Random Play by Graham Reid

The Puritans, again

The new old Puritanism, again. A fortnight ago while researching and ringing around for an obituary piece on the late Maurice Shadbolt, I came across some quotes by him about the puritan ethic in New Zealand which was still endemic in the 30s and 40s. He said he was in “antagonistic reaction” to it.

We’d like to think that sniffy, furrowed-brow and arrogantly holy attitude might have died off -- after all, wasn’t that what we fought the 60s wars for? -- but it is still evident.

In my previous blog I fired a couple of late shots at those who condemned the young actress Keisha Castle-Hughes for her part in the new Prince video. The clip hadn’t actually been screened here at the time other than a snippet on a television news programme, which I also thought came at it with a variant of a “be prepared to go ballistic” intro. And indeed a few people did, adopting that puritan arrogance and wagging finger attitude.

Puritanism is still out there but that religion-based ethic has been replaced by what people have come to call “political correctness“.

We’re almost past the PC days of the 80s and 90s -- although the moronically un-PC phase is getting a little tedious already -- but if you listen to the way some people and politicians speak about smoking, for example, it is now in there with the seven deadly sins. And remember when Michael Cullen dismissed complaints about the new liquor tax which hit sherry drinkers? From a cloud somewhere in holier-than-thou land he sniffed about pensioners drinking a couple of bottles of sherries a week. Bugger it, if pensioners wants to drink themselves comatose every day of the week they might have just earned that right.

Like the old felluh in the wheelchair who was banned from his RSA for having a bit too much a bit too often. Dammit, the man was in a wheelchair, how much harm could he do?

But oh no, the pursed-lipped puritans weigh in, those who know better than you or I how we should live our lives. You know, safety nazis like the anti-fireworks folk who have determined that we, the great unwashed, shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy bonfires and skyrockets and so on in our own backyard with our neighbours. Gee, didn’t November 5th used to be such fun? My guess is that this year it will pass almost unnoticed and another opportunity for fun will have been lost and legislated out of existence.

(And don’t tell me that because people have no idea who Guy Fawkes was that’s reason enough to get rid of bonfire night. Go down that path and Easter is looking in serious jeopardy, along with Christmas, Labour Weekend and the Queen’s Birthday break.)

Already there are letters appearing in newspapers about how Halloween is an imported northern hemisphere festival so has no place here. Now just think about that for a minute.

I was reminded of how disconnected from contemporary reality some people are when reading the letters to this month’s North and South.

You may have seen the magazine advertisement in which a father and son are seated in a grandstand enjoying a game of rugby. Around them are a few teenage girls looking bored. The caption reads that for her birthday Dad took his daughter to the NPC. Or something like that.

I read it and laughed. But not everyone saw it that way. Jane Cookdale saw the ad in North and South and … Well, she went ballistic actually.

Unless this is a joke (and please God let it be one and I have got this way wrong) she said the advertisement “is not only chauvinistic but is actually making light of the demeaning behaviour the daughter is exposed to as her needs for attention, respect and appreciation are selfishly neglected by her father.”

But wait, Jane from Milton is just warming up.

“Is New Zealand a country where this kind of misogynistic stereotyping is considered funny enough for advertising?”

Light fuse and stand well clear, because here she goes: “Will the advocating of abortion of female foetuses be next?”

I thought such leaps of idiocy were long gone, back when Broadsheet was spinning on its axis and former supporters were flying off.

I feel sorry for Jane (but more for people in her orbit who might have to listen to such diatribes) and can only suggest to her and such people to raise their sights from the manuals of correctness and start enjoying life, there is plenty of it out there. And even more than before.

This hits home to me every morning at the letterbox. In my block of 21 apartments I am the only person who subscribes to the Herald. People are getting their news and entertainment from elsewhere, or perhaps not at all. When I moved in almost three years ago I was told the body corporate didn’t allow Sky digital dishes because they looked unsightly. I rang the body corporate guy and pointed out that my end wall faced a railway line and the only people who could possibly complain would be train passengers. If you’ve ever travelled by the western line -- or indeed, unlike our new mayor, on any Auckland suburban rail line -- then you’ll know that digital dishes are the least of the unsightly sights. So my dish went up.

Now in my block there are at least 10 dishes visible (not that ugly looking actually). And that tells me people are turning off mainstream Kiwi television also.

That’s what happens when you sign your programming over to Touchdown and “reality” shows I suppose.

I’m old enough to remember when people at work would talk about what had been on television the previous night, knowing everybody had seen the same programme. Now there are more choices on the screen from about 40 channels to DVD and video selections, X-Box and God knows what else. At night you could even read a book or magazine. That’s if you want to stay at home.

A couple of Wednesdays ago we went out to dinner in a suburban Ponsonby restaurant-cum-bar and the place was packed. We also went out last Monday to a Viaduct place and it too was heaving. People don’t just wait for the weekend to party down as they used to. People have lives and are enjoying them.

Some might consider them hedonists, (insert your opinion here, Jane from Milton) but they don’t seem bad people to me. Although some of them were shamelessly smoking.

The pinched-mouth puritans of old New Zealand and their neo-conservative offspring must cringe when they see what has happened to their world.

Jane in her letter said she couldn’t believe that “any intelligent person would find [that rugby advertisement] attractive or appropriate.”

Appropriate, Jane? For what?

And this came from Milton -- a town once called after its chief feature, a mill -- but now sharing its name with the great visionary poet? Still, he was a Puritan. But also one who was a humanist and defended free will.

How appropriately ironic.