Friday, 11 March 2016

Fragging the Flag

How can you tell if you're desperate? Let's say you're chasing some guy/girl, or you're some caryard suit trying to make the big sell. You don't wanna look desperate - we all know that. The moment you look desperate, you're dead.
'Take this car. I don't care what you do with it - JUST TAKE IT! TAKE IT!'
So how do you avoid this? How do you know when you're approaching desperation? Well, it's simple really. Just ask yourself: are your attempts proving counterproductive to the goal you're trying to achieve? A desperate guy is more likely to find a date if he doesn't look like his whole life depends on it. A car salesman is more likely to sell a car if he doesn't seem to care if you want that 1994 Honda Accord complete with freshly installed speed holes. As I was once told, if you push for something too hard, it won't go on the direction you want it to. I remembered that advice very well, and I've learned that it's best to act like you don't fucking care - even if you do. You can win whole debates by acting as if you're not as frustrated as the opponent. Just watch the debates between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in 2012. Most of the time, it's what you don't say that counts. Heck, it can win you whole elections:

I'm saying this because in the past few months, John Key has been extremely counterproductive over this flag change issue: He has contradicted his typically impartial and relaxed demeanour and has given me another reason to vote for the original flag. All of those things have been expressed in this one single article. The article's headline is features John Key in Muldoon-esque fashion giving us the cold, hard facts: this is our last chance for a while. We won't get another flag vote until we become a republic.

Funnily enough, that works well for me, because becoming a republic seems like the only suitable time for us the change our flag. What better time to adopt a Union Jack-free flag than during our abandonment of the monarchy? Doesn't that just... make more sense? Now, some argue that it should have been changed already - that the flag change is just a long overdue enactment from the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act in 1947, and we still haven't caught up with the time for change. Well, that would be fine if we didn't delay that momentum for change by about... nearly 70 years, which the polls are happy to prove. Yes, 1947 would have been a great year to change the flag, but unfortunately, a flag change needs to have a rallied public, able with the burning fervour of political change. Those things were present when Canada changed their flag, so for us, that momentum for change won't happen again until either:
  • We elect a Trump-like figure
  • We become a republic
Hopefully, we'll only face one of those scenarios. Anyway, let's go back to Key, who's looking very paranoid:  
'Get some guts and fortify your electorate -
the green commies are coming for our daughters'
'If Labour and Green voters decide they're going to vote for the current New Zealand flag, solely on the basis they're giving the Government a black eye and hurting me personally, then they're completely and utterly failing, because we poll a lot, we poll in electorates, we poll across the country, and what I can tell you is our numbers have virtually never been stronger and my personal numbers are very strong.'

So the voting for the new flag began a couple of days ago, and I thought I should make this post. I had a few articles brewing up relating to this controversial issue, but piecing it together has been a nightmare. I've got lots to say, as you can imagine, but I'm not sure how to say it. It can be hard to conceptualise a complicated issue as it's still happening, and this flag change debate is much more a complicated issue than it should be. By the time this article is finished, it will be halfway through the referendum process, but I'm writing this under the assumption that original flag will have won, as polls indicate. This whole thing has been one big headache.

