This week Susan Ryder tries to avoid being so easily distracted . . .
Ex-pats may or may not agree, but something I always found interesting when living overseas was the capacity to privately look at local issues from an outsider’s perspective. And even though I’ve been home for years now, I still like to do that. To take the proverbial step backwards and watch what is going on, as if from a distance. The events of the last few weeks have provided no shortage of material.
The New Zealand media has been obsessed respectively with Susan Boyle, the Swine Flu, the banning of the wearing of gang patches in W(h)anganui and the events in Napier late last week, flooding us to saturation point each time with important information and equally important pictures varying from reporters in front of closed schools to reporters in front of closed roads.
Let’s start with Susan. Exactly one month ago an unknown 47 year old Scot auditioned live on ITV’s popular Britain’s Got Talent, performing ‘I have a dream’ from “Les Miserables.” Rather plain in appearance and not a little ungainly, Susan Boyle strode onto the stage and after a short chat with the judges it was apparent that nobody was expecting much from the oddball character – but clear from the editing that something was about to happen.
However, the following two minutes took Britain and the world by storm. Thanks to the power of the internet a star was, literally, created. Within hours a YouTube video clip had been seen by millions internationally, let alone in the UK. Within days, she was appearing on television shows such as Larry King Live and in contract negotiations with recording company executives. It wasn’t possible to open a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch a televised newscast without her name being mentioned. There are now several online versions of her Britain’s Got Talent performance which have collectively been viewed more than 100 million times.
Media obsession with Susan came to an abrupt end however when news started coming in of pigs, colds and sick people returning from Mexico. Well, she’d had a good run but a frumpy, middle-aged woman turned People’s Pop Princess couldn’t hold a candle to a full-blown pandemic, dammit! So that saw the end of Sue. And bugger third world Mexicans, too, in spite of the rhetoric. Who really cares about them? Hold the front page for the first local fatality!
It never happened. But after mass coverage of dire global predictions that stubbornly refused to materalise, local health authorities and media who ought to have been wiping egg from their faces were handed a lifeline by the government. Specifically, the law allowing W(h)anganui City Council to ban the wearing of gang patches in its environs, neatly diverting public attention from growing ridicule of the H1N1 beat-up.
Fair play to John Key, it was a neat move. If there is one way to get the public back on side, it’s by taking a potshot at a common enemy – with both words applying to the loathsome criminal gangs. But what did the legislation entail?
That answer is best left to Ayn Rand. To paraphrase, she once wrote that the state, when increasing its power, invariably starts with targeting society’s ugliest characters. With the exception of child-abusers, it’s hard to find a better local example than the gangs. And the general public, fed up with years of gang intimidation and blatant disregard for the law, fell right into the trap of applauding the move loudly.
Only it wasn’t really a move at all. Even John Key yesterday on Newstalk ZB admitted that little will change as a result of the legislation. It was a clear example of the government doing something in order to be seen to be doing something.
For as the government is aware, laws currently exist that prohibit intimidation and force. They just need to be enacted upon which would require some hard calls, e.g., police resources being diverted from manning lucrative speed cameras to dealing instead with crime such as theft, rape and intimidation. Instead, the state has now increased its power by telling people what to wear, while individuals still cannot specify the gender of the person they wish to employ or smoke inside their own commercial premises.
Just as the freedom of association debate was hotting up (thanks largely to ACT MP’s Heather Roy and Sir Roger Douglas voting against the bill, and ‘libertarian’ Rodney Hide voting for it) the Napier shootings wiped W(h)anganui and the gang patches from public focus, replacing it with arguments for and against the arming of the police force – and for and against the banning of guns. (Naturally, the small matter of the individual’s right to self-defence has been largely ignored, as has the stupidity of drug laws that encourage violence and directly result in black market profits for criminals. Not nearly sexy enough to get sufficiently distracted by those debates. Far, far too abstract.)
There was, however, one bright spot regarding the latter, from the unlikely source of Deborah Hill-Cone’s Friday evening appearance on Newstalk ZB. “It’s time for a rational debate on our drug laws”, she said, referring to The Economist. She said that she had been reading about Prohibition and what happened with alcohol, “and perhaps it’s the libertarian in me, but I think it makes sense to legalise all drugs” in order to remove the criminal element, etc. Well said, that woman.
So readers, there we have a précis of what New Zealand media has chosen to highlight over the last month, which begs a few questions.
Does anything ever get resolved with so short a general attention span?
Are we so easily manipulated by media and/or government?
Does life really imitate art?!
And what do you think?
Here’s a cartoon:
* * Susan Ryder’s column appears every Tuesday here at NOT PC, except when it doesn’t. * *