Wednesday, February 15, 2012

It's not quite "Welcome back, Winston", but ...

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, February 14.)

A COLLECTIVE groan went up when Winston Peters was re-elected in November. I was one of those doing the groaning.

I wrote at the time that Mr Peters had exhausted his credibility several times over. But here we are, just three months down the track, and like many other people, I’m almost grateful that he’s back in Parliament.

Only Mr Peters has sufficient disregard for political orthodoxy to question the apparent rorting going on over the whanau ora scheme and the allocation of taxpayer money for family reunions – sorry, hui – under the inventive banner of “Whanau Integration, Innovation and Engagement”.

It has long been obvious that Maori organisations are held to entirely different standards of accountability when it comes to the spending of public money. That’s the key issue here: not whether whanau ora is a good idea (it could well be), but accountability.

But National is looking the other way because it doesn’t want to jeopardise its fragile relationship with the Maori Party, Labour won’t utter a sound because it’s intent on winning back Maori support, and the Greens are sitting on their hands because … well, because the tangata whenua are sacrosanct and the Greens consider all state spending on oppressed minorities to be automatically virtuous.

There was a time when ACT would have kicked up a fuss but those days are passed. So it falls to Parliament’s master huffer and puffer to hold the government’s feet to the fire, and thank God for that.

When Mr Peters tires of pursuing whanau ora minister Tariana Turia, perhaps he could turn his attention to the Maori tribal elite’s greedy, opportunistic demand for preferential treatment in the disposal of state assets, for there are justifiable fears that John Key’s “elegant solution” will ultimately involve rolling over and doing a sweetheart deal with corporate Maoridom rather than face a costly, drawn-out battle through the courts.

* * *

WHEN will TVNZ and TV3 come clean about the secret cloning plant that supplies them with female reporters?

It’s obvious to anyone watching the news on either network that there’s an assembly line somewhere producing a steady stream of young women journalists whose only point of difference is cosmetic.

Hair colour, facial features and complexion may vary (you can do amazing things these days with prosthetic makeup), but they are all of a similar age and pleasing to the eye.

They speak with the same gushy little-girl voices and use the same peculiar vocal inflexions and wince-inducing vowel sounds. All place the emphasis on prepositions and conjunctions (such as “of”, “and” and “in”) instead of nouns and verbs, and all share the same propensity for inserting extra vowels in words where they don’t belong (for example, “unknowen” and “for-wah” for “four”).

They even share similar physical mannerisms, using strange hand and arm gestures to embellish their story-telling. It’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that they must share a common genetic ancestor.

Like something out of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, these pretty young things have gradually displaced more mature female reporters. Male journalists are vanishing too, save for a few carefully groomed young men – such as TVNZ’s boy wonder Jack Tame – who were plucked straight from school by talent spotters looking for boyish visual appeal.

Only in out-of-the-way places like Christchurch, Queenstown and Wanganui do a few grizzled old-school TV reporters hang on, having successfully evaded the attention of the marketing advisers who dictate the tone of the modern TV news bulletin.

I’m convinced that somewhere a closely guarded facility houses a laboratory-created model from whom all these female reporters have been cloned. It could be deep in the Waitakeres but it’s just as likely to be Miramar, for I feel certain that Weta Workshop is somehow involved.

* * *

IT’S A VAIN hope, but one of my wishes for New Zealand in 2012 is that we be spared so-called reality TV shows such as Police 10/7 and Motorway Patrol.

Television at its best has the power to uplift but it can also drag viewers down. These shows take a perverse delight in doing the latter, bombarding us with images of no-hopers and bottom-dwellers whose lives are a desperate mess and whose powers of communication are so limited that every third word has to be bleeped out.

The insidious effect of such exposure is to reduce us to the level of the participants. We are desensitised to appalling behaviour, gradually coming to view it as normal and therefore acceptable.

We are also conditioned to the socially corrosive view that New Zealand is infested by dysfunctional and dangerous people when in fact they are a tiny minority.

Police 10/7 offers a figleaf of moral justification by inviting viewers to help the police catch criminals. But like Motorway Patrol, much of its content is voyeuristic, demeaning and heavily dependent on schadenfreude for its appeal.

A programme about ordinary citizens behaving well would more accurately reflect reality. Of course no one would watch it – but is that justification for so relentlessly exposing society’s ugly underbelly?

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