Before I get to my own opinions on the flag, I'd like to set the background for the current climate. As we know, debate is getting heavy - which I like. I like it when debate gets heavy, no matter what reasons. I always have said that discussing politics is infinitely better than not discussing it. Kinda like conspiracy theories - I hate people who believe in crazy things, but at least they believe in something. So it's becoming a social issue, a national issue, and sorry Mr. Key, the flag change is a political issue, whether you like it or not, and it's an awkward topic for both sides of the spectrum. If 8 years ago you gave National voters a crystal ball, they would have struggled to believe it would be their party pursuing this impulsive referendum, with the Labour party taking the more pragmatic and conservative approach. Surely it would be the other way around, right?
Now, in 2016, various national personalities have emerged on both sides of the fence, with Dan Carter supporting the flag change, and Stan Walker opposing it. But our celebrities' two cents pale in comparison to the mainstream media's input, which has been - excessive, to say the least. Virtually every impartial reporter have turned their regular contribution routine into a personal diary on their thought of the flag change. NZ Herald releases on average 6-8 opinion articles a day, and have 14 opinion editors, but our craving for opinion articles are leaking beyond the allocated section on our news websites. Nearly every article has the word 'Opinion:' at the start of it, although steadily more and more articles are excluding that vital first word, as opinion-driven news becomes the norm... which can be a good thing and a bad thing. In our case, it's a bad thing, because generally speaking, journalists are not as intelligent as we like to think they are. As a current events blogger, there is an overwhelming sense of relief when I realise they're no smarter than I am, and often, much less smart. It's kinda like when you first start learning to drive - it's intimidating until you slowly begin to realise that the other drivers are no better than you. (Unless, of course, everyone's bumping their car into yours because they really, really, really don't like you and you drive a Ferrari and everyone else drives a Toyota from the 90's)
'Outta the car, buddy, you're the fifth runt this morning to bump into my girl'
The problem is that journalists are paid for their ability to gather and present news impartially, but more and more, every journalist wants to be a pundit these days. The more you run your mouth, the more people listen. It's a good thing and a bad thing, so it wouldn't be fair to say the mainstream media has this big, beefy agenda, but there are certainly many people who want to see this debate turn in some certain direction, and often it's so explicit that it gets in the way of a relatively simple issue: that the majority of this country doesn't want a flag change, no matter what we think. And here's what I want to talk about, because I see it as the media, for lack of a better word, fragmenting an issue that doesn't need to be fragmented.

When Len Brown had the most stereotypically sleazy affair scandal ever, I was outraged. Even more so when I discovered that nobody cared. I was even more outraged when Len Brown won the mayoral reelection in 2013. Evidently nobody cared about values anymore! We're becoming a society of hedonistic satan-worshippers! I was much more traditionalist, back then. But everything changed when I learned about Cameron Slater and Dirty Politics. I realised that nobody would be talking about his affair had it not been for that one trollish, conservative Christian blogger who wanted to drive Len Brown out and replace him with a mayor more in line with his own political views. Then I realised, the affair itself wasn't the scandal, but rather, the means by which it was exposed. All of a sudden I was happy that Brown won the re-election, because it taught Slater an important lesson: you can't bully people out of office.

There is an overwhelming sense of relief the moment you realise nobody gives a shit
The point I'm trying to make is that in the case of Slater vs. Brown, the media were pretty well in line with what the public thought - that yes, it is worth acknowledging what happened, but no, I'm sorry, the public doesn't give a shit, and had the NZ Herald temporarily suspended it journalistic obligation to saturate itself with conservative pundits spouting the disgrace that Len Brown has brought to our fair city, then... we probably still wouldn't give a shit.

Because the old media (and by that I mean news outlets like Stuff, Newshub and NZ Herald) are supposed to present the news - the facts, and less on personal opinion, and many of these opinion articles do make good points about why we should change the flag, but they're missing one very important point:

I spent some time with an elderly Maori lady who enjoys many of her traditional cultural activities such as flax-weaving, Te Reo and discussing their oral tradition and history with the local Iwi. Being as cultured as she is, you would think that she would support the MCH (Ministry Of Culture and Heritage), but she doesn't - for the simple fact that there's no reason tax-payers should have to fund arts that majority of the public don't want. In Italy, the government doesn't fund Opera, for example, because it is so deeply entrenched in their culture that there's plenty of money to go around (well, there usually is). The point is there simply isn't enough desire for a flag change to go around. We're kidding ourselves if we think we do.

National: showing New Zealanders what they didn't even realise
they wanted since 1936
There's also a great irony or tragic justice to this whole flag change issue. For the last 7 years we've been represented by a so-called fiscally conservative, pragmatic government, yet this referendum flies in the face of that to every degree. You can argue the government is noble in their pursuit of this goal, but you can't argue that even National party voters are frustrated with their government's pursuit of it. The party knows they're losing support from their core voters, but they also maintain a philosophy of 'never back down' which is currently being stretched to the limits.

