Brian Edwards Media

The Corrosive Effects of Media Repetition

Today’s Sunday Star Times features a lengthy article on what are acceptable and unacceptable topics for comedians. When does a joke go beyond the limits of humour and become merely offensive?

The question was prompted by David Fane’s recent unfortunate remarks at an advertising industry roast. No doubt no one regrets those remarks more than Fane. No one more than Fane will wish that they could be forgotten.  

But there they are again, reprinted in full in the Sunday Star Times. And in the Herald on Sunday  which, in another lengthy article, gauges the response of some of those present at the roast, of Fane’s employers, colleagues and friends.

Both articles can be justified in terms of newsworthiness and public interest. But was it necessary to reprint Fane’s remarks again in full, within the body of the article in the case of the Herald on Sunday and in a separate box in the Sunday Star Times?

Possibly. Fane’s words were the reason for the two articles and not everyone will have read those words before.

But, in a sense, the repetition adds insult to the injury which those offended by Fane’s remarks will have felt. It’s almost as if Fane had said it all again. And that, in a different sense, is unfair and injurious to Fane who has already publicly expressed his regret and with patent sincerity. 

Inspired by Sartre’s Huis Clos, I once thought that it would be interesting to write a story in which hell consisted of the non-stop screening of all the shameful things one had done in one’s life,  both in public and in private. The movie would play continuously and for eternity and be viewed by everyone who had ever lived, including all one’s  friends, relatives, colleagues and anyone who had ever heard of you.

But reality has beaten me to the punch. Thanks to the press, radio, television and the internet, our crimes, errors and embarrassments are never forgotten but are endlessly revisited in words and pictures that may never be erased – from Clinton’s  ‘I did not have sex with that woman,’ to Gordon Brown unwittingly heard calling a Labour supporter ‘a bigot’, to Len Brown slapping his own face in a gesture of remorse or apology. It’s all there on YouTube.

In politics such repetitions can be damaging and occasionally fatal. I cannot count the number of times television showed Helen Clark being reduced to tears at Waitangi or tripping and falling during a factory visit; or a flustered and embarrassed Don Brash, again at Waitangi,  trying to brush a sod of earth off his face and jacket,   or ‘walking the plank’ in a photo-op gone wrong. How many times? Dozens, perhaps hundreds.

Is it reasonable that, with the exception of those who commit the most heinous crimes, our mistakes, misdemeanours, bad  judgements, ill-considered statements, embarrassments should never be forgotten? I’m inclined to think it is not.

We have adopted in this country what you might call ‘a culture of apology’. No fault may be forgiven if it is not followed by the most abject self-abasement. ‘Mea culpa, mea culpa, med maxima culpa.’ What we need to do next is to introduce a statute of limitation, a ‘clean slate bill’  which prevents the endless rehearsal of the details of an  offence, once that genuine mea culpa has been received. Not a literal statute of limitation or ‘clean slate bill’ of course, but a general understanding among reasonable people and the media that if we are never allowed to forget, we may lose the capacity to forgive.

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10 Comments:

  1. Both papers are lowlife tabloid scum AND the whole thing was a pathetic beat-up by and for the Herald but really, does it make any difference? It’s not as tho anyone would struggle to find the text online or at a library.

    I don’t even find what he said offensive. He’s clearly button-mashing, it’s clear he doesn’t actually mean it, comedians say risque stuff all the time but unfortunately Fane’s effort is just not very funny. Roasts rarely are, in my opinion, though.

    “Comedian dies on stage” doesn’t make a very good story tho so off the Herald trots to the reliable quote machines for comment. Tabloid guttersnipes…

  2. The unintended consequence may be that no one in their right mind would do anything other than walk and talk robotic-like. Politicians would only read from prepared scripts. No questions thank you, (like Anne Tolley at the Principals’ Conference in Queenstown.) No planks will be rolled out. No dancing PMs will be filmed. No laughter will be shown. (Phil Goff’s laughing photo used to illustrate the proposal to lift MP salaries by 10%-Herald last week.) No drinking or eating. Brian Edwards would have a cosmetic makeover before being photographed for the Garner debate. And so on. No comment. No movement. Safety first.

