Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Qualities of New Zealanders

Action in the mailbox: From Kim, Researcher, Australia: "I am doing research about NZ and what is unique about it in the modern world. It seems that NZ is known for its natural life, sheep, bungy jumping and rugby. Is this still the case in 2007 or are some of the innovations in film, fashion, technology etc creating a new face for NZ. If so, how has the perception of NZ changed throughout the world and what is the unique selling point of NZ now?...I am also interested in individual people's point of view on this topic. Thank you. From one kiwi to another."

Cathy Downes, a New Zealander at the National Defence University in Washington DC, replies, “Whether it is film, fashion, technology, rugby, bungy jumping there is a constant theme of novelness, innovation, of being small enough not to be bound by the inertia of bigger, larger, organizations and countries…And yet this is a country with nearly a sixth of its population not living in New Zealand. How much of New Zealand's image in the world is influenced by these Kiwis, or the Kiwis who work and live at home? If you ask a lot of ex-pats why they left, it is because they felt their creativity, innovation, get-up-and-go, can-do, want-to-make-things-happen, stop-standing-in-my-way passion was frustrated, damped-down, locked into mediocre-levelling, chop-the-tall-poppy, can't-do-anything-but-the- status-quo, type individuals who hold onto many leadership positions and are allowed to do so."

What do you think embodies the qualities of the New Zealand character - at home, and away? My own perspectives are shaped by living between local and global, edge and center - Wellington and New York. Things I like about New Yorkers are their directness, their hard-working ethos, their focused approach to thinking commercially, and their ability to think in scale. Getting your brilliant idea taken seriously in New York is a highly competitive exercise. New Zealand seems much less interested in ideas. As individuals we have very good ideas, some world-changing ones, but as a culture we seem more interested, for example, in our criminality rather than our creativity, in domestic contentedness rather than international competitiveness. The stench arising from our domestic behavior that pervades news media reporting in New Zealand is a counterweight to all efforts to be inspirational. What has become of us? For all the magnificent things about New Zealand and New Zealanders, I am not surprised that so many people choose to live away from their country of birth. From time to time there has been the candle of optimism and idealism in New Zealand public life; we work for its return.


Anonymous said...

NZ has become a country where nanny state breathes down the average citizen's shoulder at every turn, but where a criminal underclass grows strength to strength. It's a political climate, where "the big lie" is everywhere. Where adults are treated like children, and children treated like adults. Witness the recent ban on corporal punishment in the home, or the Christchurch man who narrowly escaped a prison sentence for opening a private (cigarette) 'smoker's club'. Grown-ups aren't able to make these kind of decisions anymore, while the legalisation of prostitution means 16 year old children can sell their bodies on the street without censure. The country's failed intelligensia are still wallowing in guilt about (perceived) atrocities of the colonial era. The sins of the father indeed! Look at Germany, which was responsible for so much suffering in the 20th century. Well, Deutschland has acknowledged its dark past, but also found a way to move forward as a nation. Ah well, there's a whole grievance industry in NZ to keep going, mostly led by people who need something to make themselves feel important. NZ is also a bloody frightening place these days: I'd rather walk around alone in Brixton or Belgrade than Cathedral Square or Karangahape Road. Meanwhile, the most-dumbed down state broadcaster in the English speaking world, milks lurid sensationalism in a style that would make Fox News blush.

Anonymous said...

One of the stereotypes I had drilled into me through the 1970s that the ‘enemy of New Zealand’ was the ‘Pommy whinger’. All I could hear in the previous comment was the sound of whingeing, an industry of its own, a talk-down that doesn’t look at the multiple sides to a changing world. Perhaps children aren’t being treated like children, let alone adults? Perhaps people die from tobacco – for what?

A culture of social reforms put us on the radar at the end of the 19th century at a time when many European countries had been nations for about the same length of time. We fail to grasp that New Zealand’s difference is in that thing we toy offhandedly with called Aotearoa, it’s in the S. Pacific. Pointing fingers at the media gets pointless. Upton Sinclair had that all down pat when he wrote The Brass Check back in the 1920s. Read it and weep.

Perhaps the twisting of William Pember Reeves’ famous book title to “The Wrong White Crowd” might also have some bearing to the weight of oppression and the ‘lost tribe’ scent that lurks in Enzed. There are alternative notions of nation in New Zealand. Ironically there is creativity as much in small ideas as in big ideas. The ideas are there in private life if not in the admittedly dumbed-down public arena. If we can’t EXIT we can EXIST (just pass the Prozac).

Anonymous said...

Pretty much the reaction I'ds expected. I imagine I'd be tarred and feathered if I moved back to NZ. In other words, dare to express one's disgust at trends in one's own country, and be called a "whingeing pom". Well buster, I'm a 5th generation Kiwi, not that it makes any difference. Smacks of racism, but the politically correct variety: The target is assumed to be white. And why is it wrong or pointless to rail against the inanities of a state broadcaster that is funded by the taxpayer? Because you say so? Because of the co-dependence of broadcaster and ad agency? I guess the Saatchi and Saatchi version of NZ, which airbrushes away unpleasant realities works for people whose fat incomes depend on it. Good luck to you, I guess, but it's pretty narrow to open a forum an then slag off anyone who dares to dissent by calling them a whingeing pom.

