The Laughing Policeman: Tiki Taane and the current New Zealand discourse

We held my Grandmother’s 95th birthday celebration at a genteel establishment serving high tea in my home town, Auckland. It was a wonderful event, with friends and family gathered to honour a great and gracious lady.

Things went swimmingly until it was time to pay the bill. Unfortunately a miscommunication had happened; my parents, who had arranged the event, were unaware that said establishment required one bill per group, and had told everyone to pay separately.

Working as I have for a long time in customer service, I looked at the size of our group and the tearoom’s one point of payment. I calculated the additional cost to their business – in terms of lost custom – we were wishing to impose.

Others, who could perhaps be recognised as my close male relatives, decided the productive thing to do was to gang up on the young man operating the till, at top volume, using their best West Auckland language.

Did he create the policy? No. Could he change the policy? No. Did I convince my mother, who was holding her and Dad’s credit card to just pay the damn bill? You betcha.

What’s this got to do with Tiki Taane? Nothing much, but it has a lot to do with my interpretation of the events surrounding his recent performance of “Fuck Tha Police” at a venue in Tauranga, and of some of the rhetoric that has followed.

I ran into the story via twitter mention, which pointed me to Craig Ranapia’s contribution to the Public Address shared blog, Muse. Disclaimer: I find Craig’s style to be provoking to say the least. I believe the best discourse is respectful of all it comments on, and I believe he falls far short of that standard. But hell, I like to read what writes. PJ O’Rourke is one of my favourite political commentators and he steams me up no end.

I am not talking about Craig here except in that I am talking about a style of discussion that seems currently predominant in our country.

The post describes a situation in which the free speech of a New Zealand artist was attacked by an unreasoning and uncultured police officer, and Craig gives examples of a number of other great works of art seen to undermine the position of the police in the past.

I agreed with almost all of it. Our relationship with the police can be fraught. They do not always seem understanding of the needs of creative artists. Greg O’Connor uses vast generalisations to do his job. But for me some significant details were glossed over.

Let’s start with the free speech issue. I see Taane suffering the consequences of his choices, but he got to make his statement both during the event, and after when he issued press statements. The police might or might not have got it wrong – but free speech has not been suppressed in this action.

And here for me is the key question, that I think is not being discussed.

Can a someone in a nightclub who urgently needs assistance from the police – for whatever reason – guarantee to receive reliable, unfettered assistance when Tiki Taane is performing? If not, does that not imply that the police have at least a contestable charge?

Have we, in the rush to spin the story – Craig, Tiki, Greg and even me – not lost site of the fact that if we want the police to do better there are more productive ways to do so than deliberately hurling invective, whether a performing artist or not?

We don’t like celebrities who use their media profile to guarantee anonymity against criminal charges. Is it any different when Tiki Taane uses his profile to create frankly needless stress for civil servants who are not allowed to respond with their own direct public statements?

I just want my mum to get the credit card out on this one. Everybody’s shouting, nobody’s looking good, and apparently New Zealand culture is my grandma in this one. May she rest in peace.

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About seanmurgatroyd
Library (Shared blog): http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Personal including infoculture, book reviews: http://diligentroom.wordpress.com/ Music: http://seanfishmusic.wordpress.com/ Last.fm band page: http://www.last.fm/music/Seanfish @seanfish

2 Responses to The Laughing Policeman: Tiki Taane and the current New Zealand discourse

  1. Gareth says:

    “Can a someone in a nightclub who urgently needs assistance from the police – for whatever reason – guarantee to receive reliable, unfettered assistance when Tiki Taane is performing?”

    Can they guarantee reliable, unfettered assistance when any artist is performing? I’ve been to packed out concerts in Western Springs and at the Powerstation where someone in the crowd would need to remove themselves from the crush before they’d have a hope in hell of any form of police assistance.

    The reason they arrested him was “disorderly behaviour likely to cause violence”.

    Does that seem realistic? He’s a rap artist. It’s a rap song. He was hired to perform at the venue.

    When you suggest that Mum just gets out her credit card, are you suggesting that he just pleads guilty and go to jail for 3 months to get it over with? Personally I think that would cause grandma much more damage than all the shouting. In this case, the guy behind the counter does have discretion. He doesn’t have to arrest anyone. I think grandma would be better off if he learns that next time he should just let it go.

    • seanmurgatroyd says:

      Good thoughts here, Gareth. I’ve let them sit before responding.

      I think the sticking point for me is around Tiki Taane’s agency in the matter. Should this have been an artist carrying on his usual programme with the police happening to be in attendance, I’d agree with your comments around his artistic statement. For me, the minute he decided to change his set order, he went from making an artistic statement to a political one.

      I acknowledge that artistic statements can well be political ones – but the fact is he was acting under contract. He hadn’t been hired to make political statements, he had been hired to entertain an audience. I am a big fan of hiphop, but I don’t go out to an event planning to be involved in a police incident, while I know one is possible.

      So I’m saying in my model he’s not a passive performer just doing his job, he’s one of the blokes shouting at the guy behind the counter, and he shouted first. Mum is perhaps the justice system, who could (and perhaps rightly) choose to throw the case out, or indeed the policeman could both be the person behind the counter trying to make things work (at the time) and following that the person with the credit card, because yes, he could have let it go there and then.

      If grandma represents our aspirations for a positive and functioning New Zealand culture, I have to say all parties – from the shouters to the stick-to-the-policy functionaries let the side down.

      Greg O’Connor? Still a dick.

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