Naked in Nuhaka: Hamburgers and French Fries
Kia Ora, This is Naked in Nuhaka, a regular column exploring issues of identity, culture and place in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Views expressed in the column are my own and not necessarily those of any other organisations or individuals. Correspondence is encouraged: email@example.com Leo Koziol Nuhaka, Aotearoa NZ 14.3.03 http://www.nuhaka.com/
What a weird couple of weeks its been in the media.
TV cameras trailed Australian Prime Minister John Howard as he ran across the country, tight police presence and security agents in tow, a constant roar of protestors against our near neighbours hawkish stance to war. Then, the story of a young kiwi living in Australia, who, at an anti-war rally, burnt an Australian flag. He was interviewed on NZ television, where he spoke of the reasons why he did it: on principle against Australia's support of the Iraq offensive. It was odd that this ex-pat kiwi teen had an Australian accent. It was even stranger that he saw no irony in the fact that, outside of Australia and NZ, most people would have a difficult time telling the difference between our two quite similar flags (1).
Last week, a similarly weird article in Time magazine. In the US, anti-French and anti-German sentiments are growing as a result of these two nation's staunch opposition to war in Iraq (2). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's description of Germany and France as "Old Europe" (and therefore irrelevant) added fuel to the fire (3). This spilt over into US popular culture when Cubbies, a restaurant in Beaufort, North Carolina, dropped the "french" from its fries and labeled them "freedom" fries. The same goes for french dressing, which is now "liberty" dressing. So, one guesses, hamburgers, that Great American Icon, must be next on the list. Hamburgers are named after the German city Hamburg, and therefore perhaps should from this point onwards be known as "justice" burgers?
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Here in NZ, the Listener provided us with its own version of media oddity.
Alistair Bone sought out a number of thinkers to examine the topic of "After Uncle Sam: Try to imagine a world without America". The agenda was to examine the potential for a "post-American age." In the introduction to the article, Mr. Bone stated: "the [contributors] were told not to worry about how the US meets its end, be it disease, war or asteroid." He wrote this without nary a flinch or a hint of irony. How the rest of the world survives the impact of continent-wide disease, war, or asteroid impact therefore remains a mystery.
Those writers who did not follow Mr. Bone's guidelines, such as Paul Buchanan and Brian Easton, presented intelligent and sadly quite plausible scenarios of American economic and social decline. One would have thought green thinkers Keith Locke and Nicky Hager might have done the same, perhaps with an environmental decline angle. Unfortunately, they did not.
Among other things, Mr. Hagar states "...it could be a time of ...mourning, and recommitting to those things that were best about the US: notably the strongly held beliefs about civil rights, democratic institutions and justice." The tone of his statement comes across as if he's saying, "How sad, we'll miss them, but they did have some redeeming features, didn't they?" This certainly seems the case when he appears to celebrate the lighter side of such disasters: "The crisis would also be constructive, waking people from daily preoccupations to do great things." I guess he means no more reality television.
Mr. Locke does little better. He demonises the Microsoft corporation, and imagines it reconfigured as a multicultural "cooperative of computer geeks from 147 countries, based in Rwanda", with all its profits now going to the UN for "free health and education to kids around the world". The fact that today, in Seattle, the corporation is a (still flourishing) magnet for a multicultural mix of thousands of computer geek immigrant employees seems to have escaped him. As has the fact that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has given $3 billion to global health programmes in the past five years (4).
The world today faces a raft of complex crises. Amidst the mess in Iraq and the flashpoint of North Korea -- all in the shadow of September 11 -- the issue of global environmental decline is on the backburner. One would hope that our nation's green leaders might focus a little on this issue -- something they're familiar with -- rather than issuing such anti-US vitriole verging on hate statements.
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Since coming back to NZ, I've been involved, somewhat sceptically, on the edge of green politics. The reasons for my reluctance are simple. With Nandor Tancszos and Sue Bradford at the forefront, the party courts controversy. When I casually mentioned to one of the local wahine leaders here in Wairoa that I supported green issues, she questioned me, somewhat irately: "So, you smoke marijuana, then?" (5)
Green issues to me, are much, much more than marijuana (6).
In America, I worked on environmental issues for five years, and found a nationwide progressive movement working towards making many serious environmental problems addressed by local, state, and federal governments. The only party that I found with an agenda to make real progress in this regard was the Green Party. Gore wrote "Earth in the Balance" (7), but he still lobbied for GE in Europe. The Democratic Party is a world apart from the Republicans, but they are still found wanting.
Therefore, in 2000, I attended a mass rally of 10,000 people in Oakland in support of Green Party Presidential candidate Ralph Nader. It was an uplifting evening, a dramatic conjoining of various anti-globalisation, environmental, and labour activists in the immense space of the Oakland Auditorium. My friend Kathy mentioned she'd last been there in the 1980s for a Howard Jones concert. How times change.
