Observatory

The Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas

Newsreel archive British Pathé recently put 85,000 old films on YouTube. So I did what any good New Zealander would do – I searched for New Zealand films. My favourite is “Pan Am New Horizons New Zealand”, a promotional film from 1970 depicting New Zealand as a tourist destination.

It portrays and idyllic version of New Zealand, where even on cloudy days the sun is shining and everyone is happy. You know, like how New Zealand is when you’re overseas and drunk and thinking back to your sweet homeland. I have scoured the film for the mightiest moments. Here they are:

1. Citizens on patrol

Traffic cop

This guy doesn’t even look like a proper traffic cop. It looks like he’s stencilled “TRAFFIC” on the front of his bike, bolted on a megaphone, and driven up to the Newmarket Viaduct on his office lunch break where he will spend an hour yelling out some DIY citizen policing. “Oi! Stay in your lane, sunshine!” “Don’t you flick that cigarette ash at me, you mongrel!”

2. Walk shorts

Auckland walk shorts

It was the early 1970s. Women’s fashion was gripped with the miniskirt (or dress), and because New Zealand is a fairly egalitarian society, men’s fashion had its equivalent in the walk short. There is notable variation in styles in this shot. Black Bum on the right has longer shorts with standard knee-length socks, with Bluey on the left flaunts his pins with shorter shorts and lower socks. Well, hello! Meanwhile in the middle, along comes a lady in a minidress, looking surprisingly modestly dressed in comparison.

3. Tanning

Beach babes

They’re probably both covered in coconut oil, or maybe playing it safe with some SPF 5. The tanner on the right has the power combo of a shower cap along with a smear of zinc on the lips and nose for further sun protection. Meanwhile, the ginger friend is quite happy to force her naturally pale skin to the tan in the harsh New Zealand sun. Make the most of it, ladies - the ozone hole will soon be discovered and the Slip, Slop and Slap campaign is only a decade away.

4.Meter maids

Rotorua meter maid

Are you a Rotorua tourist annoyed that the man wants you to pay for parking while you spend up big on sheepskin slippers and paua shell ashtrays? Well, the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association got a couple of local wahine to dress up in plastic tikis and put coins in near expiring meters. Sadly this service no longer exists, but then, nor does the Rotorua Progressive Businessmen’s Association. E hine, hoki mai ra.

5. Stormy weather

Chateau Tongoriro

This is the magic of New Zealand. The bottom half of the shot is two ladies off to play a round of golf at the Chateau Tongariro on a sunny day. The top half of the shot is the most ominous looking storm clouds ever. It doesn’t just seem like, oh, it might rain. No, it seems like there’s going to be a huge once-in-1000-years storm, the rain will never stop, the Chateau will be washed away and everyone’s fun skiing and golfing holiday and will be ruined.

6. Tickets to the gun show

Tattoo man

The kiwi is being all bad-ass with its gnarly claws, but check out the muscular physique of its handler. Was everyone in the 1969 really tanned and fit looking? Not only that but this fellow has some proper navy tattoos, probably done during the war by a crusty old seadog using a rusty nail and a bottle of Indian ink, as part of some sort of booze-fuelled initiation ceremony. You don’t mess with a dude like that.

7. Bloody goths

Giant Kiwi

Meanwhile, the rotating kiwi statue looks thoroughly miserable. Does this reflect the mental state of the person who sculpted it, an expression of inner turmoil in the medium of plaster and chicken wire? As the kiwi turns, it surveys the cold, heartless world that surrounds it.

8. The before time

Christchurch

It’s almost impossible to look at historical footage of Christchurch without a sense of ominous foreboding. While these carefree teens relax on the banks of the Avon for an afternoon waiata, in 42 years time the historic bridge behind them will have sustained a bit of damage, while the Municipal Chambers in the upper right will be severely damaged, propped up with huge steel brackets. Enjoy the delightful folk music while it lasts, girls.

9. Thigh gap

Mt Cook

The film’s voiceover proclaims New Zealand to be “the Switzerland or Norway of the South Seas”. This is cruel, making me think of an alternate New Zealand where Queenstown is an hour’s train journey from Italy or Milford Sound is just a ferry away from Denmark. No, because this is New Zealand, we have ol’ Royce waiting for his wife to come back from the toilet, exposing his thigh to passing tourists like a harlot.

