NZIFF FILM REVIEW: Tale of two films



I have seen two films this festival set in totally different contexts but with disturbing parallels.

The first, Viva Activa  tells the story of Hannah Arendt, the Jewish journalist who covered the Nuremberg trial of Adolph Eichmann for the New York Times. Much of philosophical content of the film centres on the term she controversially coined “the banality of evil”.  

I took it that it was not that men like Eichmann were the embodiment of dark satanic forces, acting out a wicked ideology. As she saw it, he was just a dull, a non-thinking, non-intellectual ‘clown’.  His life was totally absorbed into following the rule book so that he was too busy to notice the tiny inner voice of moral conscience.  While this made the ruthlessness of his role and that of the bureaucracy more explicable, the worst was that his behaviour and that of so many others became terrifyingly normalised.

The other film the UK Ken Loach classic I, Daniel Blake had scarcely a dry eye in the house. We saw the faceless, unintelligent operations of welfare reform with its mindless sanctions in the UK department of Work and Pensions.  With stunning clarity we saw how the operation of the bureaucratic machine sucks in employees who with relentless banality follow the rule book to ensure the lives of good people are ruined or cut short.

In the Nazi rule book there was an undeniable logic: Vermin are bad. They should be exterminated. Jews are vermin therefore they should be exterminated. In the welfare world the equally dangerous narrative is: Not being in paid work is bad. People on benefits are not in paid work. Such people are bad. They must be forced off benefits. Success or the end game is fewer people on benefits.

In New Zealand state employees in WINZ follow the rulebook about how beneficiaries must behave and impose heavy sanctions when they judge there are breaches of these rules. In the 18 months to Sept 2014 there were over 80,000 benefit sanctions. We are told that while benefits can be cut 100%, the sanctions are limited to 50% for those with children. That is small consolation for the 27,778 families with children who received a sanction in this 18 months period.

There appears to be no official recent data on the nature of sanctions, their number and severity, or how people support themselves or how children get fed when it is known there was not enough money to go round before the sanctions. Minister Anne Tolley has admitted she has no information about the people who have gone off the benefit. We do know however that food banks are overwhelmed and homelessness is increasing.  As the rhetoric of paid work stymies critical thinking, poverty becomes normalised and the government brags loudly of success because there are ‘fewer on benefits’. The banality of evil persists amongst us.

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  1. This is unfortunately a sad and disturbing reflection of the life in NZ now.
    Thankyou Susan, for all your efforts.

  2. IThank you, Susan. I believe that evil persists in our politicians, the main stream media and our institutions. I also believe that our country and society have been laid waste by successive governments, since the days of Roger Douglas. ‘Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a a prey,
    Where wealth accumulates, and men decay’. (Oliver Goldsmith).

  3. Bugger it. I’m going to come back for another go. Your Post @ Susan St John was in itself a haunting piece. I’ve been thinking about what you’ve written concerning your astute observations above as I made coffee and you truly have hit a nail on its head.
    You do , in fact, encapsulate precisely what is deeply wrong about NZ society generally. We’re being ‘ governed ‘ by dumb, spiritually ugly, dull minded people. They can, perhaps, be defined as narcissistic, egotistical, bullies but that definition doesn’t help to show us a way to deal with, and thus rid ourselves of their influence upon us.
    A quisling minister of revenue mindfully allowing the NZ Super Rich to avoid paying income tax on the monies, more than likely stolen as public assets from our forebears who paid for those infrastructures with their taxes should be enough, by itself, to start a revolution. A revolt against the “ dull, non-thinking, non-intellectual ‘clowns’ who savagely tyrannise us daily. I’m not a beneficiary but when I hear how those unfortunate people suffer terribly as they go hungry and try to live lives in cars causes deep pain and aguish in my guts so by assiociation, I too suffer and that fucks me off. How then, can Todd Mac Clay, John Key, Anne Tolly, Paula Bennett etc sleep at night? I would argue, that if they can, then they’re not fit for their jobs and must go. Immediately. Today. Right now. We should be rampaging through our parliament buildings and removing them from their offices. They’re not fit for purpose. It’s that simple.
    And so why do we not do the rampaging and the removing? I believe it’s because the evil ‘they’ use text book psychological mechanisms to control us. Just like the evil ‘they’ use an education supplanted into their linear minds on how to grab all and fuck you’s.
    The fearsome, swaggering, evil-glaring bullies need knocked on their arses.
    God, now I’m all worked up. I’m going to dig in my garden with my dog and the birdies. Pretend I’m digging shallow graves.

    • Thanks for your comments Countryboy. I wonder how society can hold together for another 18 months of this. I thought 1991 was the low point but this is worse.

  4. a 50% cut in the benefit actually translates to 100% hell for families. You can’t pay your rent on 50% of a benefit so it means instance homelessness.

    WINZ is a house of cruelty.

    • The lack of caring about what happens to these people whose life line is cut by some rule follower is beyond belief

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