Friday, October 2, 2009

It's a strange old world, all right

(First published the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, September 29).

IT’S TRUE. There’s nowt so queer as folks.

An article in last week’s Listener by Michael Bain, defending his brother Robin, has re-ignited public debate about a matter that David Bain’s supporters fervently hoped was dead and buried, if that’s not a tasteless metaphor.

The ensuing hubbub has confirmed that public opinion is a wayward creature with a will of its own. Not even Joe Karam can control it.

Consider the exquisite irony of the Bain case. Initially found guilty of the murder of his family, David Bain was the subject of a dogged campaign by people who passionately believed in his innocence.

With public opinion behind them, they eventually had their way and won a retrial in which Bain was acquitted, amid much jubilation. But in a classic demonstration of the law of unintended consequences, the second trial appears to have raised nagging doubts in the minds of people who were previously convinced of Bain’s innocence.

A persuasive article by Christchurch Press journalist Martin van Beynen, who sat through the trial and reached a different conclusion from the jurors, wouldn’t have helped his case.

Bain has now gone overseas, supposedly to explore study opportunities. But I wonder if his departure had something to do with the fact that at least one opinion survey suggested many New Zealanders are more convinced of his guilt now than they were before his acquittal.

Bain won the legal fight but not necessarily the battle for the hearts and minds of his fellow New Zealanders. Who could have predicted this outcome? It’s a strange old world, all right.

* * *

WHEN Irene Van Dyk retires from netball, as she must surely do soon (she’s 37), she could do worse than set up an academy to provide media training for professional sports people.

It’s always a joy to listen to Van Dyk being interviewed. Her bubbly enthusiasm is contagious.

She can be frank and self-deprecating too, as when she acknowledged that Silver Ferns skipper Casey Williams was right to suggest she (Van Dyk) was “feeling off” when she had a success rate of only 73 percent in the fourth test against Australia. Van Dyk refused to take offence at Williams’ comment, saying: “Things happen and I had a shocker. So what?”

If all sports people had Van Dyk’s infectious charm and spontaneity, reading the sports pages and watching the sports news on TV would be a lot more fun.

It’s a requirement of professional sports people that they make themselves available to the media but you can see that most of them, the males in particular, would sooner have their teeth pulled.

When they do talk, what usually comes out is a string of wooden clichés that reveal nothing.

Judging by their reported comments, most All Blacks have the personality of a rock. If only they had an ounce of Van Dyk’s joie de vivre.

* * *

WHO SAID satire was dead?

Air New Zealand Fashion Week is over for another year and once again the media, by pretending to take it seriously, have done a brilliant job of showing what a farcical pantomime it is.

I laughed like a hyena at the way reporters feigned breathless excitement not just at the ridiculous clothing on display, but at the “celebrities” who took their places in the front row, most of whom no one has ever heard of, and the contents of the goody bags handed out to freeloaders by the various fashion labels. Outstanding work.

It was satire, wasn’t it? Please tell me it was.

* * *

SO WE’RE going to get something called TiVo – free-to-air, digital TV, on demand. “Get ready to feel the TiVo love”, the inane ads exhort us. I can barely contain my excitement.

Technological advance is mostly a double-edged sword. The big question is whether the benefit, in terms of viewing pleasure and convenience, will outweigh the cost of buying the new equipment and the frustration of trying to master it. In my experience the answer is usually no, unless you’re a tech-head or a pimply 15-year-old.

It’s the same with the software upgrades that constantly bombard computer users. The benefits rarely compensate for the hassles and I’m sure I’m not the only computer owner who, like Greta Garbo, just wants to be left alone.

With TiVo, there’s also the underlying issue of programme quality. I relinquished Sky TV after several years because all it offered was a greater choice of crap. There’s no reason to believe TiVo will be any different.

* * *

DESPITE what all the tourism cheerleaders and political commentators say, I can't see much benefit in our prime minister lining up to be made fun of by a TV talk show host, as John Key did in New York last week.

I admire Mr Key for his willingness to take chances, but bowing to the demands of the celebrity culture, and risking being demeaned in the process, is below the dignity of his office.

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