Tis the season for encouragement -- and a strong new brand?
Colin James's NZ Herald column for 23 December 2003
It's Christmas: let's celebrate the good in life. For example, the fall of Saddam Hussein. One tyrant down, a gift to the world.
It's a pity we can't add: peace on earth. There is so much more for George Bush and Tony Blair to do, so many more tyrants.
There is even a ready-made doctrine at hand, developed in 2001 by an international commission: that a state's first duty is to protect its citizens and when a state flouts that duty it devolves upon other states.
But Bush's and Blair's motivation in invading Iraq was not to bring Iraqis the good life, even though the end of Saddam's terror has banished that nightmare (a point I failed to make in a column a few weeks back). The Bush-Blair motivation was to defend their own citizens from terror and only incidentally help Iraqis.
Nevertheless, in the spirit of Christmas, let us acknowledge that Blair is a decent, well-meaning, religious man and that Bush by some accounts is, too, however devious or narrow some intimates are. Let's focus on the positive.
Let's do that here, too.
Godwit Sam Neill, the actor, told The Australian in October: "It can be a discouraging place, New Zealand." Well, it can also be encouraging. Neill himself proved that for me in a languorous lecture which uncovered the secrets in Colin McCahon's I AM. (McCahon now has world acclaim.)
Here are some other random and subjective "encouragements" from my year.
First: Tony Forsyth's cafe at Te Whau Point, Waiheke Island. My best lunch this year (and 2002 and 2001). Fine food, excellent New Zealand wines (including his own merlot, chardonnay and bordeaux), great vistas and gracious service. Billionaires helicopter in, others go by ferry.
The Forsyth enterprise (with wife Moira and diplomat sister Caroline) presents excellence without reticence.
Stay with food: tomatoes. My best this year came from Green co-leader Rod Donald's garden. Organic, of course. Succulent, as tomatoes were before supermarkets. There's a pointer.
Now a feast for the eyes: the handsome new Christchurch Art Gallery, which shows its New Zealand collection to advantage (and to Te Papa's shame). The William Sutton retrospective on when I was there was a refreshing reminder of the oases in the cultural desert of pre-1980s Newzild. (Dunedin's fine remake of its museum is another heritage "encouragement".)
Next: "encouraging" events.
Event one: the arts icon awards. At least five of those 10 iconic creators in both our major cultures merit a bigger memorial than the sainted Peter Blake.
Event two: the annual export awards and technology commendations -- an evening of unalloyed good news of inventiveness, energy and determination in this small country's laboratories and business. Take all New Zealand to such a show and it would adjust its sour view of business.
Inventiveness and energy, too, in the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Romeo and Juliet: pace, pathos, a versatile set. And arresting originality, pathos and humour in Helen Moulder's quirky Meeting Karpovsky with icon Jon Trimmer.
Add in the splendid Whalerider, from Witi Ihimaera's brilliant and best book. Producer John Barnett told the Dominion-Post he " has a duty to incorporate optimism in his productions ... but not in a Pollyanna sense. You have the chance to make material that will entertain people, that will give them pride."
Ah, pride. Well, the world champion netballers provided that: a team; focused; consistent. Unlike the All Blacks.
We have known ourselves through the All Blacks for a century. They have stood for "winning": world-beating amateurs. They have been us.
The All Blacks are stars now: brilliant and inconsistent. Not a team. They no longer tell us who we are -- except that we are not world-beating amateurs. The brand is up for grabs.
So turn to the Lord of the Rings. Not a minority sport. Not amateur. Speaking a world language. Doing it professionally, flairfully, excellently.
Rings is not my sort of film. Boredom set in halfway through the fairy-tale battles in medieval drag in the first episode. I haven't been to the sequels. The "Middle Earth" carry-on is kitsch, even if it does sell tourism.
But Rings tells the world something very important about us: that twenty-first-century technological skills are grown here. Rings is leading-edge creative engineering.
It is more than that. A nation is forged out of myth through generations of retelling until it is deep in a people's soul. Explore the deep impulses embedded in Whalerider and Rings -- the quintessentially polynesian and the quintessentially north European -- and you have the whiff of a clue as to how we might begin to generate that myth.
Rugby can't do it. Writers, artists, film-makers and creative engineers and scientists might.
So thank you, Peter Jackson. Now, after King Kong, how about another like Heavenly Creatures. An imaginative, well-engineered little film. Just like the place we want to be.