- Date published:
4:00 pm, April 22nd, 2019 - 75 comments
Categories: Christchurch Attack, climate change, colonialism, culture, Deep stuff, Economy, Environment, exports, heritage, identity, jacinda ardern, leadership, overseas investment, tourism, trade - Tags: boltholes, cultural cringe, david lange, eleanor catton, Maori culture
We are a torn little lot, aren’t we? We take much pride in our sports people and teams. We love our artists doing well on the global stage. Millions of tourists flock to our shores each year and pay good money to see a famous film set or jump off bridges hooked to a rubber band. On the other hand, our glaciers are retreating at a more than glacial pace – we are only 0.2% to blame for this – our rivers, lakes, and beaches are so polluted that they are unswimmable (but ‘wadeable’, according to some). Our 100% Pure slogan is and was an urban myth created and propagandised by PR and marketing firms working for the tourism industry and their political mates. However, we can claim to be the only country in the world that exports swamp Kauri logs for table tops. And Fonterra can boast being the largest dairy exporter in the world.
Our unique Māori cultural heritage is not something that it embraced by all people who call themselves Kiwis. The Māori culture is doing well overseas though and apparently perfect for branding of Scottish public relations agencies and the likes. If that makes you cringe, and it should, it is not cultural cringe, more the opposite.
So, what is cultural cringe? According to Wikipedia:
Cultural cringe, in cultural studies and social anthropology, is an internalized inferiority complex that causes people in a country to dismiss their own culture as inferior to the cultures of other countries. It is closely related to the concept of colonial mentality and is often linked with the display of anti-intellectual attitudes towards thinkers, scientists, and artists who originate from a colonial or post-colonial nation. It can also be manifested in individuals in the form of cultural alienation.
I’ve often wondered about a causal link between cultural alienation and the shocking youth suicide rates here in New Zealand, but that’s for another time.
Artists do visit New Zealand, to give concerts, for example, and they all love it here – we wouldn’t expect to hear any different. But visiting is not the same as living here. Our own artists may have mixed feelings about anti-intellectual attitudes as Eleanor Catton can attest. Cultural cringe often goes hand-in-hand with tall poppy syndrome and hero worship (fawning). It is a real shame that she has chosen to stay silent.
Many billionaires are very keen to become New Zealanders and own a (large) slice of our land. These highly successful innovators and entrepreneurs do not come here because of the intellectually stimulating environment. Rather, they buy up pristine spots and turn them into private boltholes, with security systems, bunkers, helipads and all (any MSSA exemptions for ‘pest control’?). No CGT. Of course, they invest here as well, in vineyards, for example, but so can ordinary Kiwi Mum & Dad investors if they have a spare million (put it on the mortgage, Love!).
A donation, split or not, to a political party may help ‘lubricate’ tricky VISA applications or to overcome other bureaucratic hurdles in consent processes, for example. An honour may be thrown in for good measure and to say thanks (‘receipt acknowledged’). Furthermore, a little philanthropy never goes astray if we conveniently ignore that we are not a third-world country or former colony in need of ‘humanitarian help’ – when somebody offers you money for nothing, it pays to not ask questions. The French shouldn’t be so hautain about philanthropy; money is money.
In recent times, our nation had to grapple with its very own shocking events. The eyes of the whole world were upon us and particularly on our PM. By all accounts, her empathic and authentic response was exactly what was needed and the best ‘medicine’ for the collective national and international outpouring of hurt and sadness. She made us feel proud to be Kiwis and we felt that she was symbolising our nation’s values. She will be instrumental in the long healing process too.
The current PM, Jacinda Ardern, has been compared with a previous PM, David Lange, who made us feel similarly proud when he gave his infamous speech at the Oxford Union. However, it remains to be seen whether Ms Ardern will repeat this feat with tackling climate change as “her generation’s nuclear-free moment”.
Interestingly, given her rising star status internationally, some people are starting to wonder whether New Zealand is too ‘small’ for her and when (!) she’ll make the move to something bigger and better somewhere overseas.
To me, this is another clear symptom of cultural cringe. Leading the Government of a nation with just under five millions residents is enormously complex. Would any other job overseas be equally challenging and rewarding at the same time? Would serving this country, her country, somehow not be enough? Would she not like to raise her child here and do what she can to make this a better place? There is so much to do and so much to achieve here …
Alternatively, those people may think of the financial rewards that can be acquired by taking up a so-called high-flying job overseas, as a career-enhancing move. They may overlook (or ignore) that the honour and privilege of leading this country through good and bad times is worth more than a well-paid job somewhere else, at least to some.
Indeed, there are plenty of examples of PMs who have treated the job as a stepping-stone to lucrative positions in the private sector. It looks good on your CV, being PM, and the vast networks of contacts with other movers & shakers come in handy too.
However, I think the main reason for expecting Ms Ardern to leave New Zealand is projection of a cultural cringe that New Zealand is somehow not good enough for ‘tall poppies’. I think that says more about how we, or those people rather, think about ourselves than how we view and value Jacinda Ardern or her personal achievements so far.