Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Passion, profanity and parody in politics

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Kim Dotcom. Photo / Norrie Montgomery.
Kim Dotcom. Photo / Norrie Montgomery.

New Zealanders were famously described as a 'passionless people' in one landmark book about politics and the national condition. So whenever passions pop up in elections and democracy it can be quite a shock for many. By and large New Zealand politics is bland and conventional, and so the release of the Internet Mana video, Join the Revolution - Change the Government has ignited widespread controversy. The 1-minute YouTube video has already had 21,000 views and will continue to polarise and produce heated disagreement over its chants of 'F**k John Key'.

Already, the condemnations have been strong - see Derek Cheng's Crowd's call likened to Nazi chant. Political analysts Claire Robinson and Jennifer Lees-Marshment have emphasised the negativity of the video. The Family First lobby group has submitted a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.

In defence of passion in politics

The must-read defence of the video is made by PR professional Mark Blackham who is often despairing of the professionalised blandness of modern New Zealand politics - see: The kids are revolting.

Part of Blackham's thesis is worth quoting at length: 'What we see in the InternetMana 'F**k John Key' video is real people expressing real political emotions. Politicians shouldn't be offended - they should be wondering what it takes to get the same reaction from their potential supporters.

The video reveals the sort of raw and raucous expression of opinion that occurs when you reach out to people - when you strike a chord. The alarmed reaction from the commentariat and twitterati reveals the extent to which the ruling elite are simply not comfortable with real people being political. And here lies the problem at the heart of the professional era of politics; the failure to understand or connect with the untidiness of real people. Every politician secretly dreams of stirring an audience to chanting. But that requires emotion. And emotion has been sanitised from politicians, their policies, and even their interactions with the public'.

To get a sense of the more traditional, conventional and bland approach to video electioneering, the must-watch video is of the Act Party's Epsom candidate out and about earnestly campaigning - see: Meet David Seymour. The video has been widely mocked and ridiculed. This reached its zenith in the 3-minute university Student parody - also essential viewing.

The other must-watch political parody video of the week is Planet Key by Darren Watson. The background to the video is explained in the Newswire article, Video: Parody 'Planet Key' song takes aim at PM.

I've made similar points to Mark Blackham about the need for passion in politics - which can be read in Chris Keall's coverage of the response: Internet Mana's 'F**k John Key' video: nasty fascist overtones or drunk students having a laugh?. I'm quoted as saying the following: 'This video could be wildly successful for the Internet Mana Party.... It fits perfectly with the election campaign strategy that the party is running - of being an anti-Establishment party with an unconventional and youth-based orientation. The use of the 'F**k John Key' slogan by the partygoers will be almost entirely uncontroversial to the youth target market of Internet Mana. Of course, the aggressive swearing will be controversial and repellent to many in middle New Zealand, especially amongst more conservative voters. But Internet Mana isn't attempting to win over such audiences'.

Russell Brown also makes a strong defence of the Internet Mana video in his blog post, Grey F**king Area. He asks: 'Is it rude and unsophisticated to chant "F**k John Key!"? Of course it is. It also quite within the bounds of the kind of protest marches long attended by the kind of students at the Party Party'. His conclusion is that 'People are entitled to their political enthusiasms and their political anger and if there is a time to express those, it is surely in an election campaign. For some people, the campaign will be about selfies with the Prime Minister and that's fine. We should also be able to tolerate less decorous forms of expression'.

Brown also points out that the video has been incorrectly reported as being filmed at a political rally: 'left out the fact that this was a tour of musical events: gigs that cost $30 on the door. One News' report blandly described it as a political rally, and the sight of a bunch of young people going nuts might have looked pretty bizarre without that context'

It's certainly the case that public campaigning in recent decades has become milder and more genteel, which is very well pointed out in the Newstalk ZB opinion piece, Public rallies are the politics of the past. It is suggested in this column that the bombastic Dotcom approach might be linked to other nasty campaign factors: 'The spinoff it seems is the defacement of Tory billboards up and down the country with some depicting Key, with a beard, ringlets and a black Fedora as an orthodox Jew'.