So what is my view on the flag change? Well, as you can imagine, I've been hearing plenty of reasons why the flag should change, but unfortunately, they're just not good enough. Yes, I'm aware that the flag looks like Australia's, but we should seriously be concerned about our eyesight if we aren't having to put up with the frustrations of nations like Chad and Romania...

Netherlands and Luxembourg
In fact, in this video of countries with similar flags, New Zealand and Australia aren't even included.

Let that video play, because the music will make you happy. So yeah, the Aussie and NZ flags are nowhere to be seen. Why? Probably because our flags don't look the same. Well, not if you have good vision, at least. Maybe we need to start printing flags in Braille. But who said they need to look different? Exporters? When I gatecrashed the flag change panel and spent the whole time arguing about why we're even having this discussion in the first place, they asked me why I had no support for 'the New Zealand brand'. Well, because this is my country, it's not a brand. So why change the flag? So we might not get confused with Australia? Maybe our flags are so similar because we are so very similar nations? We're both parliamentary constitutional monarchies descended from British colonies with majority white populations in the Tasman sea. Or, as my Uncle, now living and raising his family in Australia put it, 'Yes our flags look similar but that's indicative of our relationship. Two brother nations side by side. Let’s keep our flags to help remember that special bond.' If we changed our flag, it could be seen as a giant middle finger to centuries of diplomatic progress. It may shock New Zealanders, but the Tasman rivalry is strictly a one-sided affair. Kiwis may talk about how much Australia sucks, but Australians themselves do not possess any of this antagonism. At least the similarity between our flags could be regarded as symbolic of our closeness and similarities. Monaco and Indonesia have about as much in common as Fridges and Trees.

'Professor Oak, I think we need some time apart - I don't think this is working out.'
As soon as we defeat Boko Haram, famine, disease, economic
disaster, assorted rebels and our 14 year humanitarian crisis, we'll
then deal with the next important issue: changing our flag

A few years ago I would have been right behind the flag change, but what's changed since then is... probably my sense of national identity. I simply don't care about such trivial things. We live in a globalised world with global issues - terrorism, famine, war, climate change, resource depletion, refugees, etc. The first thing I refuse to care about is the self-image of one tiny, isolated, entitled and privileged island nation in the South Pacific whose only concern is that their flag doesn't serve a good marketing purpose. Shame on us, I say. Maybe once Chad becomes a first world country, then they can worry about changing their flag, which they won't, because they'll still have better things to worry about. The talking points used to encourage this whole flag changing business strikes me as tribalist, and sometimes, scary.Things like 'patriotism' and 'national identity' are not virtues that appeal to me in a country. In fact, they scare me. As a writer I was taught long ago 'Don't sacrifice quality in the pursuit of individuality.'  What that means in non-United States Founding Fathers terms is 'just because it's unique doesn't mean it's good'. I've learned that individuality rises from quality, not the other way around. New Zealand is trying to 'stand out' as a country through purely cosmetic means. We still tell people we are 'clean and green' and our airport arrival terminals are packed with as much Kiwiana as our souvenir shops. Our nation is becoming like a modern Simpsons episode - self-referencing style without substance, clinging on to the remnants of what once made it great without taking any efforts to maintain that same standard of greatness. What did make us great? Our pacifism, our social progressivism, our nuclear policy, our innocent backwardness, and other qualities are dying along with my pride in my nation.

So I'd love to change the flag, but I just don't care anymore. The government may be working hard to rally people into believing this actually matters, but I won't. That being said, I did think of my own flag design. It's essentially the Alofi Kanter silver-fern, except with the face of John Key in the middle of a shrewd discussion on export tariffs:

I chose this design way back at the start of last year, and I even put it up on a flag pole in Google Sketchup to give you an idea of how it would look. But alas, I left it too late to be included in the consideration panel. I think it would have done well. It combines the effective, tried n' true silver fern pattern we all know and love, with the pragmatic back-to-business cult of personality that is John Key we all know and love even more.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post Doug! Thanks for commandeering my voting paper