Spin Cycle: The Spinoff’s best recent letters and feedback

Readers’ responses on Māui and Moana, millennials and Mike Lee – and one powerful first-person essay.

Madeleine Chapman’s defence of Disney’s full-body Maui costume for kids – since withdrawn from sale – attracted outrage and applause in equal measure. “Takes all the context & comes up with a sensible conclusion. Refreshing to read in an Internet world of blind angst” tweeted Keegan Check (@Tegal1234). “It’s good to see someone with something positive to say about this movie,” commented Jamie Buckland on Facebook. “Imagine little kids (those without the years of cultural stereotyping forced into them), idolising this character and wanting to be like him. That, to me, seems awesome.”

Chapman’s piece ended with a quote from Chinese American writer Faye Wang on the movie Mulan:

“I think deep down Chinese feel upset because we didn’t do it. Mulan is our legend, and we didn’t do anything about it that’s nearly as cool and beautiful… A lot of people asked, after watching Mulan, why can’t we do stuff like this?”

“Perhaps after Moana comes out and the debates simmer down,” wrote Chapman, “New Zealanders might start thinking the same thing.”

Laura O’Connell Rapira thought Chapman was being unfair. “I would argue that people have been trying to tell Pacific stories to our children for a really, really long time,” she wrote on Facebook. “Māori culture is all about storytelling and there are loads of homegrown Māori graphic novels, cartoons and comics created by local artists but because of a lack of funding and opportunity for exposure (NZ On Air hasn’t had an increase in funding since the Nats took power in 2008 and locally produced content – with the exception of content like #RHOAkl – gets pushed to the shittiest viewing times). Add the monopoly that Disney have over the market, it’s not hard to see why these grassroots stories don’t rise to the top and stand out.

“What I’d love to see Disney doing is using the extraordinary wealth and expertise they have to train animators, designers, artists and storytellers in the South Pacific so that one day they too may have the opportunity to tell their own stories on the world’s stage.”

But the majority of criticism was focused on Chapman’s central argument that the costume was “not so bad”. “For the most part, I get it and I agree,” wrote Leah Damm on Facebook. “It’s a cool notion that kids would actually want to be brown and I don’t have too much issue with kids wanting to emulate the first Polynesian hero – because hells yeah we’re awesome. But…

“Appropriation – especially of skin colour, i.e. ‘brown face’ – isn’t just about someone thinking we’re cool and wanting to be like us. It’s a bit more like someone thinking we’re little more than non-human mythical characters or that we’re reducible to the colour of our skin. Skin colour matters because it affects the way people of colour are able to navigate society. But while white kids get to dress up as being brown for a bit of fun, the reality of being brown is a lot less fun and frivolous, so it’s an insult that something that’s a point of discrimination against us, can also be turned into a romanticised kids’ costume.” (Damm later expanded on her post for a column on The Wireless).

Other readers were less sanguine. “This is the first Spinoff piece that I’ve read which made me feel like I was reading the Herald,” wrote Nicole Hawkins on Facebook, in what we’re pretty certain was a massive diss.

Emilie Rākete wrote us a letter:

“Within days of Joseph Banks, Captain Cook’s naturalist, setting foot on Aotearoa, he trafficked in human remains. Offering iron nails, an unparalleled wealth for our precolonised tūpuna, Banks bought a child’s mummified corpse. Within decades, the European desire for Māori body parts was so great that merchants made enormous profits stoking tribal conflicts to increase their supply. Hundreds of our tūpuna’s mummified heads still sleep on museum shelves throughout the world, dreaming of a home they may never return to.

“In your article ‘Hear us out: That ‘brown face’ Maui costume is maybe okay’, Madeleine Chapman says of the Māui costume that if Disney ‘doesn’t enable kids to dress up as him? Disney’s dead.’ To this I can only reply: yes, Disney would lose out on an immense potential revenue by not marketing a Māui costume. What I ask in response is: what obligation do we have to Disney? Why is it our concern if Disney is or is not profitable?

“Chapman claims ‘Disney is giving a huge voice to the stories of the Pacific’. Which stories? As the descendants of those mummified heads on museum shelves, we need to ask ourselves what ‘representation’ means in the context of global capitalism. Which of our stories can be told by a multinational corporation like Disney? The answer is simple enough to seem self-evident: those stories which will produce a profit for Disney. The central and sole purpose of any corporation is to produce a profit, and anything which doesn’t do that will be cut off and discarded like our ancestors’ torsos: waste meat, worthless offal.

