Shouldn’t reality have a better script?
Until recently, like most people, I had assumed that politics in New Zealand was mostly made up on the spot. I even thought it was actual people arguing about the governance of a real country – though I admit nobody said so explicitly.
But the evidence is now too strong. I have to face the painful truth that it’s all scripted.
Sure, it’s still entertaining, but I’ve found the storylines and the behaviour of the characters less and less realistic.
The scene was probably set by the campaign around the Hobbit, with everyone shamelessly blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality. If we’re officially saying our past was written by JRR Tolkien, what might that imply about the present?
At Wellington Airport: If my luggage could talk, it would apparently have been driven insane by its time in the hold.
But it all actually clicked when Hekia Parata wrote to the Press in response to a Joe Bennett column, and denied she had finally realised the importance of teachers.
Now, I just don’t think that’s something an actual politician would do. But on the other hand, I know for a fact that being able to write your own feed lines is a great temptation.
And think about it. A minister who stubbornly carries on with their plan no matter with anyone says – or the trials were dismal failures. Who responds to criticism by drowning their opponent in a torrent of impenetrable bureaucratese. Who operates inside a cloud of secrecy so dark even she doesn’t know what’s going on.
I’m not saying Hekia Parata is created and scripted by Joe Bennett. I’m just saying, if Joe Bennett was writing a politician, that’s the one he would write.
I’m not complaining. I happen to think the Novopay thing is the best storyline in ages (even counting the MSD kiosk one with the inscrutable antihero) and the reveal has been jolly exciting. I’m just saying the whole thing is obviously made up.
Someone is clearly writing this stuff.
It’s not me.
I want in.
How do I get a job with this nest of genius satirists?
By the way, I don’t think this is a spoiler. Consider Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi in the marriage bill select committee, asking who in a gay couple would be the wife and wondering what would happen to the populations. Or Taito Phillip Field saying the Labour Party is infested with homosexuality.
Would it be any less artistically satisfying if you knew those incidents were the work (and I’m just guessing, but come on…) of the people behind the @drbrash parody Don Brash Twitter account?
It would not. It would be better. I feel like I’ve been missing the joke all this time.
It’s obviously satire. The lack of depth – everyone only understanding the issue enough to further their own argument. The absence of subtlety. The tenuous grip of practical matters. The ludicrous exaggeration, with everyone continuously parodying their own worst qualities. The comical incoherence of style and action. All signs point to shenanigans.
Does it pay? Do you get NZ on Air funding?
I’m not saying it’s perfect, mind. I think I have something to contribute. I think I have the skill to achieve the slapstick effects you’re after, but with a higher degree of realism.
The older generation of satirists came out of newsrooms, but there seems to have been some kind of handover to a new team without so much journalistic experience. Bloggers, probably. Artsy types who don’t have that strong a grip of policy issues. Don’t quite grasp how it’s supposed to work. They’ll be the ones who decided to make a renegade German file sharer the most politically effective person in the country.
But they miss important details. Like how the ministers keep talking about the Treasury’s surplus as if that’s the same thing as fixing the national economy. That’s silly.
Or that business giving away waivers for immigration visa requirements on the back of Wall-Mart receipts or whatever it was. This thing is supposed to be set in a first world county. It just beggars credibility. An actual electorate wouldn’t stand for it.
This might not sound all very hip and cynical but in actual countries politics isn’t just continuous barefaced attempts to manipulate surface appearances; some administrative sausage sizzle where we sell the scorched remains of our pretentions to good governance and our integrity to a consortium of sweaty hedge fund traders. If you want your audience to believe these characters are actually involved in government they need to show some sign of caring about real policies and their affect on the real world.
I suspect the writing team could do with another pair of hands, especially if, just for example, they had full time jobs as intellectual property lawyers or computational biologists.
In the real world, political leaders have been known to work all the hours God sent, so it’s a hard job coming up with enough material. That’s probably why lately politics is mostly the politicians saying exactly the same thing they always say all the time, no matter what the question is. I mean, I get it, it’s cute, very telling and all, but it’s time for another joke, people.
Should I just write directly to Peter Jackson? That cameo as the overlord of Wellington is a bit of a giveaway. I assume the whole business is (like every other piece of public art these days) by WETA Workshop, in their usual monumental realism style. Although in this case the thing that’s monumental is embarrassment.
Initially, I think I could do most good writing for Labour. That business with the conference has the bones of some really exciting work – revenge, dark secrets – but if the audience doesn’t see the betrayal and so on for themselves it’s just confusing for them. It’s hardly Shakespearian.
(Speaking of which: ‘Cunliffe wanders mad in the wilderness, giving stirring speeches to trees and rock on the need for economic management that reflect the real needs of the people.’ You can have that one for free.)
Or I could do the media: I have an idea for a subplot where they all start doing policy analysis.
But ultimately I’d like to do an episode of John Key. Who wouldn’t? The legendary postmodern horror story of a PM who only grows stronger the more he is mocked – to the point where his personal embarrassments provide a useful distraction from ongoing trainwrecks around actual policies. Whose actually name is (qui?) a dry multilingual pun. Love your work, Braunias.
There are plenty of loose ends to work with. I know I’m not the only one waiting for Key to produce one of those scientists he talked about who thinks New Zealand’s water quality is fine. It’s an artistic truism that you can’t make your audiences a promise like that and not deliver.
And the way he has of just reflexively denying any scientific or statistical information that comes your way – on things like jobs or the environment or the number of times your photograph was in the paper during the election or whatever. There’s got to be some consequence for that.
I mean, a person might get away with that once or twice but you can’t seriously tell me someone could run a government by going to war with objective reality. They’d screw the country up completely for a start.
Quite apart from the way they’d keep doing things like trying to adjust the current account deficit by hammering a nail into their heads or jumping out the window because it looks quicker than the stairs.
Anyway, it all look hilarious and your editors clearly don’t have especially high standards. Sounds like a lark! I’m preparing submission on spec. I think you’ll like it. I’ve thought of some more kinds of democracy for Gerry Brownlee to override.
Where do I sign?