The outcry over a movie review laced with references to the 'N-word' shows just how problematic the usage of the word is. Karl Puschmann investigates.

On an otherwise pleasantly lazy Sunday afternoon I watched local music magazine Rip It Up self-destruct. Some barely literate jackass had written a near incomprehensible review of the indie film Dope and social media was all up in arms about it.

That Twitter and Facebook had their knickers in a twist over something is not unexpected. Nearly every damn day there's someone bleating on about how offended they are by something someone else has said. If you took an interest in every offence going, you'd never get anything done.

This one I followed though. That's because I once worked as the editor of Rip It Up magazine. And even though that was a lifetime ago, and even though it's long been a shadow of the shadow of its former self, there's a part of me that will always love the damn rag. Even when it says or does stupid s**t. I imagine this is what parents feel like when they realise that the child they worked so hard to raise right has grown up and become a giant a-hole.

Read more: Critic shocks with 'N word'-laced review


So with trepidation I clicked the offending link and, through the gritted teeth of an ex-editor, forced myself to read to the end of the review. It was tough going. A slog. And yes, it was offensive.

Not because of the liberal and quite inappropriate dropping of N-bombs throughout, which is what had got Twitter frothing. But rather because the review was so atrociously written. How was this person ever allowed to write anything other than their name?

But it did get me thinking. If, during my run as editor, would I have published the review?
That's easy to answer. Nup. I routinely sent words back to their writers if I didn't think they met the quality Rip It Up's legacy demanded. Even without all the N-bombs, there's no way that review would have made the cut.

That's because I grew up reading founder Murray Cammick's Rip It Up. I was always aware of the history and power of that masthead. I spent five years of my life working my ass off to put out a magazine that lived up to and respected that legacy.

And while I heavily promoted an anti-authoritarian, irreverent, sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle, I didn't make a point of unnecessarily waddling into obvious minefields. Such as littering a review with an unprintable word or printing preposterous and undeniably racist proclamations like, "a n****r is just like a white person."

WT actual F? An indefensible statement. But one that the publisher leaped quickly to defend. It's nice that the publisher had the writer's back during a social media shit storm, but the review should never have been published online in the first place. And seeing as it was, an apology should have been immediate and sincere.

However, to play devil's advocate, for music and pop culture mags - not just Rip It Up - the N-bomb is hugely problematic. Many of the acts you want to cover drop it like it's hot in both song and in speech. It's so ingrained in hip-hop and hip-hop is so immensely popular that you're gonna bump up against it sooner rather than later.

You could, if you were brave or foolhardy or possibly both, argue that in a certain context, the power of the word's offense is almost gone.


There's a whole generation that now use it as a greeting or a term of affection as casually as they do 'bro'. Rappers rap it, comedians riff on it, movies feature it and people in New Zealand repeat it.

Even Larry David, an incredibly rich, white Jewish chap, mined it for comedy gold on his telly show Curb Your Enthusiasm, flipping it by replying to his African-American pal J.B Smoove, "Are you my Caucasian?" after being asked if he was Smoove's " n****r".

The rule, pretty much, seems to be that whitey shouldn't be saying it. Not ever. The terrible history of the word would deem that entirely fair enough. But really, no one should be saying it.

The fact is it remains said. And as long as it does, as long as it keeps being glorified by those with such huge cultural influence, then these controversies are going to keep happening. Perhaps the power of the word is not in itself, but in how we react to it. I don't know. And I don't pretend to.

What I do know is that it's heartbreaking to see how far a once great and important New Zealand cultural institution has fallen.

It would be clever to wrap up by quoting 80s post-punk band Orange Juice and suggest that the current publishers need to "Rip it up and start again". It would also be wrong. It's popularly believed that Murray and his creative partner Alastair Dougal named the magazine after that hit song. They didn't.

A lifelong lover of black American and soul music, Murray instead named it after a favourite song by the OG rock n' roll rebel Little Richard. The very first issue in 1977 featured The Commodores on the cover. So for Rip It Up to now be tarnished with such damning racism is a cruel, cruel twist of fate.

Put simply the editor and the writer deserve all the backlash you can muster. Rip It Up, however, doesn't. It deserves better.