Selfie Shite Night
I like a brightly coloured, shiny diversion from reality as much as the next person. But White Night Melbourne joins a global trend of governments corroding away democracy, while simultaneously presenting increasingly populist cultural programmes. White Night started in Russia, there’s one in Paris and Canada and in Tel Aviv. Cities presenting major events that substitute extravagance and spectacle for substance.
I like populism as much as the next person. In fact I was once popular myself (and very nice it was too). The problem with White Night is that it isn’t about anything.
The brainchild of high-born, former Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu, White Night is actually the idea of another city, inappropriately appropriated for Melbourne:
“I say you fellows!” Ted might have said to the other white rich men in his government, that he’s been growing old with since childhood; “this White Night what-have-you has been the bees-knees overseas and I see no reason why we jolly well can’t have one of our own here, in Melbourne town don’t you know, don’t you know! World’s most livable city and all that, what?”
“Melbourne Laneways Melbourne Laneways , Tiddly too wit! You know chaps, those graffiti hooligans have actually brought more tourism to the State than the Grand bally Prix and we haven’t paid them a bright red Ferrari cent! I said to Sir Ron Walker, I said: “Watch your back Ronnie old son! Street art actually makes more fiscal sense than you and your little Bernie Eccleston do!”
“White Nights White Nights. It’s feels awfully like a riot, but it’s not a riot you see chaps? You have a lot of citizens just walking about looking at lights and spending money. Nobody mention the French Revolution and we’ll all be fine and dandy. Do you see? By Jove, pull out all the fairy lights all at once and they won’t see the privatization signage for the glare! Let’s keep those masses busy not thinking. Must keep things running smoothly. I mean, we wealthy fellows are presently making Louis XVI look awfully amateurish.”
If it didn’t cost so much, White Night would be funny. Nothing gets constituent voters riled up like talk of the public purse. Me? I love purses. Prada purses, Versace purses, all those purses at the Paris end of Collins Street, that’s what I’m into. Desire so strong it could damn near make a woman contemplate the smash-and-grab game! All those chain mail straps and the clasps and the insignias! The Victorian State Government and the Melbourne Major Event Corporation run White Night. They keep the exact cost undisclosed. This is bureaucratic shorthand for haemorrhaging money. Secret budgetary spending; a sane person may think it’s like, totally illegal. But these days it seems more like world’s best practice. Don’t tell anyone anything and especially not anything about money!
My partner Morgan (he’s from New Zealand), he’s always saying Australia should get rid of State Governments, because they clearly don’t know what they’re doing. For instance, our neighbours South Australia are going into the exciting new industry of nuclear waste storage for the world, until the end of time, bless ‘em. Supply and demand; Job opportunities and all that lark. Morgan says: ‘cancel the State governments and all the suckers in the Roger David suits; the ones who do the really bad deals (like myki). Give more cash to councils, cut out one whole level of government.’
I was like, god I love you, you’re so smart, but then I remembered Rats in the Ranks, and after we watched that, Morgan began rethinking giving councils more money and responsibility.
http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/movie/rats-ranks Treachery in local politics (The Movie Show reviews the film, and Margaret and David agree how good it is. We miss you guys).
Using Freedom of Information, you’d think journalists could have worked out what White Night has cost us four years in, but journalism is currently in a transition phase (I think that’s what it’s called), where the Fourth estate is fighting to exist. Maybe it’s for our own good that they keep the costs of this major event hidden away from prying eyes. So we don’t spend White Night walking ‘round the streets of our city, shaking our collective heads and brainstorming alternate community priorities. We can just relax and be entertained by all our talented artists.
Let’s compare White Night to Sydney’s Mardi Gras and see why the Mardi Gras culturally outclasses it. Mardi Gras originated from a community advocacy platform of Gay Rights. Conception and motivation is a significant step in the assessment of value. Where an idea comes from, is important to know. White Night Melbourne is one rich man’s vanity project, compared with Mardi Gras, an event championing equal rights for those who continue to face discrimination:
The first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras took place on 24 June 1978 when more than 500 people assembled at Taylor Square for a public demonstration and march calling for an end of the criminalisation of homosexual acts, discrimination against homosexuals and for a public celebration of love and diversity.