10. Too cool for gloves

Skiier

Just look at that hipster. He’s about to ski down the mountain, but he’s come dressed in a Libertines jacket, like it was 2004, and no gloves because he’s too cool for gloves. Well, don’t come crying to me when you have to have your fingers amputated due to frostbite. This is a cautionary tale.

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Film & TV

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 pural of you.

Complaint 2: That Stan Walker sat on a table

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 a young Maori guy 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 to sit 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.

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Events

It’s OK, mate

I don’t really know much about rugby. I’ve only ever been to one rugby game, which was in 1990, when I wagged my fifth form typing class to see the Hillcrest High first XV play some visiting school. I remember being vaguely impressed by those “line out” things.

17 years later, I haven’t even watched a rugby game on TV. When I see one, it just looks like a bunch of guys running around on a grass field, and sometimes skidding over lines or kicking the ball into places that makes the crowds cheer.

But I’m a New Zealander. I live in New Zealand. And therefore I can’t not be exposed to rugby in some form. It’s everywhere.

And this year I was kind of getting into the Rugby World Cup commentary and discussion over at Public Address’s Some Foreign Field, and enjoyed I the lively podcasts from the lads (and occasional lass) at The Dropkicks and I was thinking that this whole rugby, All Blacks and Rugby World Cup thing might be worth getting into for entertainment purposes.

But, well, I didn’t get around to it, and now the All Blacks, aka “we”, have lost the quarter-final against France and everyone is really really bummed. Or something starting with F that Anton Oliver was bleeped saying on the news tonight.

I understand that the people of Aotearoa are angry with the ref for turning a blind eye to a forward pass and/or the coach for his controversial resting and rotation policy and/or the players for sucking. But despite all the misery (and, oh, there were some miserable people out there on the streets today), people aren’t giving up. They’re not saying, “Oh, we’ll never win the Rugby World Cup!” They’re saying, “Now it’ll be 24 years until we win the cup again!” There’s hope.

The thing is, New Zealand is the one country in the world where rugby union is the be-all, end-all sport. Other countries, like Wales and various Pacific Island nations, do like the egg-ball game, but most countries are hot for football. Only New Zealand has its national identity sewn up so tightly with rugby.

But what I don’t quite understand is why the Rugby World Cup is considered the last word in rugby supremacy. I mean, the Olympics are another quadrennial competition, but we don’t discount the non-Olympic sporting competitions – regional and word championships – that happen in the interim years.

And what happened prior to 1987 when there was no Rugby World Cup? Was there a niggling fear that perhaps, while the All Blacks were quite good, maybe they weren’t actually all that good? Not even!

I reckon if we can love New Zealand, if we be so nationally proud that we call New Zealand Godzone, then surely it’s enough to know in our Aotearoan hearts that the All Blacks are the best rugby team in the world regardless of how they do in any Rugby World Cup competition.

Winning the World Cup should be the icing on the cake, not a definitive statement on how good the All Blacks are.

Oh, cheer up.

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Observatory

If it’s expensive, it must be the good stuff

New Zealanders sad at their country’s team not winning the America’s Cup boat race (again) may be pleased at their fair country’s placing at the top of a different table.

I just came across this recent article in The Economist looking at the price of cocaine around the world.

Not surprisingly it’s cheapest in South America. Britain and the US pay around US$100 a gram, Australia and Japan pay around US$250 a gram, but here’s the truly awesome bit – right at the high end of the scale is New Zealand with US$715 per gram. Yes, Aotearoa New Zealand is home to the most expensive cocaine in the world.

That explains why it seems the only people who seems to use coke in these parts are vile property developers.

The article blames this on New Zealand’s relative isolation from South America, which sounds right. And of course what this means is that when Kiwis want to get their uppity up-up highs, they turn to methamphetamines, usually ones made from over-the-counter cold and flu remedies using that good old-fashioned do-it-yourself, number-eight fencing wire Kiwi ingenuity mentality. Go Kiwi!

Or maybe we should be embarrassed and ashamed by this. I mean, along with wide footpaths with outdoor dining, isn’t one of the hallmarks of a world-class city the prevalence of cocaine? What sort of sophisticated high society doesn’t have uppity up-up cokety coke-coke parties? If we want to lose weight, we have to do so by diet and exercise instead of abusing stimulants. What sort of Third World existence is this?

Actually, in a peculiar way, I think having the most expensive cocaine in the world is something that New Zealanders should be very proud of.

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LJ, Observatory

Americans name-check New Zealanders in UK newspaper alert!

Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D are interviewed in the Guardian’s Film & Music supplement.

6. Choose a nemesis

Black: Right now, I would say our arch-rival is Borat because he’s too fuckin’ funny and his movie’s coming out the same time as ours. That is a source of much fear and dread.

Gass: I saw those new whippersnappers from New Zealand, The Flight of the Conchords.

Black: They’re basically a folk version of the D. And I hear they’re way better-looking than us. Which isn’t saying much. But still.

And “whippersnapper” was used, which is, like, totally my favourite word du jour.

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LJ, Observatory

Distantly unfashionable, unfashionably distant.

There’s an interesting piece in The Observer where Zoe Lazarus, a trend analyst, talks about stuff. The bit that stood out for me was this paragraph:

“The Germans are quite stylish now, but the Austrians and Kiwis are generally the last to pick up on stuff.”

Well, how about that? (OMG, how embarrassing!)

I’ve always thought that even though New Zealand is incredibly geographically distant, that modern technology, communication and transport would keep us close enough to the rest of the world to keep up with what’s hot and cool.

But now that I think about it, New Zealand does seem a little slow to latch onto trends.

Take the mullet, if you will.

I remember in 1995 when the second issue of the Beastie Boys’ “Grand Royal” magazine had an extensive feature article on mullets. This is thought of by many as sparking the mullet revival. It was very cool to mock mullets. Then once mocking mullets became passe, mullets then became fashionable and the ironic mullet was born. In 2001 when I was in Melbourne I saw a photographer sporting an ironic mullet. It seemed strange, yet cool.

Last year, on Space, Hugh Sundae let his hair grow into a mullet. This caused much merriment and confusion on the Space forums. Because, um, weren’t mullets meant to be uncool and wasn’t Hugh meant to be cool?!!??!?!

This year the Mint Chicks released a video for their song “Licking Letters” that included their drummer with an ironic mullet nestled on his shoulders. This also caused confusion amongst people who weren’t sure if it was hot or not.

Oh, poor, distant, backwards Aotearoa!

I think this slowness to latch onto new trends and ideas has to do with population. I reckon that for most of us we don’t try new things until a certain number of other people have adopted them before us. For example, when I was 17 and living in Hamilton I wore a pair of Levi’s 505s to school. I was the first in the whole of the non-uniform wearing six and seventh form to wear a pair of baggy trousers (and a friend told me that they were too baggy and obviously needed to be taken in), but I wore the 505s knowing that all the cool kids in Auckland had 505s on their arses.

Ok, so let’s say that an average person won’t adopt a new trend until, say 100 other people have done it first. In New Zealand that’s 0.000025% of the population (which is a pretty small percentage), however, in the UK 100 people is a piddly 0.0000017% of the population (tiny!), so a in country with a larger population, new trends and idea are adopted much faster than countries with smaller populations.

Meanwhile, Zoe the trend analyst says, “Flat tops will replace mullets – we’ve taken the mullet as far as it can go.”

Ok, so we should see the death of the mullet finally reach New Zealand in 2007. But by then I will be in Berlin, as it is one of the “new centres of creative and forward-thinking people.”

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Film & TV, LJ

Pomme de terre

I’m impressed with the anonymous sources that the New Zealand Herald uses to spice up its news stories.

A few weeks ago, in an article about a guy who was badly burned during the filming of a reality TV show, a source was quoted as saying that the fellow was “a really unhappy customer”. That’s really masterful understatement. I like it when anonymous sources cop an attitude.

Then in today’s Herald, in an article about Jonah Lomu’s secret wedding, a source was quoted as saying, “I guess it was a nice wedding but I’m not the wedding type.”

Wow, the anonymous source is not the wedding type. I would like to see such snippets of personality come through in future articles. For example:

A source close to the MP said that late night drinking was often common. “After a late night in the debating chamber the vodka would come out. I am lactose intolerant, enjoy the films of Akira Kurosawa and I am an unfulfilled submissive.”

It’s about time that anonymous sources get the recognition that they deserve.

My favourite daily half hour of TV at the moment is Batman, which is on Monday to Friday at 6 pm on Prime. Today’s villain was The Minstral and while Batman was at police HQ discussing the fiendish antics of his latest nemesis, Commissioner Gordon commented that the crook was, “A minstral who is also an electronic genius. What a strange combination!” Like, OMG, doesn’t that just describe makers of electronica. (No, not really, but it’s a good quote.)

