Thursday, July 4, 2013

Creators of tosh should bow to Peters

(First published in The Dominion Post, June 28.)
SOME people are in the fortunate position of being able to write or say almost anything and get away with it.
Take art critics, for example. Most contemporary art is, almost by definition, incapable of being explained coherently. It follows that a critic can interpret it any way he or she chooses and sound authoritative, at least to the gullible.

Often the artists themselves have no idea what their works mean. Some of the more honest ones admit it.
The critic therefore has total freedom to decide what the artist’s creation represents – and if the critique is phrased in words whose exact meaning is impossible to pin down, so much the better.

Much the same applies to wine writers, some of whom are in danger of displacing art critics as the most infamous creators of pretentious tosh.
Because the flavour, aroma and texture of wine is subtle, nuanced and hard to capture in words, a wine writer can use outrageously fanciful descriptive terms and appear knowledgeable. I know, because I used to be one.

Then there’s Winston Peters. Even art critics and wine writers should bow to him as the acknowledged master of verbal flummery.
Words cease to have any meaning when they tumble out of Mr Peters’ mouth. The sounds that emerge resemble recogniseable language but they reveal nothing.

It follows that it’s usually pointless trying to get sense out of him. An interview with him is as futile as a dog chasing its tail. Yet journalists keep on trying, as John Campbell bravely did on Campbell Live a couple of weeks ago.
Campbell is a very accomplished broadcaster, but perhaps he needs to be gently reminded that Albert Einstein defined insanity as trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

* * *

THE FUNNIEST programme on television so far this year wasn’t a comedy. It was Bear Grylls tackling the wilderness of the central North Island.
I’ve often suspected Grylls was a bit of a fraud but could never be sure. He’s not a complete fraud, because he obviously possesses genuine survival skills and attempts dangerous feats that you and I wouldn’t.

But you’re always aware, watching him, that there’s a cameraman recording his stunts and sometimes probably taking even greater risks than Grylls does. And I’ve always wondered just how wild and inhospitable the terrain he tackles really is.
Now I know. It was hilarious watching Grylls indulging in heroics on the volcanic plateau as if it was one of the last untamed wildernesses on the planet – a place where his life was in danger with every step.

It wouldn’t have surprised me if most of the time, just out of the picture, there was a gaggle of Japanese tourists, a herd of inquisitive cows or an espresso caravan; possibly even a Four Square store and a busy highway.
Watching Grylls will never be quite the same again.

* * *

IT WAS good to see Peter Dunne looking defiant on TV3’s The Nation last weekend – or at least as defiant as a mild soul like Dunne is capable of looking.
Yes, he behaved stupidly, but it’s hard to disagree with Dunne’s statement that he experienced an extreme form of muckraking.

He could well attract a wave of sympathy after the hammering he’s taken. New Zealanders are fair-minded people and many would view the recent gang-up against him with distaste.
It’s a sad reflection on the state of politics that one of the least offensive people in Parliament should be the target of such malice. Apparently we don’t like such people and relish a chance to bring them down.

Many voters dislike him because they see him as an opportunist – an each-way man, bending with the political current. But there’s another way of looking at him.
I see him as being anchored firmly at the dead centre of New Zealand politics. It’s the two major parties, rather than Dunne, that wobble around ideologically as they scramble to capture that vital middle ground.

* * *

WHAT IS it about public transport that incites the quasi-religious fervour exhibited almost daily in the correspondence columns of this newspaper?
Maybe I’ve just unwittingly put my finger on it. There’s evidence that human beings are psychologically hard-wired to need belief systems. Organised religion once met that need, but it has been in decline for decades.

Perhaps the people who once embraced religion now find their purpose in proselytising for light rail, trams, trains or trolley buses. Certainly their advocacy is as ardent as that of the most pious Bible-basher.
Whatever the explanation, they are thunderously boring. If Wellington’s local government elections are going to be dominated by these single-issue obsessives, the entire populace will switch off.

No comments: