This is not America

After episodes of the X Factor screen, I like to go to their Facebook page to see what everyone is complaining about. And there are complaints. After the first bootcamp episode, there were two very New Zealand-specific moans, both involving Stan Walker.

Complaint 1: That Stan says “youse”, which is not proper English

Youse might not be formal English, but there’s nothing improper or incorrect about it. Millions of people around the world use youse, particularly in Ireland, parts of England, New York, Philadelphia, Australia and New Zealand.

English is an imperfect mongrel language and sometimes the “you as singular and plural” thing doesn’t work. If I walk in a room with five people in it and say “I want you to come with me,” do I mean everyone or just one person? If I said “I want y’all/yiz/you lot/yous/you guys/[your local variant goes here],” it would be clear what I meant.

Even though “youse” is in common use in New Zealand, we’re not used to hearing people say it on the telly. It sounds weird, so people think there must be something wrong with it. But it’s just another boring old way of expressing an unambiguous plural of you.

Complaint 2: That a judge sat on a table

Near the end of the second Boot Camp show, the judges were huddled around their table, choosing their favourites. Judge Mel could be seen sitting perched on the table. Oh no! Why didn’t Stan tell her off?

In any other X Factor production, this would not be an issue. But in New Zealand, many people – both Maori and non-Maori – consider sitting on a table to be tapu. It’s considered very bad form to put your bottom on a surface where you could also eat.

In this modern world of Spray n’ Wipe, one could argue that the practical reason for this taboo isn’t an issue anymore. But traditions stick with people and seeing someone on the telly sitting on a table is very upsetting for people who’ve been brought up to believe such an act is wrong.

It’s not the first time a reality show has got in trouble for this. In 2011 MasterChef New Zealand seated some contestants on a table. Since then they’ve put the back row of the masterclass on bar stools.

Maybe both these complaints have more in common than at first glance. They both stem from Stan doing something that violates a strongly held belief of some viewers. It’s wrong to say “youse”. It’s wrong not tell off your fellow judge for sitting on a table. There’s some logic behind both, but it’s more about the discomfort of seeing or hearing a tradition disregarded.

But I feel encouraged by this drama. There’s a concern that TV3 is just using an overseas format to produce cookie-cutter TV that doesn’t capture New Zealand culture. But the uniquely New Zealand friction the X Factor is causing in some viewers is evidence that something very Aotearoan is happening in this TV programme.

Mai FM

My car radio can only pick up two FM stations. The talkback station Newstalk ZB and the urban pop of Mai FM. I listen to Mai FM. The music’s ok but I still can’t stand Ja Rule. He really needs to give up the pop-rap thing and make bad films where he pours malt liquor on his dead homies’ graves.

But anyway, Mai has its own culture. A sort of South Pacific wannabe gangsta thing. It’s fun and there’s a real sense of enthusiasm and enjoyment. And unlike other radio stations, Mai FM’s DJs don’t annoy me or make me yell “shut up and play some music!”.

After listening to Mai for the last six months, I have learned the following things:

Area codes

In America there’s hundreds of area codes. When Ludacris and Nate Dogg perform “Area Codes” and brag about how they got “hoes in different area codes”, it’s fairly impressive (they must do a lot of gardening). But in New Zealand there are five regional area codes. So having five hoes isn’t really all that impressive.

So if someone rings up Mai FM and wants to give a shout-out to their area code, shouting out to the oh-nine would include the north of the North Island, from Auckland upwards. And that’s a lot of people to be shouting out to. I think there may be a quota on the limit of people who may be shouted out.

To get around this major problem, instead shouting out to the area code, instead the first three numbers of a person’s phone number are considered to be their “area code”. For example, if I lived in Otara I may wish to give a shout-out to all my crew in the two-seven-four. If I lived in Kelston I would be representin’ the eight-one-eight, which would be extra cool because that’s the same as one of the Los Angeles area codes.

As it is, if I were to give I shout-out based on my phone number I’d be doing it to the six-three-oh, which would be a waste of time because most of my massive are in the oh-two-one (that’s the Vodafone mobile area code, y’all).

Shout-Outs

An important part of the Mai FM listening experience is the interactive audience participation activity known as the shout-out. This is not unlike when I used to ring up Kiwi FM and dedicate songs “to Catherine P from Matthew K”. Only, you know, they’re not called dedications, they’re shout-outs and therefore are hip and urban.

I think they have an answer phone type of set up where you can ring up and leave your shout-out. Then someone goes through and picks out the ones that aren’t obscene and they get played on air. It’s very exciting to hear one of the DJs say that the shout-outs are “being processed”.

A typical shout-out will go a bit like this:

“Um, I just want to give a shout-out to Tahli and Ana and Pete and Darius and Kelly and Sali and all of the notorious Mt Roskill Intermediate southside crew. Keepin’ it real.”

From listening to the shout-outs it appears that most 11- and 12-year-olds are ruthless criminal gangsta villains, flakin’ and perpetratin’. Yeah, that’s what I remember intermediate school being like.

Representing

If you ever ring up for a competition, near the end of the call the DJ will probably ask you what you are representing. The expected answer does not include any of the following:

  • That you are representing Mt Roskill Intermediate in the interschools athletic sports tournament.
  • That you are representing all that wrong with modern society.
  • That you are representing yourself as you believe the court-appointed defence lawyer is incompetent.

Instead you are supposed to say that you represent one of the following:

  • Your “area code”, i.e. the first three digits of your phone number.
  • Your side. This will usually be southside or westside. Occasionally it will be eastside, but no one ever says northside. I’m not sure what happens if you live in the inner city suburbs. Centralside just doesn’t sound right.
  • Your suburb. But only if it’s a cool, urban suburb. Like, don’t say Ponsonby, say Grey Lynn. Don’t say Botany Downs, stretch over a few kilometres and say East Tamaki.

So if I ever rang up to go in the draw for some Dickies pants, and the DJ asked me what I was representing, I could say:

  • The six-three-oh
  • South central AK (I don’t have a side but is in south central Auckland)
  • Mangere (yeah, I don’t live there, but it sounds cooler than Mt Eden).

Bonus hint

Most competition draws have some sort of skill component. This is usually a trivia question, but sometimes the winner will be required to sing a bit of an Ashanti song. I recommend that you familiarise yourself with the opening lines of “Foolish” and work on your best sweet soul seductress voice.

Valentine’s Day

It’s around this time of year (id est, a couple of weeks before Valentine’s day) that two things happen.

1. Companies remind people that it is a couple of weeks before Valentine’s day, so they had ought to buy something to show their loved one how much they love their loved one. Suggested gift ideas are things like flowers, greeting cards, chocolates, cuddly toys, jewellery (i.e. stuff that men give to women). I’m guessing that it’s mainly stuff that men give women because if you asked a bloke what he wanted for Valentine’s day his reply would probably be “a root” and no one really makes all that much money from that.

2. Single people get into cynical mode and start going on about how it’s really just an excuse for commercialism and that all how they feel sickened whenever they see lovely dovey couples in love being all snuggly wuggyly and holding hands etc. When someone says “You’re saying that because you’re jealous” the cynical single person then gets really depressed and doesn’t stop being depressed until February 15.

It’s funny how Valentine’s day causes such mixed emotions with people. We certainly don’t see the same sort of ruckus around, say, Arbour Day. Just imagine people being like “Well, no one planted a tree at my place, but I don’t really care anyway, it’s not like I wanted one, I mean, it would have probably been nice to have a little shrub or something, but yeah, it’s all environmental bullshit anyway…”

My own experience with Valentine’s day has been one of very non-involvement. Valentine’s are things that people give to other people. I neither give or receive. Rock on. Last Valentine’s Day I was ill with glandular fever and wuv was the last thing on my mind.

I think this may be because I am lacking the gene that causing appreciation of things like flowers, chocolates and stuffed animals. I’m happy being ambivalent on Valentines day.

So this year there will be commercial Valentines day, and there will be the cynical anti-Valentines day. And I’ll be somewhere else doing something else like planting a tree.