Today’s Dom Post reports that the mayor of Kapiti, Jenny Rowan, received 60 emails from residents saying they were highly offended at a community board member who wore a fake Ku Klux Klan outfit to a council meeting.
This merely confirms what we already suspected: that taking offence is one of our favourite national pastimes. In fact a recent UMR Research survey of the recreational interests of Kapiti Coasters shows that feeling highly offended ranks ahead of mowing lawns and washing cars, with bowls a close fourth. (Alright, I made that up; but I’ve saved UMR Research the trouble and expense of confirming what was already obvious.)
A few points worth noting here. Dale Evans, the deputy chairman of the Paraparaumu-Raumati Community Board, is a clown and attention-seeker from way back. In the 1970s, when he owned a retail business in Wellington, he was constantly in the public eye with a variety of outlandish stunts, often with the aim of promoting Wellington rugby.
His exploits haven’t always been staged simply to draw attention to himself, although he certainly seems to enjoy that aspect of it. Often he has had a serious or at least a semi-serious motive, even if it wasn’t always readily apparent.
In the case of the KKK outfit, he was evidently trying to make a satirical point about the absurd, state-subsidised Hoodie Day. Though Jenny Rowan tut-tutted (quite unnecessarily) over Evans’ behaviour on National Radio this morning and (even more unnecessarily) wants a formal apology from him, no doubt to humour all those Mother Grundy complainers, she said she didn’t want him to step down because he was committed to the community and made a valuable contribution. Which is probably more than can be said for many of those who complained about him.
Here’s another thing to keep in mind. It was a stunt, a prank, a joke. That’s J-O-K-E, for the benefit of Kapiti Coast residents whose sense of humour, if they ever had one, has atrophied. Must be something to do with the salt spray.
If Evans had tried to set up a local chapter of the KKK, there would have been grounds to protest. But he didn’t, and he wouldn’t. There were no flaming crosses and to the best of my knowledge Mr Evans didn’t lynch anyone. It may not have been the most effective stunt – but for heaven’s sake, it was harmless.
Those who took offence made a conscious decision to feel offended. But it’s not much fun taking offence without grizzling to someone, so they took it a step further by wasting the time of a mayor who would be better employed grappling with the Kapiti Coast’s multiple infrastructural problems.
New Zealand is gripped by an epidemic of preciousness. A grievance culture has evolved in which people go out of their way to find reasons to feel outraged. That in turn has spawned a plethora of interfering public agencies and tribunals which spend inordinate amounts of money and time humouring them. (Another dispiriting example of the grievance culture from today’s paper: Wellington city councillor Iona Pannett, a Green Party champion of political correctness, bleating that a new police strategy against taggers – making them wear pink jackets labelled “Tagger” while they scrub the walls they have defaced – would reinforce prejudice against gay and lesbian people. Good grief.)
Most of us accept that being offended is one of the prices we pay for living in a free society in which other people are going to say and do things that we don’t like or approve. I’m positively bombarded with offensiveness every day. I deal with it mostly by impotently harrumphing to my put-upon wife, who reacts in the only sensible way – by ignoring me. Jenny Rowan should do the same with her cranky constituents.