Thursday, February 13, 2014

Degenerate Art: Odd Future, Immigration New Zealand, and me

The Nazis called it entartete Kunst -- degenerate art. Art the state doesn't like, and therefore the art in question should be banned.  And even the artists themselves, which is what the government of New Zealand just decided with concern to the Los Angeles-based hip hop collective, Odd Future.

You can read about their ban in the Guardian and many other press outlets, all of which seem to be based on the original AP article, which also mentions my ban from New Zealand last August.

I woke up this morning at 6 as I often do, to make breakfast and take several children to school on the other side of town.  Looked at my phone and got a Google Alert that my name was in the news.  (Yes, I'm vain.  I'm a professional musician.)  Clicked on the link, and my head was flooded with memories of the same thing happening to me.

Immigration New Zealand's public line, that the band posed a threat to public order because they had supposedly threatened public order in the past, such as at an event in Boston, is nonsense.  No threat to public order occurred, which is clear if you look into the incident in question for a few minutes, aside from nearby members of the public being inconvenienced by a crowd gathering outside of a comic book store because it was too big to fit all of the band's fans who wanted to get in.  This sort of thing is par for the course with any band that gets hundreds of millions of viewers on YouTube and appears regularly on MTV.  (Probably even happened to Lorde herself!)

But a threat to the sensibilities of certain elements of Kiwi society, such as the current administration?  Now that seems much more likely.  But this is scary stuff, and should worry New Zealanders, and supporters of freedom of expression everywhere.  If Odd Future is going to be banned, then what's to stop INZ from banning half of the other hip hop acts in the world, who rap on the same over-the-top, hyper-sexual, sometimes politically militant themes as Odd Future?

As disconcerting as the fact of the group being banned from entering the country is the way it happened.  As the band's manager reported in various press accounts, they were called by INZ an hour before they were going to board their flight, and told they wouldn't be allowed in.

In Odd Future's case, all of their paperwork was in order.  In fact, they had work visas already (and US citizens don't even need a visa to enter New Zealand if they're doing so as a tourist).  But an hour before boarding, long after their plans to perform at a festival in Auckland were made and plane tickets bought, their visas were revoked.

When I was banned from entering New Zealand it was the same kind of thing, except instead of an hour, it was more like a half hour before boarding, and the call came to me via the cell phone of an airline employee at Narita Airport in Japan.  In my case, I admittedly hadn't lined up a temporary work visa yet, but the immigration agent made it abundantly clear that I was being banned from entering New Zealand on the basis of my blog posts that made reference to marijuana and border-crossing troubles.

In my case, I had the nagging thought afterward that I still have now, that perhaps if I had all my paperwork in order, they wouldn't have had an excuse to keep me out of the country.  If I were a member of Odd Future I might be thinking something similar.  Perhaps if someone hadn't called the cops at that appearance in Boston, INZ wouldn't have had an excuse to turn them away.

But what seems increasingly evident from the mounting number of similar incidents of artists being prevented from entering New Zealand is that INZ is looking for excuses to ban artists the establishment doesn't like.

Unlike in my case, it doesn't look like Odd Future is hurting for cash.  But my one bit of financial advice to them would be that if they booked the plane tickets on Air New Zealand, being banned from entering the country by immigration at the last minute is a rare example of something that is grounds for a full refund on the unused portion of your tickets.


Bevan Morgan said...

I instantly thought of you when I heard the news of this last night, so thanks for writing this.

I imagine that the fact that Odd Future are black was of huge influence in the decision as well - not just because they are black, but because the fact that they are black wouldn't really cause much of a stir. It's a lot easier to get a public with strands of racism spread throughout (and boy oh boy does NZ have some proper racism, despite what people blinded by their patriotism will tell you) to ignore or just not care about the ASTONISHING double standards in letting Eminem come in, but not these guys.

Pretty ashamed of the way my country is heading, I don't mind saying. I am kind of lost for words over this.

Bevan Morgan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Rovics said...

It occurred to me after I wrote this to wonder also if the fact that one of the group's members is Samoan might be even worse than if they were all Black...? Were they concerned that he would be especially suited to stir up Auckland's Pacific Islander community? Were they concerned that I was singing songs against the NSA right when the parliament was getting ready to pass their spy bill...? Who knows...

Bevan Morgan said...

It's a good question, and there would be far, far smarter and more knowledgeable people than myself that would have views on this.

Personally I think they would struggle with a well known Samoan artist (as an example). Independent and not that well known? Sure, nothing would surprise me anymore, but I do think they'd struggle with a well known voice.

I say this because(and I'm going to be generalising hugely here, so please forgive the sweeping statements) Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world and Pasifika culture is sort a point of pride for many people.

Again, I know I am generalising, but I'm sure you get what I mean.

However, minorities of an African persuasion, be they African American, or African in general, are a REAL minority in this country. It is quite rare in all honesty to see a really dark skinned person who clearly has African lineage.

I won't get into why this is, and the problems I have with it, needless to say there is considerably more prejudice and ignorance to any minority outside of Polynesia, but it is particularly strong towards people with African lineage.

So if you combine that 'otherness' with media hyped racism against hip-hop culture, it's a lot easier to just refuse them entry on whatever grounds they like (such as censorship) because people by and large won't kick up the same fuss due to the fact they already have preconceived notions of black people, and a government dept telling them that these guys 'incite riots' just further confirms their prejudices.

In a sense they know that dealing with Pasifika artists would probably be a lot more difficult just because of presence alone. African American rappers? Mmmm, not so much.

That's my opinion on it anyway. Again, it's just thoughts. Someone will know a lot better than me, and may have a totally different view.

Anonymous said...

This topic has generated a massive online discussion in Aotearoa New Zealand.

This article
has been central to kicking off the debate. It has predominately focused on the role of freedom of speech/freedom of expression, censorship, to the freedom for women to be able to live without fear and threat of rape and violence as depicted in many of Odd Futures lyrics .

I would be interested to know you thoughts


David Rovics said...

Thanks for sharing that, Kieran. Yeah, just to clarify where I'm coming from on this, I'm not saying that NZ censoring Odd Future is the worst thing ever to happen to anyone, by any means. I think the author's sense of priorities are entirely justified. Also, my opposition to INZ's move here is not a defense of Odd Future's music, which I'm barely familiar with myself. If I listened to more of it, I might agree with the feelings of the Auckland City Council. My opposition to INZ's decision is that they did it on spurious grounds. Also, in principle, while I don't think freedom of expression should have no limits, I think if there's going to be government censorship, it should be consistent, and this move was anything but. Generally, I think government would do better (in the US especially) to restrict the abilities of massive corporations to control the airwaves and the music industry, and allow it to be more under the control of regular people, which I believe would have the effect of promoting better music, rather than "lowest common denominator" shit that is more likely to be misogynist in nature.