Gordon Campbell on Internet Mana’s swearing video

Hand on heart time, folks. At any time in the past six years, has the thought “ F+++ John Key” ever crossed your mind? I know it has crossed mine, from time to time. I think it was about the time that he sold down everyone’s shares in our power stations, for no good reason. Though, come to think of it, it might have been when he appointed his chum to be the head of the GCSB, while denying that they were, in fact, chums. Then there was the crony deal with Sky and its gambling operations. I might have said a bad word about that, too. Mind you, my ill will and profane thoughts are not restricted to John Key. I seem to recall that the thought “F+++ David Cunliffe” has also crossed my mind in the last few months. And as for Jamie Whyte? Don’t ask.

This is relevant because… as we have learned over the past 24 hours, the fact that some young people chanted “F+++ John Key” out loud at an Internet Mana political meeting in Christchurch is an awful, awful sign of the depths of depravity into which K. Dotcom Esq has led the impressionable youth of this great nation. Such a concept I’m sure, would never have entered their minds – let alone crossed their innocent, dew-kissed lips – if the heinous German had not led them to use that (Germanic –derived !) swear word, and direct it at our elected leader.

Yet, as RNZ, TVNZ and any number of mainstream media outlets and blog sites aplenty have made clear, swearing at the Prime Minister is supposedly a sign of the quote “ thuggery” unquote, into which Internet Mana has plunged this election campaign which – as we all know – has otherwise been devoted to a serious and thorough comparison of the policy planks of the various contenders for high public office. Unfortunately these days, RNZ’s Morning Report is giving Granny Herald some sound competition in the “Gracious, where are my smelling salts” shocked Granny stakes. In Guyon Espiner’s interview with Internet Party leader Laila Harre on RNZ this morning, his curled lip horror was palpable, culminating in a cry of “Can we expect more of this?” Yes grandma, we can. Be warned. It is an election campaign. Strong feelings may be expressed. Tea cups may be spilled.

Years ago, Tom Wolfe wrote in The Right Stuff about the media’s market-driven readiness to play what he called The Victorian Gentleman i,e, to appoint itself as the custodian of moral values dating from the 19th century. (Values known to be hypocritical, even back then.) So, when Labour’s Chris Hipkins tut- tutted in multiple postings on Twitter today that the Internet Mana video is “ alarming” and that there’s “no place for that kind of thuggery in NZ politics” ….can we please, please get a grip ? Yes, some young people swore at the Prime Minister, who was not present at the time. Is that a big deal? Is it a bigger blasphemy than handing out tax cuts to the rich – and could those two things possibly be related?

Finally, isn’t there a teeny, tiny free speech issue involved here? Last week, the mainstream media went after Internet Mana over the burning and defacing of an Israeli flag at a demonstration not run by them. As I pointed out at the time, burning a flag is a form of symbolic protest explicitly allowed by our Supreme Court, under our Human Rights Act. Swearing at the Prime Minister or at any other politician can be similarly defended – and especially in this case, given that Key wasn’t present. It may come as something of a shock to some in the media, but there are countries overseas where being sworn about is the least of a politician’s problems.

That’s the point. It is the hypocrisy of this exercise – from the media, and from those politicians professing the horror, the horror of it all – that is so striking. Last time I looked, having a media pass did not come with a licence to police the propriety of election discourse. Everyone knows young people – and some adults ! – swear a lot. Especially, at times, about the deeds of politicians. If I was 20, out of work or facing a huge student debt, I might even find it liberating to join with a bunch of other like-situated people in expressing my feelings out loud. It might feel cathartic to do so. It might even help motivate me to get involved and vote – and that I think is what is worrying the Cameron Slaters and David Farrars of this world about this issue.


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