Friday, February 14, 2014

Musician, songwriter and all round good guy, David Rovics latest ...

Dear Michael,

Feel free to share, as always. You can also read this on my blog.

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. 

David Rovics is a singer/songwriter based in Portland, Oregon. He'll be doing a concert tour throughout California starting next week.

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