“The tenacity of the 78ers paved the way for three decades of law reform. It will be an important moment in the history of NSW to see recognition of their contribution and an apology for the treatment they received for standing up for what is right,” Sharpe said. Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich said, “The apology is another step in the progress towards social and legal inclusion of LGBTI people that began on that night in 1978. I hope it helps to heal the scars of those trailblazers who experienced brutality while trying to advance equality,” he said.
Recently, like everyone else, I got a new iPhone 6s (ta Santa. I’ll give you your thank you blowie later). Then I joined Instagram. Instagram is (all at once) a great resource and a complete waste of time. The eye candy can keep a creative transfixed for hours. Everyone on Instagram is now an advertising intern too. Some users won’t ‘fess up to what they’re selling, but everyone is selling something. Accidentally, you can get an unpaid job on Instagram, working for someone else. Like Ai Weiwei. He put an awful lot of people to work for him when he visited recently. Didn’t pay us though. I was thinking, wouldn’t it be a great project to audit how many photos of Ai Weiwei were posted on social media in the 5 days or so he was visiting? What new power influence we, his adoring masses, provided him with.
And don’t get me started on selfies. “Selfie” was 2013’s Word of the Year or some such shit. People (even sane people) can loose the balance of their brains about posing thyself at important events for social media. Like when Barack Obama, David Cameron and the Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt posed for a selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service! Um…. World leaders… lack of judgment… nuclear arsenals…?
If you spend too long on Instagram, it messes with what you know to be good one minute and what is actually good. Instagram reduces life to a series of eye candy for others to hopefully lust after. I’m not sure what lasting value that offers us culturally. Instagram has created a selfie pandemic that may well be messy with our mental health. There’s this thing called photo taking memory impairment (I forget the exact details), and from all the photos I saw people taking Saturday night, White Night ain’t helping!
So many people, too busy documenting their experience, to experience it. Where does that leave participation in experience? Has the whole world been reduced to photo opportunities, and if so, what space does that leave artists? Then there’s the numbers. With the zillions of images posted online each day, what is the new value of photography? If everyone is doing the same thing, is it still worth doing? Where’s the gold?
Art, of course, is an image and perception-of-image industry; a display profession. So whilst events like White Night might seem harmless enough, I just get this gnawing feeling that cultural policy is now accidentally dominated by photo opportunities for social media addicts. That it suits governments very well, for the masses to take to the streets and take photos of themselves and their friends standing in front of the pretty lights all night. Because then nothing else has a chance of going on, because everyone’s in bed all next week recovering. If you could wrangle 580, 000 people to take to the streets to rally for an issue, then Governments would respond. They’d have to. Let them Stay Campaigners were on the high profile corner or Bourke and Swanston, fighting the good fight, that’s a platform gaining momentum right there.
Can 580,000 revellers get it wrong about a night out on the streets? They sure as hell can. Perhaps White Night is a victim of its own popularity, because unless you’re on someone’s balcony, staring down at the masses, (think Robert Doyle staring down at Occupy protestors from the Town Hall balcony) the most apt description for this event I saw on the social media is Shite night. You couldn’t swing a cat for people; you couldn’t even pat a cat it was so cramped. Maybe my timing was off. I was home by 3. I’ve already used up my quota of sleep-all-day days. For this life anyway.
There’s a lot of luck involved in White Night and maybe you can luck up and see the good stuff, without queuing if you stay up late enough. But I just wanted to go home to bed. White Night is like Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls, but with less history. Less bulls too, but maybe if you go round the wrong corner at the wrong time, you could be mauled to death by some tear away wild beast or other. Projected onto the side of a building.
There’s this nagging feeling we all need to be super vigilant about what’s going on all around us at the minute. Spectacle supplanting substance, reason, meaning, value.