Censor’s insatiable curiosity
Joseph Romanos talks to Andrew Jack, who became the chief censor last March, about collecting flying pigs, reading hieroglyphics and doing his own upholstery.
Let’s discuss a few of your interests. First, reading hieroglyphics.
It’s a result of my studies in Greek. I’m still interested in it, but don’t do a lot. I can read it. It’s a matter of deciphering it. Some words you have to look up.
Do hieroglyphics vary according to location and time?
Not as much as you’d imagine. By 3000BC, the language was fully formed, so it stayed unchanged for a few thousand years. There’s probably more difference between Shakespearean and modern English. Playing the bagpipes? I liked the sound from them when I was a little lad. At school I managed to find a music teacher and learned how to play. In Wellington I joined a band. It was great fun.
loud. Any problems practising?
It could be a bit trying for flatmates, so I’d go to parks or car parks in central Wellington. The car parks were pretty cold but at least they were dry and they were suitably remote. You don’t play for long anyway – 15 or 20 minutes and you’re doing well.
I understand you do your own upholstering.
I have been doing that for about three years. Our dog ate our lounge suite so we’ve been busy re-covering it. I like to get hold of old furniture, such as my parents’ old lounge suite given to them by my grandparents to celebrate my birth, and work on it. I do recovering and respringing.
Here’s another one – diamond grading.
My wife worked in the jewellery trade. Through her, I met people wanting to start an organisation to protect customers’ rights. So we formed the Jewellery Appraisal Society of New Zealand. I got interested in the industry and in diamonds. I did a correspondence course, then a one-week course in Christchurch to learn how to grade diamonds.
How much of it is guesswork?
I’d never graded diamonds before I got to Christchurch. By the end of the week I was getting it 96 per cent right. It’s a skill and a pretty exact science.
One more. You collect flying pigs.
When I was working for the police I remarked one day that some legislation would be passed. A colleague remarked that ‘‘pigs would fly’’ before that happened. But the legislation went through and he duly presented me with an ornament of a flying pig. Since then I’ve collected some more, and I must admit, I quite like them. I see you ride motorbikes. Yes. When I was at university I used a small motorbike as a means of getting around. Now we have a Harley and use it for fun, to get away on weekends. The weather’s got to be good, though.
You have five degrees. Did you ever get sick of studying?
I’ve always been naturally curious. The requirement to write essays and theses was a way of keeping you focused. Actually I’m part way through a quantity surveying degree. I think I’ll be finished it in 2014 at the pace I’m going.
In the censor’s office, are games becoming more of an issue?
I remember the first computer games I saw, that ping pong ball bouncing across the screen. I used to be fascinated by it. Computer games now are many generations ahead of that. There is a wider range of games and some are very complicated. There are some violent ones. It can take 90 or 120 minutes to get through the multi levels. We have people here who are games specialists and also we get given codes so we can bypass some levels.
Are our censorship laws rigid or relaxed?
I feel they’re about right. They very much reflect New Zealand. If we compare them to Australia, which is so close to us in many ways, some of the things they classify high because of sexual content, we might let through. On the other hand, what we might classify as R16 or R18 here because of the level of violence might not get such a high classification in Australia.
Is censorship more a matter of law or intuition?
The statute is very detailed and we undertake a methodical and objective practice. We are hugely analytical, but having said that, I’m the only lawyer in the office.
Do you see everything that leaves the office?
That would be impossible, but my deputy or I sign off on all classifications.
I tend to do the ones that are likely to be controversial or where there is a prospect of them being banned.
Andrew Jack on censorship: ‘‘It’s more clinical than people would imagine.’’