(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, September 14.)
ACUTE sensitivity disorder has broken out again. In New Zealand, the Muslim community has taken offence at Building Minister Maurice Williamson’s after-dinner jokes. In Australia, meanwhile, Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice, a triple gold medallist at Beijing, has had a sponsorship deal cancelled by Jaguar because she made an imprudent comment on Twitter using the word “faggots”.
The question surely should be, in such instances, whether there was serious intent to stir up hatred or ill-will. In neither case is that apparent.
Mr Williamson was just being the class clown, as is his wont. His joke – about Muslims being stoned after committing adultery while New Zealanders committed adultery after getting stoned – was in questionable taste, but that’s all.
As for Rice, her grammatically challenged tweet, “Suck on that faggots”, following the Wallabies’ win over the Springboks, seemed merely puerile and impetuous – the product of an immature mind rather than a calculated slur intended to incite ill-feeling against homosexuals. It doesn’t even make sense. What’s the bet she had been drinking?
The main lesson to be taken from Rice’s misfortune, and that of countless other not-very-bright celebrities before her, is that Twitter, the very name of which implies empty-headedness, is dangerous as well as pointless.
* * *
MY HEART goes out to the parents of the little boy who was killed by a reversing vehicle in a South Auckland driveway last week, but the question has to be asked: when are people going to learn?
Toddlers and driveways are bad combinations. They are even more lethal when the next-door neighbour’s vehicle is a big four-wheel-drive (as in this case) with poor rear visibility. Anyone who drives an SUV has to be almost obsessively cautious when reversing, especially if there are children in the neighbourhood.
What other lessons can be learned from this tragedy? One is that little kids move fast – a point brought home by the sad death of Lucas Ward, who drowned in Gisborne’s Waimata River while his grandmother was momentarily distracted.
In the case of 18-month-old Sirj-Michaels Siaea, of Otara, who was killed under the wheels of the neighbour’s Land Cruiser, his mother was reportedly having a cigarette with her partner nearby when it happened.
The newspaper account said the little boy was too young to understand the dangers of playing in driveways. Of course he was; that’s why children need adults to protect them.
I wonder if the coroner will say anything about this. It might sound heartless, but too many small children die because the adults responsible for them seem to lack any awareness of how quickly an everyday situation can turn to tragedy.
* * *
FOR AS long as most of us can remember, there has been a clear differentiation between TV One and TV2.
TV One was the channel for the more mature (and, dare I say it, discerning) viewer. It was where TVNZ chose to show its serious drama and current affairs programmes. TV2, on the other hand, was pitched at a younger audience and was largely about fun and frivolity.
But without any public pronouncements, or at least none that I’m aware of, the state broadcaster appears to have abandoned this long-standing policy. Look at the programme schedules now, and it’s virtually impossible to detect any difference between the offerings on TV One and TV2. Most nights they are an interchangeable selection of crass pseudo-reality shows and formulaic American crime dramas.
My question is this: when will the government abandon the pretence that the taxpayer has any interest in owning a broadcaster that goes for the lowest common denominator and doesn’t even pay lip service to the public service values that were once its raison d’etre?
The government might as well own a chain of sex shops or fast-food outlets. TVNZ has become an embarrassment and should be knocked off to the highest bidder without delay.
* * *
CHRIS CARTER was right about one thing: as things stand, Phil Goff looks as if he’s merely keeping the seat warm for whoever will be the next Labour Party leader.
Mr Goff is a decent, personable man. He was an effective and respected cabinet minister. But he has never looked convincing as leader. His minimal impact in the role shows there’s a big leap from being a capable team player to running the show.
Part of the problem is that as leader, he is under much closer public scrutiny than ever before. He has not responded well to that scrutiny, often looking awkward and self-conscious. His media trainers appear to have advised him to be warm and sympathetic, but often the result is that he looks wishy-washy and ineffectual.
My advice would be to stop trying so hard and be himself. Otherwise he risks becoming the embodiment of the Peter Principle, which holds that employees in an organisation rise to their level of incompetence – in other words, they keep advancing through the hierarchy until eventually they find themselves in a job that’s beyond them.