It’s funny watching the old Batman. I reckon it’s about halfway through the run. The fresh early excitement is gone. The dialogue is starting to get a little bit self-referential and sarcastic, all of the villains have a sexy woman in their crew of goons, but it’s not quite at the dire final season where Batgirl (almost the Scrappy-Do of the series) was introduced.

“Space” have a weekly feature called “New Zealand Pride”. They pick out little moments from overseas movies, TV shows, etc where New Zealand is mentioned. Months ago I submitted an idea for it and tonight it was used. There’s a scene in the David Mamet film “Heist” where Gene Hackman’s character has acquired two false New Zealand passports. If you look really closely you can see that the city of issue is “New Castle” which is not in New Zealand. See, if I was a customs official Gene Hackman wouldn’t be going anywhere.

I saw “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” today. I’d seen it before in gay Paris, so it was novel seeing it without French subtitles. I also wasn’t sick, so I didn’t cough all the way through it. There were a bunch of giggly girls who girlishly giggled whenever Sam Rockwell’s barenaked buttocks were shown. It’s good film. It’s beautifully photographed (cinematographed?) and I am easily won over by the kind of tricky love that Chuck and Penny have. And it has the infamous “in the ass” segment of “The Newlywed Game”.

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Observatory

The freedom of 5-0

(Please excuse the purple prose. I’ve been listening to too many television sports commentators and I’m too tired to use original language.)

The America’s Cup is funded by bored billionaires. Team New Zealand wasn’t the official team of New Zealand. It represented the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron and was sponsored by a bunch of large corporations, most of which have foreign owners.

It’s not about patriotism. Loving New Zealand does not mean having to support all New Zealand sports teams. Patriotism takes in the wider picture. I think it’s about having faith and trust in your country and being proud of it no matter what sporting achievements have – or haven’t – occurred.

Victory parties and parades are nice, easy feel-good events that generate shitloads of goodwill. It’s a lot harder to lose. It doesn’t have to be graceful – being angry and throwing stuff is ok – but the way to lose is to admit defeat. To not try and blame, to just realise that a loss has taken place.

(I sound like a therapist)

The Cup is going. It’s going to be relocated on the other side of the world, far away from the ocean. What an enormous, liberating thing for New Zealand this will be.

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Music

Proper Top Ten

Recently the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) announced the top ten New Zealand songs of the past 75 years, as voted by its members and a group of 100 others. Not everyone agreed with the winners, and various publications have come up with their own “we was robbed” lists of people who they reckon should have been on the list.

I too have been thinking about worthy recipients who seem to have been inexplicably been left of the list. So here is my list of what I reckon truly are the top ten New Zealand songs of all time:

10. Zed – Daisy
People are always going on about Zed being a pretty boy band, but I’d never really given that much thought until I saw the “Renegade Fighter” video. And oh, yes, Zed’s bass player. He’s niiiice. But anyway, I think that “Daisy” is worthy of being on this because Zed cleverly rhyme “cow, yeah” with “go figure.” Also, their bass player is a spunk.

9. Supergroove – Can’t Get Enough
I was trying to decide between this one and “You got to know”. Even though the latter has plenty of dodgy lyrics, in the end I picked “Can’t get enough” because it’s funny when you change the chorus to “can’t get it up, can’t get it up, no!” Also of significance, they pronounce ‘can’t’ the New Zealand way, where as many lesser bands would put on a bad American accent.

8. Tex Pistol and Rikki Morris – Nobody Else
Remember the video for this one? It was more ironic than the Alanis’ “Ironic” video. The song was called “Nobody Else,” but the video featured the dude singing it, his brother, his wife, a choir of children, then a behind-the-scenes sequence showing the entire production crew. Well yeah, I don’t think there was anybody else left. So for a textbook example of irony, this song gets included.

7. Double J and Twice the T – Mod Rap
This song is actually officially known as “She’s a Mod/Mod Rap,” but we can’t count the “She’s a mod” part of it because that was not written by a New Zealander. Instead I’ve chosen to honour the rap from this song by these two lads. They skilfully transformed the song from a pop song about a mod chick, to an ode to their mother, a former mod chick who was bringing her modness to the dinner table. There was also a beat-boxing solo.

