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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Ritual drama divides nation on day of unity

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Waitangi Day incites annual protests and drunken revelry for expats in London (above). Picture / supplied
Waitangi Day incites annual protests and drunken revelry for expats in London (above). Picture / supplied

Boorish carry-on creates a media circus every Waitangi Day

If you're overseas, Waitangi Day means a booze-up; here at home it means picking up the paper or turning on the television to be assailed by images of rancour and boorish disrespect for our democratically elected leaders. A column could be devoted - indeed many have been - to providing examples that illustrate the theme of "you know you're getting old when ..."

I'll restrict myself to one: you know you're getting old when you wonder what cricket commentators are on about when they praise players for their appeals.

Former Aussie wicketkeeper Ian "Heals" Healy, who works for Channel 9, is particularly big on the importance of appealing as if you really mean it.

The theory seems to be that if the bowler and fielders don't carry on as if they're convinced the batsman's out, why should the umpire come to that conclusion?

Making a conscious effort to appeal as if you are sure the batsman is out when in fact you don't know - or when the wish is father to the thought - is mere gamesmanship and an attempt to con the umpire into making a mistake in your favour.

You'd also hope that top umpires would be impervious to volume and animation, given most teams appeal at the drop of a hat.

If they ever think about it, the players may wonder whether these synchronised, vociferous appeals cut any ice, especially when the Decision Review System (DRS) is in operation. But they've become part of the game and no one wants to run the risk of their appeals not being taken seriously, so it's carry on regardless.

Something similar seems to be happening with the Waitangi Day protests. With each passing year, they seem to take on a more ritualistic aspect and have less and less to do with our day-to-day reality.

I'm not just talking about the protesters. For the media, the Waitangi Day protests have become our Groundhog Day.

Television, being a visual medium, tends to shelve traditional measures of newsworthiness when it gets its hands on dramatic or unusual footage, hence the frequency with which the national and international news hour features skateboarding pets or tornadoes laying waste to barns in Bumpkinville, Idaho.

If Waitangi Day as we know it has indeed become a ritual that those involved - the dignitaries, the protesters, the media - feel compelled, for various reasons, to participate in, it doesn't augur well for the future of our national day.

I suspect many New Zealanders are tiring of this annual outbreak of posturing, acrimony and bad manners, and are beginning to reclassify Waitangi Day as just another day off work.

And for Kiwis in London, it's apparently an excuse to engage in the sort of wild colonial chunderama we associate with the Munich Beer Festival.

Perhaps that should be virtual chunderama, since there are suggestions it didn't actually take place - the reports were based on no more than a few tweets and the account of one expat with a very large bee in his bonnet.

While the country was reflecting on what our exiles do in foreign lands, it hardly seemed to notice the far greater number of young Kiwis, many drunk to the point of stupefaction or anti-social rowdiness, lurching around downtown Wellington last Friday and Saturday, even though most had gone to great lengths to be noticed.

Whatever actually took place in the British capital, it seems pretty clear that not many Kiwis, home or abroad, see Waitangi Day as a time for reflecting on our past and present and celebrating the ties that bind us.

If you're overseas, Waitangi Day means a piss-up; here at home it means picking up the paper or turning on the television to be assailed by images of rancour and boorish disrespect for our democratically elected leaders. These are hardly conducive to an enhanced sense of community and national pride, or a favourable attitude towards the Treaty and the vast and vastly expensive process it has given rise to.

This isn't a promising or uplifting situation. Unless the cycle is broken, Waitangi Day will become, at best, just another public holiday whose origins needn't concern us.

At worst, it will be an annual reminder that we still struggle to address this issue, so crucial to our national identity and multicultural ideal, with mutual respect.

- NZ Herald

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