Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire: How the rest of the world sees NZ

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Our isolation makes us fascinated with our portrayal overseas - so here's what's made waves in the past year.
Steven Joyce urged US-based TV satirist John Oliver to 'get it over with' and send up his dildo encounter. Photo / NZME
Steven Joyce urged US-based TV satirist John Oliver to 'get it over with' and send up his dildo encounter. Photo / NZME

Inhabitants of a small and remote island nation, New Zealanders tend to hold a fascination, a sometimes obsessive and unhealthy fascination, with the way we are regarded abroad. Visitors to our land may find themselves politely asked what they think-of-New-Zealand-so-far several dozen times before clearing customs, while it is written in the DNA of a New Zealander to get inordinately exercised about portrayals of their home country in world media.

John Key, like so many of us, suffers from this condition. Just before he decided to give Waitangi a miss earlier this month, he confessed he'd been worrying. "I do worry quite a lot actually about the images that come out of the lower marae because in the end those images go round the world," he wept. "I think sometimes it reflects badly on our country."

When a phallic missile bounced off Steven Joyce's face, the prime minister expanded on his images-around-the-world thesis. "It's appalling because that image has gone around the world and there are now people in countries all over the world saying the way New Zealanders theoretically commemorate or celebrate their national day is with a senior politician having a sex toy thrown at them," he sobbed.

"It just isn't the right image for New Zealand."

Joyce, by contrast, laughed off the rubbery ignominy. Indeed, he sent a tweet urging US-based television satirist John Oliver to "get it over with". Oliver obliged. Flanked by singing-and-dancing dildos, he surveyed some of the New Zealand media coverage, spurring New Zealand media to report at length on his coverage of their coverage. Truly, globalisation is a rich and remarkable thing.

Asked for his critique, leading cultural commentator John Key said he thought the Oliver sketch was funny, which means he either thought it was funny, or he came to the view that Joyce's good-humoured response to the great dildo circus was more in tune with hardworking Kiwis up and down the country than his original response.

There is, however and of course, no universal set of images of New Zealand being beamed around the world. There are the staples, such as All Blacks and Royals (visitors) and Hobbits and Royals (Lorde's). But different people consume different media, and their perceptions of plucky little New Zealand will, presumably, diverge accordingly.

As such, I have undertaken a research project, maxing out my dial-up connection and searching for "New Zealand" in the online editions of 12 of the world's best and biggest publications - ego-surfing on the nation's behalf. Below, then: how NZ appears through the lens of each, over the past year.

The New York Times

On the Security Council, New Zealand has been pressing for a solution to the Syrian humanitarian crisis, while at home, citizens confront issues of identity in a debate over the flag, which has seen the flightless kiwi bird with green lasers shooting from its eyes rejected. New Zealanders show considerable adeptness for a sport called rugby and the nation's premier has apologised for pulling a waitress's hair.

The flag design Fire the Lazar have also stirred interest.
The flag design Fire the Lazar have also stirred interest.


The Daily Mail

New Zealand is full of sheep, baby seals, robot kiwis, Air NZ promotional videos and Kim Dotcom. The Prime Minister fills his days by doing sex jokes on breakfast radio. Maori warriors roam the land awaiting royal visits, where they perform traditional war dances and rub noses. Waitresses live in fear of a Prime Minister who tugs ponytails, a politician got hit with a dildo, and look at all these crazy flags!

The Economist

New Zealand is governed by a National Party-led coalition with a narrow and workable majority. Locals like to debate Maori water rights, the impact of falling milk prices and technological efforts to deal with cow belches. In their spare time they design crazy flags.

The New York Post

Down there in New Zealand, office sex romps are caught on camera and female vampire-like attackers roam the streets. Between a prime minister yanking ponytails and flying penises, it takes a lot to make this nation sit up and pay attention, but that's what a fart on The Bachelor achieved. Hey, check out these crazy flags!

Art Green from the TV show The Bachelor. Photo / NZME.
Art Green from the TV show The Bachelor. Photo / NZME.


Foreign Policy

New Zealanders live, breathe and sleep flags. Their officials are pushing for a UN resolution on Israel-Palestine that no one wants. Some of the flags are really crazy. The Prime Minister pulls ponytails. They fly sheep to Saudi Arabia. New Zealanders, who are Australians, are voting for a new flag.

The Japan Times

New Zealanders are confronting a violent past, empowering Maori victims. Phil Rudd lives there and the Gallipoli legend lives on. They like the All Blacks but they don't like whaling and they have designed some crazy flags. The prime minister says throwing sex toys gives New Zealand a bad image.

Buzzfeed

The toddlers ride sheep like rodeo pros, while their parents get naked and pretend to be frozen chickens. Lorde dazzles the young and Taylor Swift frequents the beach. People are angry about Australian detention centres, and the prime minister answers 27 questions on dickpics and masturbation while swinging like Tarzan on a ponytail. You won't believe how crazy these flags are.

Any Australian newspaper

New Zealanders are non-Australians who love sport and usually get smashed by proud Australians. Sport! Crazy flags! Sport! Tony Abbott could learn a lot from John Key. Malcolm Turnbull could learn a lot from John Key. John Key is up there with sport. Sport!

RT (Russia Today)

People in New Zealand get up in the morning and protest the TPP. Not always. Sometimes they protest spying. When they are not denouncing the TPP and condemning spying they look at crazy flags. They love rugby and keep Kim Dotcom in a cage. Very often they raise concerns about spying and the TPP.

Le Monde

Une fougere pour remplacer l'Union Jack? C'est fou! Tremblement de terre. Les All Blacks: bete noire, peur bleue.

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

New Zealand! "Hobbit Australia"! They can't even speak properly. Look at that ridiculous man who pulls girls' hair and can't speak properly! Look at these crazy flags! "Flegs"! Look there's that ridiculous man again, talking about pissing in the shower! New Zealand! Look, a different ridiculous man, he wants to sue Eminem, and he can't even say Eminem properly. Look, there he is again, getting hit in the face with a dildo! Here's a crazy flag with a dildo. Get out of here! Goodnight!

Pets: Singapore's Leading Magazine for Pet Lovers

Did you know only 5 per cent of New Zealand's population are humans!? The rest are animals!! There are lots of cats. Someone opened a cat cafe.

For more from Toby Manhire visit tinyurl.com/nzhmanhire

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Toby Manhire is a Wellington-bred, Auckland-based journalist.

Toby Manhire is a Wellington bred, Auckland based journalist. He writes a weekly column for the NZ Herald, the NZ Listener's Internaut column, blogs for listener.co.nz, and contributes to the Guardian. From 2000 to 2010 he worked at the Guardian in London, and edited the 2012 book The Arab Spring: Rebellion, Revolution and a New World Order.

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