CUTTING EDGE: Column

By Rosemary McLeod

Christmas time brings out usual national delusions
What a delicious TV promo it is that speaks of "the real New Zealand". I saw it the other night and wondered where that magical place might be and how I could get there.
I had the impression of attractive people looking cheerful, holding wine glasses and looking affluent; a lot of empty landscape, rather postcard perfect; and nobody brown in sight. What a paradise. I think the Lord of The Rings invented it.
As Christmas draws near, the national delusion of a harmless little country full of cavorting hobbits gets the usual thrashing. We genuflect at images of "iconic" things like the holiday bach, caravans, pavlovas, kiwifruit, sheep dogs, ponga fronds, cute corner dairies with verandahs, pohutukawas' ratty blossoms, kiwis (the bird kind) in silly hats, sausages sizzling on the backyard barbie and Christmas carols: although we're no longer religious, we still like to warble religious songs. In short, we turn into one giant advertisement for cheese, with angels and tinsel thrown in. And then there's reality, like the policeman attacked in Taihape last weekend and seemingly left for dead.
In the real New Zealand, we're facing what we'd never once have imagined, having armed police as a result of escalating violent crime in places where people actually live, miles away from mountains and lakes, in scruffy cities. It's no surprise that Police Association president Greg O'Connor bolstered his case for guns after this latest attack: nine policemen have been shot in the past two years and many more have been assaulted.
O'Connor said guns would be a deterrent to thugs, Police Minister Judith Collins seems to wonder, but the prime minister looks to be sold on the idea.

Yet a gun isn't a guarantee of safety when people are desperate: a constable in Central Otago, an experienced marksman, pulled his pistol on a young offender some years ago but was overpowered and battered to death with his own police baton.
It's our increasingly lawless and fragmented society that really needs to change, surely, but there's fat chance of that, and it surely won't happen through politics anytime soon. WikiLeaks may be shocking to some people, but I find it entertaining, especially the sharp observations about our politicians made by American diplomats. How apt this week to read about Don Brash's "awkward humanism" and his bumbling. How deftly Helen Clark is described as "dowdy", a person who avoids falsehoods but "habitually shies away from close-to-the-bone truth".
If we could have one national Christmas present; a gift-wrapped, cohesive plan for solving our severe social problems would be nice. The landscape is all very well but the continuing failing of Maori children by the education system - just reported again - will have a bigger impact on our future than scenery, as will the impact of continuing problems with Maori health, and the rate of imprisonment of Maori men. We're more apt to blame Maori than to search for answers to these problems, at our peril and theirs, because they won't be photo-shopped out of our future.
It's always easier to focus on issues that matter less, like an in-flight safety video featuring an All Black declining a peck on the cheek from a gay airline steward. Some complainants, Air New Zealand says, have suggested that such a slight to gayness might cause suicides. The gay steward involved in the video - a sensible fellow - says some in the gay community can be a little precious and need to lighten up. But, of course, the video has got to be phased out quickly: gays are an effective and focused lobby group, while the economically disadvantaged are not.
Unlike huge problems like theirs, highlighted this week by a disturbing new report on child poverty from the Children's Commissioner, the Air New Zealand video is truly shocking, and something must - and will - be done about it.
And I should jolly well think so, too.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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