Thank god that’s over
I can’t claim to speak for all the Wellingtonista, but I have to say it: Sevens weekend is horrible. There’s a lot of gushy talk in the main media outlets about how colourful and vibrant and alive the city becomes, but one could say the same about a nasty fungal rash. Many of us who live in the central city can attest to how colourful and vibrant and alive the city is most of the time, and in an appealing, organic and independent way, but we found the CBD close to unbearable during the weekend.
What is it that appals us so much about this spectacle?
Let’s start with the aspects we don’t mind. The tournament itself is fine: we’re not necessarily against rugby, and it’s good to have a big international event in the city. It would be a bit rich for most of us to complain about the drinking, and we can all enjoy a bit of boisterous carousing. Debauchery, even. Most of us enjoy dressing up, some of us rather often. And I for one am not complaining about groups of well-put-together young ladies in skimpy outfits.
But it’s all just so very … naff. There’s a strong whiff of corporate teambuilding about it, of David Brent’s "MC Hammer shit" and the project-managed jollity of the office Xmas do. This is Carnival for people who think that Steinlager is a premium beer and are genuinely looking forward to a new Feelers album; who are happy to ditch the Rodd & Gunn for two days of wearing a hi-lar-ious $2-shop tutu but would shout "whaddarya?!" to anyone who dared to dress unconventionally in public any other day of the year.
True, there are some truly imaginative costumes every year, but why do many people still seem so amused by hordes of Flintstones and T-shirts that read "FBI (Free Breast Inspections)", after so many years? I think Robyn got it just right on one point: it’s the uniformity of the costumes that is so unheimlich; the "group costume [that] lets you dress up but not stand out". Safety in numbers, and the great Kiwi tradition of being "a team player", outweigh any chance of true expression.
Underneath that, there’s an undercurrent of aggression that is quite disturbing, a mix of frat-boy hazing and building-site catcalls that gets worse as the vomit and broken glass piles up. Mediaeval carnivals were undoubtedly heady events, and far from pretty, but the there are times when the Sevens is more Bosch than Breughel. I know that Denis Welch has brought out the Bacchic precedent, and while I’m not going to get all Bakhtin on you, I have to say that this is neither an overturning of established hierarchies (as in the northern European tradition) nor a lustily Latin celebration of the good life.
Which brings us to the Cuba Street Carnival, which is upon us in less than a fortnight. I’m looking forward to it, and hoping that my friends get into the spirit by dressing up for the party. Isn’t that a bit hypocritical? Is it alright when hipsters and bohemians get dressed up and drunk, but not builders and accountants? Isn’t there more than a touch of intellectual snobbery in that?
Well, perhaps. I’m certainly more of a Cuba Street person than a Courtenay Place denizen, and the Sevens is Courtenay Place writ large, so of course my taste is more likely to run to the Carnival. And I’d dearly love to see Wellington celebrate music, art and dance at least as wildly as it does sport and bad beer. But I think there’s something more fundamental than that; something to do with the way that celebration and joy are or are not woven into the fabric of our lives.
If we don’t have a touch of creativity and sensuality in our daily existence, then squeezing it all into a couple of days will just create a forced and sorry mess. If, however, you seek out new tastes, rhythms, colours, friendships and adventures just a little bit every day, then on those special occasions when you collaborate to celebrate that together in the streets of your city, the results are going to be a hell of a lot sexier than a job-lot of slutty cowgirls and drooling oafs.