Wednesday, October 25, 2006


"Martha's really into taxidermy."

So said the man showing the successful Apprentice contestants around one of Martha Stewart's weirder country houses on TV2 last night. This was their reward for selling more garden hoses than the other team had sold portable air pumps.

"Martha's the biggest animal-lover you can imagine," he continued to gush as he ushered them past a succession of immense stuffed fishes plastered all over every available wall. She loves 'em, all right -- especially stuffed.

The colours of the whole house were based on this fish motif, apparently, because Martha's "really into monochrome design" -- she likes painted ceilings; she got the colour for the wall from an old faded print (it looked a bit like it, too) ... and so on and so on and so on.

The progressive deification of celebrities has reached frightening levels on this spin-off of Donald Trump's presumably deliberately absurdist The Apprentice. One begins, finally, to get some inkling of what the Romans felt inside while worshipping their emperor as a living god.

Marcela gushed on and on for minutes about what it meant to her when Martha deigned to lean over and sample a bit of her sugar bun at another reward ceremony (breakfast at another of Martha's ghastly vulgar over-designed pads). "It was so intimate," she explained, "sharing a moment like that." Martha Stewart taking a piece from one of the very pastries she herself had (allegedly) baked ...

The funny thing, of course, is that the programme completely tanked in the USA. Martha was seen as wimpy and insufficiently decisive, and Trump had to tick her off for damaging his franchise.

One can see why it failed -- all the mad antics of the various performers fail to explain why any of them would want to work for Martha. Her "business strategies," as outlined in a series of excruciatingly banal inserts, consist of revelations along the lines of "Buy low, sell high." Last night she solemnly informed us that doing a good sales pitch involved trying to make your words reach your audience in order to promote the product you wish to sell.

What's next? "Speaking is when you open your mouth and words come out of it ... if you choose the correct words, then people sometimes understand what you say. On the other hand ..." Perhaps that's a little too philosophical for Martha.

The whole jailbird thing is adroitly mixed into the combination trainwreck / history lesson that is Martha Stewart: The Apprentice. Roundly rebuking a "quitter," Chuck, on an early episode, she declared: "I've never quit anything in my life. I even went to jail, for God's sake ..."

Funny, she almost sounded like Gandhi there for a minute. He went to jail to fight for the independence of his country; Martin Luther King went there to agitate for civil rights -- but Martha went to jail for a far higher cause, her own sacred right to party. Why shouldn't she play the market, do a little insider trading? They were her stocks, after all ...

The bitching and moaning in the loft has reached the usual poisonous levels familiar from earlier incarnations of this programme (in its various Trump avatars), but once notices that Martha's wisdom and mana remain beyond criticism. To question that would be indeed to sin against the holy ghost.

Martha's poor long-suffering daughter, who sits there week after week biting her tongue and looking as if she might have a thing or two to report about her mother if only she were given free access to a camera (and had a fully-fuelled jet ready to whisk her off somewhere beyond the reach of the Martha Stewart goon-squad immediately afterwards), is the final bizarre ingredient in the mix.

It's a stuffed program. We all knew that going in. What's refreshing and wholesome about the Martha Stewart "reality" show is that it actually failed. Apparently there's a moment when people have had enough of toadying and grovelling to this repulsive saccharine-scented bully. Maybe quite a few of us actually do notice the difference between Paris Hilton and a singer (or a celebrity, for that matter).

I agree it's not a lot of hope to hold out, but it's something, at least.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Myth of the 21st Century

I remember reading somewhere about the "Derridean biblioblitz" of 1967 -- the three books Of Grammatology; Writing and Difference; and Speech and Phenomena.

Far be it from me to suggest any resemblance between us, but this has been, nevertheless, an unusually busy year for me in terms of publishing. It began with:
1/ my novel The Imaginary Museum of Atlantis;
2/ went on to the Classic New Zealand Poets in Performance anthology;
3/ and now concludes with this collection of new fiction, edited by Tina Shaw and myself, entitled Myth of the 21st Century.

The stories were all commissioned specially for the book, so it was rather difficult to predict in advance just what the finished artefact would look like. Everyone has risen magnificently to the occasion, though -- we've ended up with 14 very quirky and individual stories, all grouped around the concept of myth, and specifically designed to focus on what the dominant myths of the next century might turn out to be.

The authors are (in order):
Patricia Grace, who rewrites the Maori legend of the tides;
Martin Edmond, who creates an urban myth for the Jenolan caves;
Tina Shaw, whose feral children catch and kill an albatross;
Mike Johnson, who spins a lush version of Psyche’s story;
Poet Karlo Mila, who offers a stunning Tongan nightmare;
Anthony McCarten, who tells a growing-up story in reverse;
Tracey Slaughter, who gives a disconcerting take on the Fates;
Vivienne Plumb, who makes some old fables disconcertingly new;
Charlotte Grimshaw, who pairs a warrior with his modern twin;
Jack Ross, who brings to life a selkie legend;
Maxine Alterio, who unfolds a contemporary Aztec myth;
Aaron Taouma, who tells the story of Uncle Sione, an urban holy fool;
Judith White, who spins a mythic yarn about a doomed love affair;
& Tim Corballis, who explores the very idea of myth itself.

(That's how the blurb describes us, anyway).

I think there's some pretty damned good stuff in there (though possibly I'm prejudiced). It was certainly an intensely educational experience putting it together. I enjoyed most of all the chance of observing a group of fiction-writers at work. Since I'm trying to horn in on their game, I'd better get an idea of some of the ground rules. Tina was very helpful there, and a tower of strength throughout the editing process.

The official publication date is today, so I guess I'll be raising a glass in celebration later on (we're not having an official launch this time). Check it out in a shop near you. It'd make an ideal Christmas present for some mythologically-minded friend or relative!

Tina and I will be interviewed by Lynn Freeman on Radio New Zealand's Arts on Sunday programme on Sunday afternoon (22/10) at 2pm, so that should be worth a listen, too. There's a link to the recording here, which should be up for the next four weeks (it's also available for download).