Toby Manhire

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Toby Manhire: Man of the year? No...but Dotcom's still the star

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A Christmas study in contrasts - our most extroverted recluse and the gloomy trade-talk jargoneers.

Whatever you think of the man - like him, loathe him, or just bored to tears by him - Dotcom has been the news motherlode of 2012. Photo / Herald on Sunday
Whatever you think of the man - like him, loathe him, or just bored to tears by him - Dotcom has been the news motherlode of 2012. Photo / Herald on Sunday

At half past 10 on Wednesday night, Kim Dotcom bobbled from the foyer and into the Basement Theatre. The stage had been filled before him by a drunken, phallus-sporting Mrs Claus, a cocaine-snorting Rudolph, and that guy from Nothing Trivial blacked-up as a Ugandan warlord. But the biggest cheer was for the German from Coatesville.

"Christmas will be streamed and given back to the people!" said Dotcom Santa, firing a grin towards an entourage that included his lawyer, Paul Davison, QC, who moments before had been serenaded as an "erotic gentleman" by someone pretending to be the elfish Icelandic musician Bjork.

Surreal is sometimes an insufficient word. The sight of a millionaire internet entrepreneur delivering the climax to the Megachristmas pantomime in a fringe theatre packed with half-pissed twenty-somethings (and Mr Davison, QC) is mad enough on its own.

But to think that he has been a core cast member, too, of the political year in New Zealand - a central motif, even, of the Opposition leader's year-end speech in Parliament only hours earlier - well, those scars down my arms are from all the pinching.

Exactly 10 hours earlier, and five minutes' walk from the Basement, 11 people sat before the press in the SkyCity Convention Centre, looking as though they'd never experienced a Christmas in their lives. Apart from the guy from Chile - he seemed chirpy.

But otherwise, the chief negotiators gathered after the Auckland round of talks on the big trade agreement looked like the unhappiest people on the planet. With all their "going forward " and "ambitious target" talk, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that both the Ps in TPP stand for platitude.

We can't know whether Dotcom came up much in the hidden negotiations, but they certainly offered a sober companion piece to the boisterous show down the road.

Both the Trans Pacific Partnership marathon and the Kim Dotcom extradition saga have that interminable feel about them. It's difficult to imagine either coming to a head, as the schedule insists, by the end of next year.

Part of the drama in both centres on the dogmatic - and not necessarily unreasonable - demands of Hollywood to control the way its copyright material is distributed and used. And both, somewhere in the mood of New Zealand, are also, increasingly, seen as exercises in America dictating terms.

Obviously, we're not all drunk on Kim Dotcom - the only poll on the subject that I can find, albeit conducted before much of the GCSB stuff came to light, suggests support for the man only slightly outweighs the antagonism.

But the cheer in the Basement the other night was no aberration. Pool parties, protest marches, community fundraisers at the mansion, switching on the Franklin Rd lights.

Only someone outside New Zealand could describe Dotcom, as one technology writer did this week, as a "recluse". Indeed, it would scarcely surprise if the man with a thousand names was revealed as the host of the new Close Up on TV One.

He's a big favourite, too, in the Herald online debate on who should be crowned 2012's New Zealander of the Year. Pinch yourself. Before the raid 11 months ago, there wasn't much about Mr Dotcom that you'd expect New Zealanders to like - he appeared essentially a Eurotrash squillionaire, with a fleet of cocksure cars and dumb number plates, conspicuous wealth and a criminal past.

But then came that wildly overwrought mansion operation, at the behest of US authorities. It started to look like this: They say, jump. We say, how many helicopters would you like?

And so was born a comedy Ned Kelly for the digital age.

It has at times seemed hard to find a story that doesn't have some kind of Dotcom link. It's as if the year in New Zealand has been scripted by the same team that write Homeland. You can see the writers arriving at the end of each episode, looking at what they're left with, and saying, "Yikes, where the hell are we going to take this now? More helicopters. A slippery former mayor. Fireworks. Throw in some spies. Courtroom dramas. A suspiciously forgetful prime minister. A bizarre music video. More spies."

Whatever you think of the man - like him, loathe him, or just bored to tears by him - Dotcom has been the news motherlode of 2012. New Zealander of the year? Probably not. But there's no doubt, however, that New Zealand has just seen the year of Dotcom.

- NZ Herald

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