Craigoh said...

I love and miss NZ, and many of my fellow NZders, but it is telling that a sixth of us live abroad!

That's a massive proportion of any nation's population. It's also telling that most of the Heroes on this site - amazing people - had to move abroad to achieve their goals. The tall poppy syndrome is a cliche, but it's a cliche because it's true. I see it as the hugely negative flipside of what is otherwise our admirable egalitarianism.

After living a decade in Europe, the extraordinarily dumbed down nature of the NZ public culture is shocking, and potentially turns me off moving back. As does the crime (note the gangs feature here), which is rather high. Too high, for what we always present to the world as a southern seas paradise / idyll. Would that it were so, but NZ has too many problems to be so complacent. And yes, I know how pretentious my 'dumbed down' comments might make me sound to some people, but it's true.

Still, NZders can be extraordinarily open-minded, ingenious and proactive, as nzedge has shown us, I just wish we had more of that spirit in evidence at home today.

Here's some free advice; it would be a good idea for the NZ Govt to look up the word 'infrastructure', and realise NZ needs some. It might also help if the govt reaslied that slapping GM or GE on our produce would be the kiss of death - in Europe, at least.

It would also be a good idea if NZ people stopped obssessing to an almost dangerous degree about a minority sport, and stopped faffing about with the America's Cup. Out here in the world, hardly anyone's heard of it. It's a waste of taxpayer money. It would also be nice if we could make a decent movie for once that wasn't about bloody hobbits.

I am not a hobbit, I'm a proud Kiwi. They do say patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, and despite the above comments, I am a patriotic NZder, but I also try to be clear-sighted about NZ's downsides. Think NZ's 'leaders' should be too.

Michael Smythe said...

What a strange track of victim-of-forces- beyond-my-control this potentially interesting thread took off on! Rather than counter wallowing in finger-pointing with Pollyanna perspectives I offer another view.

Dissatisfaction is the fundemental human condition - our choice is to be choked by it or challenged by it. I am a designer (leaving my Middle Ages and entering my Renaissance) who has remained in New Zealand. I see creativity as the constructive response to dissatisfaction - and it is blossoming in New Zealand.

A courageous, constructive response to dissatisfaction has motivated people to move to New Zealand for the past 750 years. Maybe it is genetic programming that makes those born here seek better opportunities over the horizon. Good on them I say - they are New Zealanders enriching our world. Why should that be a problem? It wasn't for the Irish.

I am currently researching /writing a book what distinguishes New Zealand in the field of product design, so I am interested in the intial question and may eventually be able to suggest some answers.

Stephen Olsen said...

Michael, the design section of NZEDGE doubtless has some inspirational figures for your book. Not sure how much conceptual distance there is between victims-of-forces and responders-to-dissatisfaction. Perhaps a better way to describe the 'DNA' of those New Zealanders who combine some wonderkind and wanderlust in their lives(whether offshore or on) is a term on your own website: synergised manifestations.

David MacGregor said...

Dear Kim, Researcher, Australia...I have to hope that your question is dripping with irony…
If not, please refer to Idealog magazine. There is plenty going on here.

Taking the wider question into account I feel the issue has something to do with the size of our population and our short history. This is just an hypothesis, rather than a firm view. So, please let me gently float it:

I wonder if we have an aspect of our national persona (if such a thing genuinely exists) that is passive aggressive. We want to fit into the world. We must.

But we have an imperialist perspective - little Britain - which bears no genuine relationship with our actual place in the world: geographically, economically or socially. It is transferred from an ancient relationship with the United Kingdom - several generations removed now. Our collective self perception is ambiguous. We have yet to experience a shared cultural event that is equivalent to, say, the French or American Revolutions or the Btattle of Britain.

The dominant culture remains premised on 18th Century English ideals - including an equivocal relationship with ideas such as 'class'.

There is a penchant for nostalgia in NZ that is sometimes at odds with our youth as a nation.
This plays well in the media. Endless images of Ed Hilary and Peter Blake fill the screen. Media feel the need to fill the vacuum. Media hates a vacuum. Sometimes nostalgia simply plays to currency like Frodo vs Mordor or P. Jackson vs New Line (how long before we start believing TLoTR is a part of the kiwi creation?). To create a mythology there must be both protagonist and antagonist...true of all great narratives/brands.

All something to think about.
Right now I don't think we should be so hard on ourselves. In the world we are just kids. I recently saw a presentation to put the fear of their God into North Americans - China and India each have more Honours students that the U.S. has children. How do you imagine those numbers would play out for New Zealand's future.

I wonder whether our desire to have a clear and distinct identity is, in fact, our real problem. We can't compete with Indonesia, let alone Belgium for a sense of self - for simply practical reasons. Mostly scale and youth.

I mean this positively. I have a great love for my host place (I am a migrant who has lived here since 1966). I am grateful for my place here.

But I wonder…in the Internet Age; the first New Zealand has fully participated in as an equal, I think John Lennon's song Imagine should be our national anthem. No Boundaries..

Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...(sorry Mr Tamaki et al)

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Maybe I'm a dreamer too?

Instead of playing by the rules, let's be the first to change them.

Disclosure: I am co-founder of Idealog