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On occasion one has to wonder whether it is in the water. I'm all for the idea of an engaged, informed and - yes - even argumentative society.
But there are times when the resultant discussion reveals only a lack of perspective and, to put it bluntly, a compulsive need to moan.
Perhaps this is unsurprising since the subject at hand, one which has generated several letters to the editor of the Otago Daily Times, is that of concerts not coming to Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium. A chap called Meat Loaf got the ball rolling, having been rejected by Dunedin Venues Management Ltd, which runs the stadium, because of a commitment to having Elton John as the opening act.
Then Rod Stewart, in the mix for a February concert, was withdrawn.
Well, who would have thought this city had so many expert international stadium and event managers?
Out of the woodwork and from under rocks in the gullies and sun-deprived gulches of the suburbs they came, insinuating incompetence and decrying the efforts of those, in their wisdom, they considered responsible. True, two out of three Meat Loaf songs ain't bad and, in Every Picture Tells a Story, Rod Stewart, as a young man, recorded one of the finest of rock albums.
But rock music is a business, promoting and touring musicians is a business, and so is running a stadium.
Imagine the outrage had Elton John cancelled his concert because stadium management had contrived to overlook the part in the contract - or even the understanding - stipulating that Elton would be the opening act; or the near-riotous howls of criticism and anger were it revealed, as the promoter clearly had been demanding, that DVML chief David Davies had given the stadium to Stewart free of charge.
One cannot blame the promoter for trying, but could it be the case that having failed to acquire the advantageous contract he sought for his client and himself, he has simply thrown his toys out of the cot?
These musicians and their ilk, whatever the threats of their promoters, will probably be back: touring and staging big concerts is how ageing rockers supplement their pensions these days, now that digital downloads have put paid to traditional revenue streams.
Speaking of riots, while there is little in them to smile about, I noted with approval the wry humour in an ODT cartoon last week. Two urbanites observe the street chaos in England and one says to the other: "This doesn't bother you? Where you from then?"
The second, identified as a Kiwi by the logo on his back, says: "Dunedin - used to flat in Castle Street". There is a serious point to this and, as shocking as the UK events are, they put into context and scale the so-called couch-burning "riots" that have afflicted north Dunedin in recent years.
What the two situations appear to have in common is a large and concentrated population of young people; and pockets of substandard housing - some of which would not be out of place in a slum. Where of course they differ is that, by and large, the young people of north Dunedin, the majority of whom are in the city studying at the University of Otago, can envisage for themselves a future. This is in no way to excuse their abhorrent and criminal actions, but many of those in Tottenham and Toxteth and Birmingham and Manchester evidently cannot.
The other thing the Otago students have going for them, should they choose to avail themselves of it, is a voice - on the airwaves. It is good to see that north Dunedin will continue to be soothed by the dulcet sounds of Radio One and that tyro student politicians have found the intestinal fortitude to save this dedicated student station from the knacker's yard.
Belatedly, they have woken up to the fact that, actually, the "commercial value" the station was deemed to be largely without is not necessarily the best or most appropriate gauge by which to measure its "value". Efficiencies and cutting your cloth are one thing; wholesale destruction is another.
Elsewhere in radioland, the news is not so reassuring. The Government has registered Radio New Zealand as a charitable trust, while maintaining its freeze on funding. Could this be in order to pave the way for sponsorship of some of the station's programming? Is this the thin end of the wedge?
We will have to wait and see, but should the wedge thicken, there will be more than a little dismay. Your Smoko columnist's street-fighting days might be long over, but a riot?
Now that could be an entirely different matter.
- Simon Cunliffe is deputy editor (news) at the Otago Daily Times.