Naked in Nuhaka: Year in Review
CHANGE IS GOOD (YEAR IN REVIEW COLUMN)
SO I THOUGHT I'D DO ONE OF THOSE YEAR IN REVIEW columns, where you look back at another year gone by, and pick out some of the trends -- signals of change, if you like -- that mark the transition of Aotearoa New Zealand's place in the world to a "New Space"; a 21st Century space. Looking back at the year gone by, one thing seems emergent: Change is Good.
We still don't have a Maori TV channel (Derek Fox made the wise choice of sidestepping out of *that* quagmire) but TVNZ has been transformed more by the tutelage of new news and current affairs chief "mad dog" Bill Ralston (1) than any supposed "reflecting and fostering New Zealand society and culture on screen" charter. Richard Long's long gone, Jim Hickey's hickness is on the way out the door, genuine rumours are afloat that "Cheekie Whitie" Paul Holmes may be next (Mr. Fox must surely be set to replace him?), and the twee chatter of morning news host celebs has most definitely been muted. In their place: the cathartic faux-Letterman Mike King show (Frankie Foo! More kiwi than you!) and the simply wierd Eating Media Newsboy.
The intriguing part is that kiwi media culture now floats along quite nicely enough on the 10-minute trend track buzz (cheeky darkie is so, like, last week!) that we now increasingly feel less like an isolated island culture and more like a nation hooked into the global media matrix. Despite the odd lame attempts by our Nanny State Labour-Progressive-Christian Coalition to keep us in the media backblocks (translate: the "no DVD imports until six months after release" legislation) the reality is baby, baby, its a wired world and Kiwis are right in there, on to it, and working it (ahem, Kazaa anyone?).
Start out with "PublicAddress.net" the weblog of self-confessed mediaphile Russell Brown and his crü -- including Big Apple kiwi Jolisa Gracewood, Oz boy Rob O'Neill, Bfm hound Damian Christie, hippie chick Debra Daley, and Auckland noir writer Chad Taylor (the latter two unfortunate recent drop-outs in this world of blogging). Akkers resident Brown has taken his "rant" format from Hard News and Bfm and turned it into a much livelier (often daily) website/weblog that is nicely complemented by his mates ruminative commentaries.
Brown obsesses over whether Apple (and Pixar) chief Steve Jobs is going to be at the LOTR premiere in Wellywood. Gracewood recounts her experiences at the NYC premiere of Whale Rider, where she raved about the film, the party, and the freebies (Gisborne Tohu Pinot Noir, yum!) (2). I'm not sure exactly what O'Neill writes about, but I did like (and agreed with) his latest thoughts on how "Generation X" is ascending to political and cultural power in Australia and NZ.
And the United States for that matter. Yesterday, San Francisco voted in a 34 year old Cow Hollow socialite as the Mayor of San Francisco, one dashingly handsome (and progressive) Gavin Newsom (3). Democratic Party member Newsom just pipped in at 53% on a "run-off" vote against Green Partier Matt Gonzales (an ancient dinosaur all of 38) who scored an astounding 47% in the runoff. Up to the last week, the Democrats were so running scared of a Green stouche (4) that they sought (and received) the personal presence and endorsement of Gore and Clinton for Newsom's mayoralty run.
The same goes for the twentysomethings transforming national politics in their support of Howard Dean's candidacy for U.S. Democratic Party Presidential candidate. The best I've read so far about all this is the NY Times magazine article about jilted and depressed 20-something guy geeks (5) immersing themselves into the energy of the Dean run -- to make friends, find a (nice) new girlfriend, and -- oh, yes! -- get involved in politics.
Dean -- a quite late baby boomer himself -- is transforming American politics on the coattails of Jerry Brown's "1-800" presidential run some ten years ago. The average donation to his campaign is $US77, he has his own weblog (6), his growing fan base (How about Deaf Americans for Dean? American Expats in NZ for Dean? Geeks for Dean? Mormons for Dean?) meet up on the net at Meetup.com and Friendster.com and then translate their enthusiasm to physical "meet ups" (basically lengthier, latte-fuelled flashmobs with a purpose) at cafes across the country and around the world (yes, American expats in NZ for Dean does exist - their last meeting was at a Starbucks in Wellington). And yesterday, Gore endorsed Dean.
