John Roughan 's Opinion

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: Sex, brought to you by NZ on Air

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Colin Craig has said New Zealand women are the most promiscuous in the world. Picture / Richard Robinson
Colin Craig has said New Zealand women are the most promiscuous in the world. Picture / Richard Robinson

Productions such as The GC are probably far from our reality

A man who could be the next MP for Epsom reckoned this week we have the most promiscuous young women in the world. Horrified, our political leaders all declared they couldn't imagine where he got that idea.

Well I know of one place where we all get that idea: NZ On Air.

Local film and television production is funded from our taxes for the stated purpose of reflecting something of ourselves. Yet just about every time I see the results I am astonished at the attitude to sex.

There is a lot of sex, crudely discussed or clumsily depicted, in New Zealand screen drama, much more than you see in good movies these days. Hollywood was given to gratuitous scenes for a few years after full nudity first got past the censors in the late 1960s, but grew up long ago.

Not here. Our filmmakers seem to find the subject obligatory. It is not the quantity that surprises me but the quality. It is seldom romantic or even erotic, it's casual, mechanical, mute and meaningless.

Is this how we are?

State-funded film and television producers must know they are supposed to be our social mirror, if only because that is NZ On Air's remit and their income depends on it. So who am I to say their depiction of our national character is not accurate?

The difficulty in any public discussion of sex is that nobody really knows what is going on. Everyone knows only our own experience and the limited number of people they have known intimately.

Inevitably the discussion has a bias to promiscuity. To question its prevalence is to appear unsophisticated, out of touch and possibly not getting your share. But then, you sense that those who incessantly talk about the subject are not the luckiest guys around.

The same is probably true of a nation's cinema and television. A foreigner seeing our films probably doesn't believe we are the most promiscuous people on earth. Quite the reverse.

You suppose, when you see the juvenilia we produce, that our stories are the work of youths fresh out of film school who live the lives they depict. But it is just as likely the producers are old rockers who look back on a youth of missed opportunity.

When they see the way teenage girls today dress, drink and swear, their imagination runs wild. And maybe their assumptions are right. But it is also possible that feminine self-respect kicks in if these girls are confronted in real life by the charmless offers they readily accept in our screen fiction.

Poor Colin Craig. When challenged this week, he cited research that found New Zealand women reported more one night stands than any except the Finns (them again), and a Durex survey that suggested women here average 20 sexual partners in a lifetime. The international average was seven.

People who press for more contraceptive efforts in schools believe these surveys, but they don't have to be certain of the problem to urge precautions.

Craig was commenting on the provision of free contraception for welfare beneficiaries and their daughters. Nothing alarms a National Party conference more than the idea that a solo mother may be having more children on the DPB.

Doubtless it happens, though I haven't personally encountered a case. I doubt it's as prevalent as National imagines. Raising one child alone must be hard enough. But it is perfect politics for a conservative party, as demonstrated this week when Labour and Greens found themselves objecting to a plain benefit.

There are only two arguments. One is the money, but the amount is tiny. The other is that it could encourage promiscuity, and I don't share that concern either. By and large I suspect young woman are better than they appear in programmes brought to us with the assistance of NZ On Air.

I wonder if the pictures these programmes paint of our social and sexual relationships, our language and lives, might be more inspired if they had to finance themselves. When they carry the imprimatur of public money a reverse snobbery seems to prevail.

They are made by men (predominantly, judging by the bleak sex) who live well and can only imagine how the other half lives. Their latest production, The GC is particularly insidious because the actors pretend to be in a documentary, about young Maori on the Gold Coast.

Watching as much as I could bear, I caught myself wondering if it was based on things that had really happened. Possible that was when the script was calling girls "easy" or "slutty" on no evidence except clothing, or the lack of it at the beach, and one kid kept telling us, "can't get that in Wellington".

That would be true.

- NZ Herald

John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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