“Where is the suffering in Moana? Where is the pain which three centuries of colonialism have brought to the Pacific? This will not, cannot be ‘given voice’ by a western corporation whose purpose is to produce a profit or die. Is the Māui skin suit racist? Yes, of course it is. Do we have a duty to forgive that, lest we reduce Disney’s profit margins? To whom is our responsibility greater – to a multinational corporation chewing up our history and excreting commodities, or to our ancestors? The answer to me at least is obvious. If you choose Disney – hei aha. Very well. But you are handing over the mummified body, the treasured corpse, and accepting the handful of nails like a blessing.”

For more reader comment on the Māui controversy, see Ngaiterangi Smallman’s post Yes, Moana is Disneyfied and corporate. It’s still a great thing for Pacific peoples.

 

On Monday of last week we released our Auckland Council voting guide. By Tuesday a new craze was sweeping the city: hitting our exclusive ENDORSIFY button over and over, like a monkey breaking nuts with a stone.

By the weekend, however, things had taken a turn. Left-wing blogger Chris Trotter was not happy.

“On Tuesday morning The Spinoff, in collaboration with Generation Zero, released their list of endorsed candidates for the Auckland Council elections,” he wrote. “Following the embedded links, I read, with a mixture of disbelief and outrage, the following sentences:

“’At first glance [Mike] Lee seems like a pretty good councillor. He’s in favour of the CRL, [Central Rail Loop] and his bio says he’s a campaigner for good public transport. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see he’s an ancient Waiheke sea goblin intent on imprisoning Auckland in a 1950s time prison.’

“It goes without saying that this assessment is as wrong as it is vicious. Mike Lee’s record of service to the people of Auckland is extraordinary. From the protection of municipal assets (especially the Ports of Auckland) to the creation of regional parks, his contributions to the city are large and tangible.”
 …

“The flip-side of The Spinoff’s trashing of Mike Lee’s reputation is their endorsement of the ‘charismatic former media boss renowned for his long lunches’, Bill Ralston. The only reason he gets The Spinoff’s appropriately coloured blue circle is because he has pledged his allegiance to the Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan. For Generation Zero this is all that matters. The slightest expression of doubt; the merest suggestion that this property developers’ charter, unmitigated by the democratic intervention of councillors like Mike Lee, will disfigure beyond repair one of the world’s most beautiful cities is enough to get you accused of wanting to lock Auckland up in ‘a 1950s time prison’.

“What the whole distasteful incident reveals is that although The Spinoff affects a hipsterish cynicism about all things political, the precise opposite is true.

“A real hipster would look at Bill Ralston and see a former mainstream media boss impatient to help out his right-wing mates by moving up to the top table. The same hipster would look at Mike Lee and venture a wry smile that although the left-wing tide has been going out for three long decades this ageing baby-boomer has never lost his faith in a better tomorrow – and has solid achievements to prove it. That sort of hipster would know exactly who to endorse.”

Are you a hipster still wondering who to endorse? Have a listen to our latest Auckland elections podcast, wherein politics editor Toby Manhire and staff writer Hayden Donnell are joined by special guests Leonie Hayden and Jacinda Ardern – to discuss our decision.

 

In Facing Down my Monster, Evie South told the story of her decades-long fight to bring her abusive father to justice. It inspired an outpouring of praise and support. “I don’t have adequate words to express both my horror at the (continued) situation and my admiration of this writer,” wrote Summer Wharekawa on Facebook. “You are beyond brave,” said Emma Mackie.

“The author did a fantastic job, as a child and since, as an adult,” wrote Mark D. “As the husband of a rape victim I have some insight into the damage she has endured and the frightful legacy she has to live with. I am sickened by how the justice system works worked in her case.”

“In my wife’s case she was incredibly lucky in that the defence lawyer, one David Lange, accepted her version of events. If she had  been subjected to an adversarial cross examination I’m not sure whether she would have survived the ordeal long term.”

“I understand that there will always be damaged, sick and dangerous people in our communities – fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters,” commented Cushla Dillon on Facebook. “But to see that reflected and supported through our laws and institutions, lawyers, police, politicians – that is something we can change.”

The Spinoff has turned off comments. If you want to have your say on a story, please head to our Facebook or Twitter – or send a letter to the editor (we publish a selection weekly): info@thespinoff.co.nz. Thanks!