Back home, Jeremy Newsboy happily phones up ex ex-pat kiwi pom Anita McNaught to skip along to the latest press conference with Michael "Dude, Where's My Country?" Moore where she fawns over him and he thanks New Zealand for opposing the Iraq War and "giving us hope" (7). The torch is being passed on in our media, and in our politics. Bill English -- recently ousted leader of the NZ National Party -- represented a kind of "nice" and simple kind of approach to kiwi politics. And I could tell from the first time I saw him on NZ news two years ago that he was doomed.
Did the middle-aged leader of the largest opposition party in the country really strip down and compete in an anti-suicide boxing match last year? Could poor old Bill English be more un-hip? I still remember seeing him being interviewed last year in the runup to the election. He was in Auckland (a physical place he looked visibly uncomfortable in) about getting out the gay and lesbian vote for the Nats. He sat and squirmed in his chair and blurted out some oddball statements about "that's not my lifestyle" and looked, and sounded, well, so dated. His replacement, by comparison, is the suitably slick, urban and urbane Don Brash, former master of our state treasures. So we now have happy latte-sipping academics at the helm of three of our major political parties - Dr. Brash himself, the great grand Ms. Clark, and Ms. Fitzsimons in her gorgeous hemp couture (8).
The agenda of the chardonnay socialists marches on. We've already got legalised gambling up and down the country (some 35 pokie machines right here in Wairoa), prostitution just became a legal profession (how long before those NZQA-certified massage schools extend their educational capacities in new and innovative directions?), you can buy and consume liquor twenty four seven, and our happy little nation has finally caught up with California and introduced smoke-free bar legislation (that ticks into place in 2004). Four-week vacations are on their way, which I now predict will actually boost productivity and economic growth in our fair nation (yay, another week at that half million dollar beach bach!). How long before marijuana gets legalised or decriminalised, and chains of (outdoor, patio-oriented, incense scented) hemp cafes open up and down the country?
There's something about Aotearoa New Zealand in 2003 that feels like an independent film version of an American McWorld. Up in Auckland, wandering through “Real Groovy” records, my friend Andrew commented how it felt like a groovier, grungier version of Virgin Megastore in the states. And he was right. And Real Groovy is a 100% kiwi company. In St.Lukes mall (okay, yes, owned by an Australian multiconglomerate monster) I stumbled into a clothing gift store and commented to the lady at the counter how it looked so much like “Urban Outfitters” in San Francisco. She replied, “Why yes, we went to one in LA, liked the look, and replicated it here!”
Even the Warehouse is a somewhat improved version of America’s Wal-Marts. Walk into any branch of the Warehouse, and not only do you find a generous selection of low-priced CDs, but there stacked in the corner are $13.83 “on special” copies of Michael Moore’s “Stupid White Men.” The “Ware Whare” -- as Maori and PIs so affectionately describe the red shed – is an international cornucopia. Check out the music cassette section, and there’s strange Indonesian writing on all the tapes, cheap knock-off imports of the latest releases at the extra special price of $7.95. Go to the biscuit section, and there’s a bizarre range of South American Nestlé chocolate cookies, all at a bargain price, of course.
How long before American TV clicks into our kiwi hobbity hipness? (9) Apparently Friends is making its final run in the states, after which Matt LeBlanc’s “Joey” will get his own show, innovatively entitled “Joey.” In the new show, Joey makes his way to LA and we get to laugh at all those cross-cultural LA-NY references. But I say why not set the show in Wellington? (10) Joey gets an offer in the latest flick of some cool kiwi director. He settles in to a flat (oh, such cute words!) with a couple of groovy chicks (ala Three’s Company) one of whom is a kiwi, the other an expat Pom! Their friends are pretty much the same as what you’d find on any episode of San Francisco-set “Dharma and Greg” – i.e. faux-Brit snobs, or out-of-it anti-GE hippies. Now, I must get on to submitting this to NBC...
So, looking back over the year gone by, for me the summation of Aotearoa New Zealand in this new 21st Century have been two events of the past two weeks: the gang wars right here in Wairoa, and the Lord of the Rings world premiere finale in Wellington. Fellow Nuhakian John Bluck made an interesting comparison of these events in the Dominion Post on Saturday (11). He made a brilliant observation of how our gang culture has become immersed and sanitised by popular culture:
Ever since Once Were Warriors, gangs have become a consumer icon, used to sell washing machines and cellphones. We have good cause to be afraid of them in real life, but on screen they’re as cute and harmless as the polystyrene [Lord of the Rings] monsters [atop Wellington’s Embassy Theatre]. On video tape and film, gangs are visually appealing, entertaining and thoroughly controllable. On the streets of small towns, they are a force that no one seems to know how to manage, let alone remove.