Our group settled into our seats high up in the "gods" of the stadium, and I was somewhat bemused -- but not surprised -- when a whiff of pot drifted from a couple of aisles above me. No one blinked an eyelid. Amidst such "atmosphere", the proceedings began. Former Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra got on stage to tell us about his campaign for the New York Senate. Tom
Tomorrow got up to show us his latest Flash animated cartoon about Tweedledee (Bush) and Tweedledum (Gore) (8). Unfortunately, his Flash crashed. But then Patti Smith came on stage, and made up for everything. After telling her story of how, in the turbulent times of 1969, her Dad said "Vote for Ralph Nader", and how now, in 2000, her Dad similarly said "Vote for Ralph Nader", she launched into a gorgeous, hopeful and affected version of that anthem of anthems, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
When Nader finally came on stage, it was a bit of an anti-climax. The previous speakers were deeply immersed in pop culture, but Nader -- despite his 1970s past of hanging out with John and Yoko -- seemed too much of a policy wonk to comfortably fit into the evening's ouvre. But that was okay. He was the best that supporters for change had, and his audience, in a matters of months, had grown from small gatherings in school halls (9) to the throng I found myself presently among. There was some sense of hope among us.
We all know the story of the debacle that emerged in the following months. I, myself, on the election night, voted for Al Gore. I did so on the basis that ABC TV had announced (incorrectly) on the 5.30 news that Gore had won Florida. At the time, it seemed that at least some possibility of positive progress remained before us; I was wrong. After voting for Gore, I sat on the hill on Twin Peaks, gazing out over the glistening city, one of America's dozen glowing Gothams. And I thought deeply about what future fate might befall this great city, and this great nation, at this great crossroads in time.
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Having lived as a citizen in the US for a number of years, at the turn of a new century, the one conclusion I can make about my great nation is that it is an enigma. It surprises me naught that Americans are so inward looking, given the incredible diversity held within. The enigma of America is one that I would argue most NZers understand only on a superficial level. I would also argue the same for Australia: a similar continent-sized nation, with regional military aspirations, a burgeoning satellite of Hollywood (10), a state-federal structure, a growing multicultural populace, and a mostly neglected indigenous population (11).
But America and Australia are our friends. US Secretary General Colin Powell told NZ Prime Minister Helen Clark recently that we are "Very, very good friends." How such friendships will translate in future is something that clearly remains yet to be worked out. Today, in a world of turmoil, NZ struggles to imagine a future for itself. Last, loneliest, loveliest: can we remain an independent-minded nuclear-free nation, protected under the wings of the UK, USA, and Australia? Or is there another governance fate out there, probably not yet thought of, that awaits us?
Only time will tell.
(1) It's also ironic that nobody pointed out that by burning the Australian flag, he was also burning the British flag, in the form of the Union Jack in its top left corner. There has been some call for laws in Australia to ban the burning of the national flag. See: http://www.thewest.com.au/20030307/news/latest/tw-news-latest-home-sto90 520.html
(2) Interestingly, the only common sense seems to be coming from African American Federal appointees Condaleeza Rice and Colin Powell. That the only common sense coming from the Bush administration is from people of colour is open to conjecture.
(3) See: http://www.francestinks.com/
(4) see: http://www.gatesfoundation.org/
(5) Ironically, its perhaps this very reason that the party scored so highly on the Maori vote in the last election.
(6) Though I support the decriminalisation of this activity, I personally have reservations about legalisation. Most of those who are arrested for marijuana possession or cultivation in NZ are Maori. The weed provides a not insignificant level of support in the form of an underground economy in places like the East Coast and Northland. Further crackdown would mean only further hardship for my people. So, in terms of Tino Rangatiratanga, and issues of Maori development, I feel this is something which needs to be seriously addressed.
(7) My boss, Huey Johnson, had a signed copy of Gore's book in our office library. It said "Keep up the good work". We also had a statuette prize from the President's Council for Sustainable Development in our office that Huey had won. This upside-down glass pyramid had broken some weeks after we got it, and we used to joke at how this reflected the impotence of the administration that had awarded it to us.
(9) I attended two months prior a "town hall meeting" at Mission High School, where Nader spoke. Prior to going on stage, Nader -- who changed the course of world history -- stood 3 metres away from me. No secret service agents were present.
(10) With all the cultural trappings.
(11) Aussies even spell like Americans, e.g. Labor Party. And they called their motorways freeways, at least until the tolls were introduced. Further bizarre coincidence: they have three commercial TV networks; so does America!
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