politicians, and corporations. Public debate is centred on language, words, and purchasing power. Often the broad thrust of social media is similar to mainstream media in harnessing our demand for instant justice – a cyber pitchfork if you will – to fight individual enemies with invective.

The use of consumer boycotts has become a popular tool. Notable in America, these have included the movement targeting Wal-Mart and McDonalds as exclusive evils – with those including myself as a young polemicist-reading politics student having boycotted such businesses on ethical consumer choice alone. More recently this has extended to public language such as the attempted boycott of US fast food chain Chick-Fil-A over homophobic statements by its CEO; and this year in New Zealand over the John Tamihere and Willie Jackson’s infamous Roastbusters interview, the Metro Magazine joke debacle, and moves against Bob Jones for backwards comments about sexual violence towards women.

The flaws of this approach – especially Tamihere and Jackson, Metro, and Bob Jones – reminds me of The Simpsons episode ‘Itchy and Scratchy and Marge’ – where Marge founds Springfieldians for Non-Violence, Understanding and Helping (SNUH) to demand an end to cartoon violence as the cause of youth violence. Successful in its aim, SNUH tries to rally Marge to lead a campaign against Michaelangelo’s David on display at a gallery Springfield. When Marge disagrees with the premise, she is confronted with the hypocrisy of opposition to one form of public obscenity but not another – resulting in both Itchy and Scratchy being revived and David being displayed in Springfield.

The effective discouragement or attempted removal of offensive words, views, and media being broadcast within the public sphere is a noble aim but whose focus wrongly implies if individual public concepts or figures are taken down or forced to change then the problem has been destroyed. The precedent is the selective choice of targets – in which we often base on our political and cultural biases rather than consistency. Selective consumerism can channel public rage for easy, temporary victories that often fail to address the institutional, political, and cultural roots and often backfires spectacularly – like Chick Fil-A, which made more profit in backlash. That Wal-Mart and McDonalds are bigger than ever in spite of ethical consumer choice is reflective of the ability for corporates to change only as a purely market response.

Movements must have concrete aims to change laws, institutions, and culture to be effective. Gay liberation movements worldwide have been effective through focusing on concrete changes legislative changes to legalise consensual same sex acts; anti-discrimination; institutional cultural changes within police, judiciary, and the education system; now towards gay marriage and adoption. Denial and attempted public removal of opposing views – no matter how heinous they might be – can isolate otherwise flawed citizens who may not be closed to change who could be engaged through public debate to break myths.

The anger at the so-called nanny state associated with the modern left (the right will be addressed next post) is less about regulating environmentally-unfriendly lightbulbs, showerheads, and junk food and more a perception of overemphasis on immediate tolerance of diversity and correct consumer action rather than working to address myths and the roots of cultural and structural behaviour. All voices short of incitement to harm have the right to be included within the public sphere. Personally, my favourite figures on the left are those who effectively use satire to reduce the most threatening institutions, scary garbage people, and their garbage views to rubble – far more effective than boycotts. If this piece accomplishes anything, it will be more people listening to the Bugle just to get the idea.



“Darling, you don’t fall in love with somebody *because* they’re beautiful.
People are lovely *because* we love them, not the other way round”.

-The Line of Beauty

I don’t know who first used the term ‘creative’ in a career sense. For my generation, the term has become an aspiration for careers that involves a degree of freedom. Especially given mass production that removes us from consumping our own creations, we idealise creative career fantasies: fashion design, freelance writing, music, art, bespoke cheese-making, or alpaca farming. The ideal of creativity and career as mutually exclusive is not yet achievable for most of us because of the nature of capitalism: the lack of opportunities reflected in unpaid internships and lack of broader market emphasis on creative independence as an asset. Because a full-time/ freelance creative career is not possible for most of us, we devote ourselves to blogs and writing projects, bands, painting, cheese-making courses, squirrel away money, and may be discovered or take a chance.

Often my generation has a distorted definition of creativity. The advent of social media especially reflects contradictory extremes – one end of the spectrum that emphasises the image and the other on overproduction.

If in a bad mood it’s not wise to view Instagram or Facebook – from which you wrongly compare yourself to others’ creative accomplishments which in the end is just image. Social media is too frequently used to craft an online self to project culture and creativity. Become known for the cute animal pictures, refine that awkward meme-ish pose you do in front of famous landmarks, and use your full name/ weird pseudonym. This is akin to a Family Guy reference or any Buzzfeed post: a nudge and a wink to gain that might want individuality but screams to be demanded as one of the group.

At the other end of the spectrum is the cultural expectation of perpetual creation. In Melbourne, the term ‘creative’ – that code word in flat ads – screams synth band and writing side projects, mural painting, and baking artisan sourdough – a true diluted homeopathic essence of Melbourne. Overall, I am pleased with the rise of creative pursuits among my generation as a reflection that many in my generation desire a connection with their consumption. However, the expectations of this level of creativity we project onto each other through social media and conversation are often unrealistic. Too many of us overreach in multiple pursuits but few are truly talented at the everything – that’s why Rhodes Scholarships are so exclusive. People like David Byrne, Kurt Vonnegut, or Patti Smith have applied themselves well to different media and have set for my generation a high bar of expectations we too often try to qualify for. Also, our long daily commutes to work, study, and socialising, and the expenses incurred makes most of us incapable of engaging in multiple creative pursuits – which mostly lie half completed and scattered like a mad tinker’s backyard.

Most who can actually juggle a multitude of pursuits spread their creativity too thin and produce bad results – and almost always accompanied by the image of creativity. I call this the James Franco Principle. James Franco is symbolic of our generation’s creative ambition to be the ultimate slashie. Studying a PhD and attending classes sporadically, writing mediocre novels such as Palo Alto – which after the first page I considered setting on fire in disgust – acting in a multitude of gay film roles that would be better left to gay actors, and treating gay sex like a joke detracts from his actual talent – acting. My generation idolises him probably because it values results. A plethora of mediocre side projects qualifies as creative even if the output is bad as long as also backed up by image (like this).

The need to present oneself as creative at all times and be constantly creating demeans our own creativity and replaces it with laziness. Creativity is simply a process, is not a constant state of being or mind. Consider the entire lyrics to the song ‘Artists Only’ from my favourite band, Talking Heads.

I’m painting, I’m painting again
I’m painting, I’m painting again
I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning again
I’m cleaning, I’m cleaning my brain
Pretty soon now, I will be bitter
Pretty soon now, will be a quitter
Pretty soon now, I will be bitter
You can’t see it ’til it’s finished
I don’t have to prove that I am creative
I don’t have to prove that I am creative
All my pictures are confused
And now I’m going to take me to you

Three of the four band members – David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, and Chris Frantz – studied at Rhode Island School of Design so can attest to the creative process – ideas, doing, mood swings, insecurity, and working for your satisfaction rather than someone else’s praise. Writing this piece was a frustrating process that included writing awful rants, regret, almost setting the thing on fire, and procrastination involving way too many TV docos like ‘The Worlds’ Scariest Cult/ Fat Female Tumor/ Penis Bite’.

Creativity requires an almost fascistic sense of self-discipline and the acceptance of fluctuating levels of inspiration and confidence. Anyone who claims to constantly create could be an idiot savant but more likely is lying or producing substandard work. Our posts of completed projects don’t show the overthinking, injuries, tears, doubts, stress-induced arguments with loved ones, almost setting the project on fire, and most importantly the fucking up and learning.