Nazi allegations

The most colourful critique of the Internet Mana video is that it is reminiscent of Nazi Germany propaganda. On Twitter, it's been Matthew Hooton (@MatthewHootonNZ), in particular, pushing this line, with tweets such as: 'Feels a bit like a Munich Beer Hall in the 1920s'.

The NBR's Rob Hosking isn't convinced that Dotcom is a Nazi, but makes this point about the 'mob' chants: 'firstly, they are being led in the chant by a German who is an enthusiastic collector of Nazi memorabilia and who thinks "nigger jokes" are funny. At this point, a detached observer has to conclude there is a bit of a Nazi-ish aspect to it, and anyone not seeing any Nuremburg-ish echoes is being wilfully obtuse' - see: 'F*ck John Key' and how Laila Harre just helped National get re-elected (paywalled).

Russell Brown responds to this line of argument: 'Godwin's Law really is getting quite a workout. That so many people felt compelled to compare it to a Nazi rally was down variously to political cynicism, lazy ethnic bigotry (would anyone have summoned the Nazis had Dotcom not been, y'know, German?) and, apparently, never having been to a hip hop show before'.

Blogger Danyl Mclauchlan is despairing of such comparisons, pointing out that, 'The actual footage shows Kim Dotcom urging people to vote and promising to give them a hug, which isn't something I remember from Triumph of the Will' - see: Sigh.

But the must-read reply to the fascism allegations is the blog post, Is Kim Dotcom a Nazi? by Scott Yorke. He humorously looks at the evidence and counter-evidence for the question. Evidence in favour includes gems like: 'Hitler was a megalomaniac. Dotcom owned a business called Megaupload'; 'Hitler invaded Poland. Kim Dotcom invaded Coatesville'.

Labour could be the real victim of Dotcom's video

Labour's Chris HIpkins (@chrishipkins) has been tweeting furious responses to the Dotcom video, such as: 'Getting a bunch of people drunk and getting them to chant abuse isn't political leadership. It's thuggery and megalomania intertwined'. For more, see David Farrar's Hipkins on Dotcom. This type of message possibly reflects the degree of concern in the Labour Party about the damage such issues could cause Labour, which is desperate to disassociate itself from Internet Mana at the moment.

Labour's vulnerability is best explained by Rob Hosking, who suggests that the profane video will be 'a powerful campaign weapon for Mr Key' - see: 'F*ck John Key' and how Laila Harre just helped National get re-elected (paywalled). Hosking suggests that National, itself, will be pushing the video more and more, with 'The message: Behold, your alternative government'.

It's the polarising aspect of the video that makes it dangerous for Labour: 'No doubt a larger group of middle-aged, disaffected left wingers, despairing of the Labour Party's general lack of direction or competence, will also leap out of their chairs with enraged engagement. But a larger group of New Zealanders are going to be more perturbed. That promotional clip verges on the creepy, with its nastiness and its hint of mob violence'

Danyl Mclauchlan also worries about it scaring off voters from the left: 'My problem with Internet/Mana has always been that it will probably scare more voters towards National than it wins from youth voters. I might be wrong. We'll see on election day. But their 'F**k John Key' ad and the horrified reaction to it is pretty much Exhibit A in my 'scare the middle-class horses' hypothesis. I also kind-of-doubt this ad and Laila Harre's defense of it - that it shows 'young people expressing themselves creatively' - is going to appeal to very many young voters, given that it makes young voters look like bogans' - see: Sigh. See also, Pete George's Dotcom bombs could blow up Labour's chances.

For some further interesting comments on the issues, see No Right Turn's Demographics and f**king John Key.

Finally, to read more of the polarised twitterstorm about the Dotcom video, see my aggregation of different views: Top tweets about Dotcom's Internet Mana Party F**k John Key video.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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