Thursday, August 24, 2006

Guest Blog: Country Images

End of an Era: Pallbearers carry the Maori queen during her funeral
Commentary by Country Bumpkin
Not since the death of Princess Diana have the airwaves been filled with so many images and the dispensed wisdom of politicians, as in the mourning and funeral for the Maori Queen, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu. (An event recorded, interestingly, on my cousin’s weblog, Kiko’s House, but hardly anywhere else outside New Zealand.) It’s been an astonishing few days, because in the course of a normal day one barely remembers this politically invented and organised indigenous royalty.

Nevertheless, important milestones bring fresh insights and the lingering impression for me was the extent to which non-Maori New Zealanders now take an active interest in these matters. More importantly, the week’s worth of images were filled with a prosperous and self-confident Maori constituency who travelled to Turangawaewae Marae to pay their respects and take part in the inter-tribal negotiations to appoint a successor. The new king, Dame Te Ata’s eldest son Tuheitia Paki, looked like a stunned mullet as he sat for the photographers following his selection. And well he might, because the duties of a Maori monarch are complex and difficult, given the Byzantine character of Maori politics.

There has been understandable criticism of the media torrent which marked the event, which went on and on and on and on. The main north-south highway and railway were closed all day at Taupiri Mountain, the burial site for prominent Maori where the two frantically busy transport arteries are squeezed between the river and the mountain. But the pictures of warriors carrying her coffin up the steep hillside, helped by tow-ropes drawn by strong young men, are unforgettable.

Meanwhile, the business of the country goes on, and we are blessed with many and complex bureaucratically-organised protections against injury and offence. If you hear or see something you don’t like on the radio or TV, you can complain to the Broadcasting Standards Authority. That can be very rewarding for the rest of us, as the Dominion Post recorded on 19 August:

A square dancer upset by a radio show comment that the Green Party was a party of square dancers has been given the brush-off by the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

Mark Savill filed a formal complaint against "Paul Holmes Breakfast" on Newstalk ZB, objecting to the comment that square dancers were associated with the Greens. He said it breached standards of good taste and decency and denigrated square dancers.

But the Authority ruled the good taste and decency standard was irrelevant and, as for denigration, ‘square dancers are not an identifiable section of the community to which this guideline applies.’

A complaint against
Solid Gold FM was also dismissed. A breakfast host told a joke about an Indian arriving at the gates of heaven. The angel says, ‘Yes? What do you want’ and the Indian says. ‘I’m here for Jesus.’ The angel shouts out, ‘Jesus, your taxi’s here!’

John McGeechan argued the joke reduced Indians to a ‘comical race of cab drivers,’ and dehumanised them.

The Authority said it had some concerns about racial stereotyping in the joke, but there was nothing negative about being a taxi driver.

Makes me glad I’m not a square dancer. There was a message on my mobile voicemail the other day. It was my firewood supplier, who agreed to my price for a cord of pine firewood, and asked that I deliver it as soon as possible. Would I please call him back to confirm I’d received the message.

It’s been a terribly rough and cold winter, so I certainly had some sympathy for him, and I called him back to say so and to explain my difficulty in fulfilling his instructions. It’s just not economic to deliver firewood 100km, especially when you’re not in the business. He, being no fool, quickly realised he had made a mistake and we parted laughing heartily together. Until, that is, I found another voicemail a few days later from the fellow telling me that he’d left a cheque for me in his letterbox. So, I rang him again and you can pretty much figure out the rest for yourselves.

It’s lovely having a new and much faster computer, as I reported a couple of editions ago, but my word it chews through broadband like there’s no tomorrow. In exchange for such luxuries as Skype software — and now I can see you and you can see me, you lucky devils — you have to top up your stock of fast Internet. I bit the bullet quite early on the piece and it’s working well, but I notice that a quarter of the way through the present billing month I’ve already burned up more than a quarter of my broadband. Sheesh!

You may have noticed that there’s been a war since I last wrote. My attitude to the issues which caused it, and its outcome, needs no elaboration though perhaps one day soon I’ll elaborate my growing and rich contempt for the United Nations and its secretary-general. But in one of those tiny consequences which come with such major events, my wife and I were invited across the street to an expensive and toney school for Girls. The original proposition put to us by the chaplain was that we would tell the girls about Judaism. (Almost none of the Year 10 girls we spoke to — three classes of them — had ever met a Jewish person, or at least didn’t know whether they had.) Because this was happening during the Hezbollah war, the chaplain — a young and rather stylish woman — felt we should make it the centrepiece of our presentation. After all, gave some relevance to the TV images the girls were seeing every evening.

And what an interesting discussion it turned out to be. Reduced to 25 words or less, if we had been TV journalists we would have come away very depressed and anxious. These 14-year old girls were not in the least convinced by what TV news had been telling them. Furthermore, a solid majority said that if they experienced an act of terrorism in peaceful and bucolic Wairarapa, they would immediately respond with main force.

I’ve described all too often my hopes of winning Lotto, if only because of the hugely improbable coincidences which have marked our lives in recent years. Alert readers will remember my account last time of finding my father and me mentioned in a history of Kristallnacht by Martin Gilbert. Ever hopeful, I queued behind a woman in a supermarket the other Sunday, where she presented her tickets from the night before to the Lotto ticket girl for checking. “That’s $192 you’ve won,” said the girl, and I thought (my attitudes being shaped by all the “Not a winning ticket” messages the computer displays when I breast up to the counter) the ticket owner took it all rather calmly. “God, that’s irritating!” I said with some feeling.

A very pleasant conversation with the lady ensued, in which she explained to me that she and her girlfriend had won many thousands of dollars over the years, and gosh, she certainly wished me lots of luck.

Funny thing. It didn’t work.

(Photo by Nigel Marple/Reuters)

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