Now that the dust has settled and the summer news cycle has, hopefully, moved back to talking about more important things like the weather and cricket, it is possibly a good time for me to step back and think about all the things I learnt from the Eleanor Catton interlude; the first being that there are times when it is quite a good thing to actually step back and think, instead of everyone rushing in with all manner of nonsense.
I learnt that neo-liberalism is not what I thought it was. When I heard the phrase for the first time, when Ms Catton talked about "these neo-liberal ... politicians" and then everyone went nuts about it, for a while there I had images of the Key Government smoking up big-time in the Beehive, kicking back to cool jazz music and indulging in free love in the corridors of power. Then I found out I had completely the wrong version of the word "liberal" in my head and that it is actually a boring economic theory. This was disappointing on several levels, especially the one where I thought I'd finally figured out why Judith Collins still has a job.
I learnt that I will never ever be an intellectual. An intellectual would have known what neo-liberalism is, whereas I didn't. To be completely honest I already knew I wasn't an intellectual but there were times in the whole hua hoo-ha when it seemed like being someone who engages in thought and reflection was a bad thing to be in this country. I did not like that thought at all.
I learnt that the opposite end of the spectrum from intellectual is talk-back radio. If you want a calm, reasoned, rational response to anything, you can count on talk-back radio not to give it to you. It was almost as if Sean Plunket's rant existed only because something needed to be ranted about at that particular time on that particular day and Eleanor Catton just happened to be it. Mystifying.
I learnt, through media both social and anti-social, that it doesn't take much for a whole heap of Pakeha to get all worked up over not very much. Maybe we need to change the name of this country to the Land of the Thin White Skin.
I learnt that in some parts of middle New Zealand the traditional response to the concept of the "tall poppy syndrome" is to loudly cry "oh, get over yourself!" What I didn't learn is whether this is an example of the tall poppy syndrome at work.
I learnt that apart from the prize money and the publicity, giving out prizes for books is a dumb idea. It sort of works (apart from the constant controversies) at a Man Booker level, where you are comparing apples with apples, but when you start comparing apples with non-fictional oranges, the rhubarb of poetry and the grapefruit of coffee-table books suddenly it all falls apart and the wrong fruit wins.
I learnt that next week it is Valentine's Day, which coincides with the worldwide release of the movie adaptation of that other best-selling novel, Fifty Shades of Grey. I know that, strictly speaking, this has nothing to do with Cattongate, but the two things have become strangely and irrevocably linked in my head. Maybe this is because, when all was done and all was said, pretty much everyone involved deserved a jolly good (but entirely consensual) spanking.
I learnt that John Key is truly a man of the people in that just like 85 per cent of the people who started the book; he has never finished The Luminaries. Now I am wondering about Key and Fifty Shades of Grey. Has he read it? Has he read it all the way through? If so, was he happy with the ending?
I learnt that gratitude is important, but when the Catton-clamour finally turned to relative silence, it still wasn't clear to me what form my own personal gratitude should take. As a writer who works primarily in TV drama, which is usually largely public-funded (through New Zealand on Air), should I be grateful for the money that flows my way from the public coffers and not ever bite the hand that feeds? Or, as a writer who clearly likes to take a crack at those in power at any given opportunity, is it my duty to bite that hand and wear my Ungrateful Hua T-shirt with pride?
I don't like it when these things happen in New Zealand, because mostly what I'm grateful for is that I live in a country where you can say pretty much anything you want (short of actual treason, of course) without being labelled a traitor.
But then what do I know? I'm just a writer, not a politician or a talk-back host.