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At Least Dan Brown Can Spell

James Robinson



This week my thinking came to revolve around these two items. To my surprise, and slight bewilderment – I could find more in common between the two than I would have hoped to.
Figure 1. Members of the Victoria University Council Will Answer YOUR Questions on Fee Rises.
Yup, rises means they want even more of your sexy $$$$$$$$ muULLLLLLaaar $$$$$$$$$ WHY? Why more? Cos were rich! Yup were funkn loaded. The discussion will be followed by a lolly scramble.
(Official VUWSA promotional material for last week’s fee-setting forum. Not, as I previously suspected upon initial viewing of leaflet, written by a crazy person.)
Figure 2. The yearly Whitcoulls 100 list – viewable at any Whitcoulls bookstore, or at www.whitcoulls.co.nz. Highlights include two Dan Brown books in the top ten, four Harry Potter books in the top 100, a John Grisham book, a Lee Child book, and an appearance from self-help book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.
Whitcoulls is a horrible bookstore. I found myself there over the weekend to try and rid myself of some vouchers. As I ambled down the isles of detective novels, travel tomes and self-help books I felt alienated. There wasn’t anything that I even remotely felt I could engage in. I began to despise the store, and upon buying a couple of DVDs and leaving, quickly saw the five or so books I wanted to buy around the corner at Unity… Sigh. But I wasn’t surprised by this outcome – Whitcoulls is a by-the-book chain store, filled with safe books, for safe book buyers. It is no more cultural than a Coca-Cola commercial, it is a corporate snapshot, designed for the very fact that it is easily sold on.
I found the text on the VUWSA pamphlet equally horrible.
After the university’s backhanded management of fee increases in 2005, the students’ association could register a significant victory in arranging a meeting between students and administration to discuss the issues around fee setting. When I heard that this would happen, I pictured difficult questions being asked of the administration, a packed lecture hall and a confrontational atmosphere. Instead, approximately fifteen showed up, and very few who were there were not directly tied into one of the sides involved. I was stunned, an event like this, a chance for you, the student, to confront the administration on rising fees was squandered. You may not have known about it. Hell, if you read the flyer for the forum I wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to know about it.
Reading the flyer, I became more convinced that the intellectual hub of this university is moving further away from VUWSA, leaving our own Students’ Association to play up to a radical political populism that is far from indicative of today’s student. The fact that a measly three percent of students voted in the by-election responsible for appointing the person that wrote this pamphlet is telling. Further evidence of this is the increasingly spectacular lack of engagement between association and student. Graced with such a golden opportunity, they chose instead to focus their efforts on a ridiculous pamphlet. Because making the administration look big and nasty, and cackling with outrage over fees was seemingly more important than systematically guaranteeing student numbers and interest in the forum. As Pat Walsh and company surveyed an empty auditorium he must have thought that it was his lucky day. No wonder they were all smiling so much! So preoccupied with posters and angry sentences VUWSA consistently alienate what matters most, students. And faced with a chance to make progress through well meaning negotiation they showed an unwillingness to adapt to a more open and friendly process. At the end of last year there was a lot of bad blood around. VUWSA did well to put 2005 behind them. Unfortunately they then blew any chance of making 2006 a victory. If Wellington’s ailing student politics movement is going to be resuscitated from the comatose of apathy it is in, student politicians are going to have to start using their heads.
It got me thinking that VUWSA, and Whitcoulls are not too unlike. VUWSA is representative of the needs and wants of a small section of University society. And my feelings of looking at the VUWSA flyer and the Whitcoulls 100 were nearly identical. I felt alienated. I could no more understand one, than the other. This flier represented a snapshot of what someone thought might be appealing to a student. Instead it sells the intelligence of the everyday student short, and is no more representative of them than the Whitcoulls 100 is of every book reader. It is poorly spelt, hostile and two-dimensional. Its attitude feels archaic and overly hostile. But this is a piece of paper that somehow is supposed to represent you. This is a piece of paper that represented your ticket to a personal audience with the VC, and a chance to raise your concerns, not VUWSA’s.
It makes you think, really.