6. Fan Club – Sensation
Remember when laser light displays in nightclubs were really new? I don’t, but I like to think of “Sensation” as being the soundtrack to mid-late eighties night clubbing. The killer synth intro, the catchy chorus, and, of course, “bright lights, good times!” The Fan Club paved the way for other bands of guys with dodgy hair, fronted by a good looking chick. Without Fan Club there would be no Stella, no Fur Patrol, and certainly no Tadpole.

5. Delta – Slather
Exploding onto the Auckland rock scene with their bombastic single “Slather,” Delta sadly didn’t survive long enough to release an album. But “Slather” made its mark on the New Zealand music scene like a red hot branding iron on skin. Delta may have broken up, but the rockin’ scar tissue of their power remains.

4. Blackjack – I Don’t Have A Gun
Feeling shocked and betrayed by the death of grunge rock icon Kurt Cobain, Hamilton’s hardest working rock unit penned this tender ballad. Cleverly rhyming “pain” with “Cobain,” the song deals with the devastation that Cobain’s death caused to the world of hard working rock units. After all, Kurt said he didn’t have a gun, but he shot himself.

3. Push Push – Trippin’
So imagine a school dance, circa 1991. There’s a crappy covers band playing crappy covers. The band takes a break and a mix tape with the current hits of the day comes on. Just as “Trippin’” starts, the band is ready to come pack on, so the tape is stopped. The crowd boos, and yells “put the tape back on!” The tape is put back on. The crowd rocks out. That is why “Trippin’” is worthy of inclusion on this list.

2. MSU – Bob
“Hi, my name is Bob. I have got no job. People call me a knob, and they smack me in the gob.” Allegedly called “Bob” because nothing rhymes with Rohan Marx, “Bob,” by Hamilton good time fun band Mobile Stud Unit has a special place in the hearts of many student radio listeners since the song first came to the public’s attention in 1993. For the sheer joy and drunken revelry that “Bob” evokes in the face of adversity, “Bob” had surely earned its place on this list.

1. MC OJ and the Rhythm Slave – Joined at the Hip Hop
The question wasn’t “should OJ/Slave be in the top ten,” or “should one of their songs be number one” but rather, “which song of theirs?” I think “Joined at the hip hop” is the obvious choice. It laid down the beats and laid down the law. It established the rappin’ duo in the New Zealand music scene and paved the way for all white boy rappers who came after them.

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Observatory

Choice

One of my favourite words is choice. Not as in, “you have a choice between red or purple.” Not as in, “choice apples! 50c a kilo!” But rather choice as in “choice, bro.”

The first time I heard the word choice being used with this meaning was in 1984. One day one of the bad-arse Maori boys, who knew all the rad breakdancing moves, started saying it. At first I thought he was saying “Joyce” (who’s Joyce?), but as soon as I figured out that it was choice, I too started describing things as being choice.

Any good Kiwi slangtionary will have choice amongst its list. Various synonyms are given to help define it. Words such as excellent, nice, cool, awesome, and very good are usually suggested, but none of them really define the true spirit that choiceness is. The meaning of choice is a classic example of, “if you have to ask, you’ll never know.” Choice is choice.

Choice is really part of life as a New Zealander. It’s almost like it’s part of the genetic make up. Almost that you can’t help say it, and sometimes you say it and you’re not even aware of it. I found these two examples of the ingrained effect of choice.

This is from a discussion on benbrown.com, where someone had accused Ben of fabricating a discussion between him and Ani:

KMB: I don’t know if Ani (a Kiwi) would really say “Swell!” Maybe “neat!” or “choice!”, but “swell”?

animoller: Hahahaha, you people are morons. Of course he didn’t fake it. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve heard all day. I do say swell. I do not say “choice”.

benbrown: You do so say “choice!”

dakota: Yeah, I’ll have to side with Ben. You say choice.

And this is from deangray.org, where he describes doing a skydive:

Before I could gather my bearings or muster my senses back into order, my instructor carefully pulled the goggles from my eyes.

My instructor: “How was that?”
Me: “It was.. uh.. choice.”

“Choice” was the only superlative my brain and mouth could manage at that particular point.

See? Choice is there, whether you like it or not. Choiceness flows through your veins, it is in the air that you breathe! Choice is everywhere.

But there have been times where I’ve felt self-conscious about saying choice a lot. I’ve tried to stop, but somehow it just wasn’t possible.

So I eventually realised that choice is part of me and my cultural heritage. I don’t have folk dancing, weaving or pottery to define who I am culturally, but I have choice and all its associated choiceness. Yes, choice is choice.

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