I live in Nuhaka, and work in Wairoa. Talking to most other local Wairoarians, I find a community that isn’t necessarily fearful of these events, more bored with it and wishing these gangsters would just get over themselves. Some people make a suggestion we put both gangs in a paddock somewhere with a good supply of weapons so they can let all their anger out, a proposition I don’t necessarily agree with. Others suggested an island. Come to think of it, it would make a good reality show. How about plastic and paint bullets, and light balsa wood baseball bats? Hidden cameras throughout the course? Maybe MTS would be interested?
I digress. Back to Lord of the Rings.
The summation of 2003 for me came at the world premiere in Wellington, broadcast live and unadulterated (and, thank god, Paul Holmes-free) on Sky Movies last Monday 1st December. It was emotional to wake up that sunny morning and feel the buzz in Wellington over the radio, and then watch it into the evening. There was a sense of a coming age of Aotearoa New Zealand. A sense that Aotearoa New Zealand doesn't exist in a vacuum. That we have something unique to offer the world, that Kiwis have something important in their hearts.
Wise Sam Gamgee took the podium and said just that. “New Zealand is a beacon of hope for the world, in a time of much trouble,” said American Sean Astin (paraphrased). It was genuinely touching and convincing. Watching, I felt the Maori component was missing. The “rent-a-Maoris” were in the background, but why weren’t they upfront? That was all made up when born-again Aotearoan Viggo Mortenson got up – in a trademark Huffer “I Love NZ” t-shirt (11), signed by Pter J., also sported by Orlando Bloom – and proclaimed “Kia Ora Poneke!” Viggo, out of all the LOTR cast, has taken Aotearoa NZ to his heart the most. LOTR week saw not only the film opening, but Viggo’s photo exhibit, Viggo’s poetry reading, and Viggo’s art exhibit.
And, just like Mike King’s satirisation of the foreshore treaty mess etal ad infinitum, Viggo’s perfect Maori pronunciation of Wellywood’s other name – Poneke (poor-nair-kair!) was cathartic. A realisation of a new nation in the making, that change is underway, a new generation rising, and that such change is good.
(3) In San Francisco, I used to work near the Marina District, where Newsom-spotting was a fun hobby as he popped along the streets between his hip restaurants and "raw bar" drinking establishments.
(4) Did I forget to mention Arnold Schwarzenegger? Arnie scored more out of an anti-Democrat establishment sentiment in the Golden State than any swing to the Republicans, so in one sense Schwarzenegger and Gonzalez were (bizzarely?) alike in their independent "of the people" perspectives.
(7) For those not in the know, Anita "McNaughty" is a former NZ news presenter now back in the UK on BBC World. She'd probably be defined as an "expat expat", having moved to NZ in the 1990s, and then back to the UK at the end of the decade whilst retaining her newly adorned "kiwiness?" Much like Robbie Williams Maori tats, huh? (8) Reference shamelessly stolen from a review of the dreadfully
disappointing (yet still quite culturally relevant i.e. Maori tattoos) "Matrix Revolutions" in Entertainment Weekly.
(9) How interesting, how both kiwis (the bird) and hobbits live in burrows.
(10) Has anyone noticed how the Dominion now sources an article from the LA Times almost daily? Such a strange mix in our previously conservative capital. One can only wonder how this will heat up as the King Kong machine starts to warm up. There’s definitely a media niche here, somewhere. “The Welly Variety”? See also: http://www.frodoeconomy.com/
(11) Unfortunately not available online. John Bluck is the Waiapu Bishop of the Anglican Church, and is based in Napier. His column focused on the Gaiety Theatre in Wairoa, future site of the Mana Wairoa Maori International Film Festival I am working to create, a “Maori Sundance” in remote provincial Aotearoa.
(12) The trademark huffer three dots is apparently a symbolisation of the three isles of Aotearoa – North Island (Te Ika a Maui), South Island (Te Wai Pounamu), and Stewart Island (Rakiura).
ABOUT NAKED IN NUHAKA Leo Koziol ( firstname.lastname@example.org) writes somewhat intermittently on identity, culture, and politics in Aotearoa NZ in the 21st Century. Nuhaka is located on the East Coast of the North Island of NZ. Mr. Koziol recently launched a new website that he recommends you check out, at http://www.ManaWairoa.com.
ALL CONTENT (C) LEO KOZIOL & RAUTAKI GROUP CONSULTANTS 2003.