  3. Brian, Bit of a Freudian slip – – – you have typed ‘pubic’ instead of public ! Para,7.

  4. “Brian, Bit of a Freudian slip – – – you have typed ‘pubic’ instead of public ! Para,7.

    No, no — Brian, he done got it right: because “Huis Clos” and “shameful things” precede it. Grammar-wise, I think, it’s better to say, “to” instead of “both in”.
    I got his drift — albeit, with a smirk.

    • pubic

      Yeah, ok guys, ruuuuly funny. ( and ruuuude!!!!)

      Not as funny, however, as the historic 1970s Dominion headline: “Naenae College gives pubic concert”. Created great interest in the journalism course I was teaching at the time. Main complaint: no photo.

  5. And now we have the completely ludicrous situation where another comedian makes a joke about Fanes comment and now that is an outrage.
    I have to seriously wonder about a journalist when they fail to recognise irony or satire.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=10656392

    The writer of the article also found it necessary to provide a definition of the so-called offensive term, just in case we’d never heard of it before.

  6. This reminds me of the scene in the movie Notting Hill where a man laughs off a paparazzi incident involving his new girlfriend, a famous film star. She heatedly points out to him that although for him the event was just an amusing one-off, it will be on *her* public record forever, and the media will retrieve it from their files and reuse it in embarrassing stories about her for the rest of her days.

    I don’t much care for the movie Notting Hill, but I thought that scene underscored a valid point: public figures must carry their ‘baggage’ for the rest of their lives; often a high price to pay for fame. Whereas the rest of us, and the mistakes we make, get to be safely anonymous.

  7. BE,

    I think this post makes some good points. But I couldn’t help but think it strange you make no comment about Steve B’s ‘column’ in the SST, which featured you.
    I don’t think it’s all related to your topic but surely an aside at least. Did you find the diary entry amusing or just plain silly? I’m simply curious.

  8. I thought, they were two well-written articles. Rather, than seeing both the HoS and SST columnists exacerbating ‘Profane’ Fane’s self-inflicted wound, I saw them as cauterising it. A saluatory lesson to all wannabe stand-up comedians: Watch your mouth.

    Reprinting the offending remarks was a fair enough call. The manner in which Fane delivered his very public hand-wringing expressions of Regret, Recrimination and Remorse — even, had me blinking. It was that genuine (unlike someone else’s, whose name escapes me).

    Thankfully, Fane’s not going to suffer long-term damaged to his reputation. Besides, Radio Network’s CEO has delivered — belatedly — a stinging censure by way of the dreaded wet bus ticket; soaked overnight in brine. I had never even heard of Fane, until he made the news as a stand-up comic (of questionable merit).

    Fane’s real sin, was not so much what he said, but the amount of time — and effort — he put into delivering his expletive-laden rant to a celeb audience in posh surrounds. (And he was paid?!) As far as his speech-making creativity strains go, they do not run deep. In terms of preparation and originality, it was artistic indolence; just outright laziness. Unleashing a torrent of obscenities and abuse — first, to his illustrious audience; then, an ethnic group; and onto the medically afflicted — isn’t so much shocking as it is, well, banal.

    As for those in the audience, who gave the appearances of appreciating his talents — you can only guess it was awkward laughter to break the nervous tension. But, for those who were genuinely laughing and offering up rapturous applause — they have an abundance of fecklessness and a deficit of good taste.

    Interestingly, Jane Phare (HoS) sees the moral lapses within the audience, itself, by their reluctance to publicly speak out against the ‘Famed’ Fane, as shown by the headline: How they laughed and they laughed”. I sense, Jane’s unmistakable tone of moral indignation and disgust. Worse still, for her, when it came to eliciting audience feedback, it was a bit like in the dead of night and switching on the light of a grubby kitchen, and seeing the cockroaches fleeing into the dark recesses.

    As for the Man of the Moment? He may use worldly language, but he lacks wordly sophistication and that all-important “Awareness”. Understandable, though, when you run over his film CV. I mean, his idea of sitting down to a cordon bleu dish, would be anything with grated coconut atop of it and a squirt bottle of tomato sauce at the ready.

    But he’s forgiven.

  9. The fact that Fanes comments have been repeated do little to change my judgement of the issue.I judged the issue once no matter how many times it is repeated by other media.His apology is noted.