Brian Edwards Media

‘The Hobbit’ – A Layman’s Attempt to Make Sense of it All

pic: 3 News

 

Two things astonish me about ‘The Hobbit affair’. The first is that, despite the now tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of words written about the dispute, no two people seem to have an identical understanding of what it was all about. The second is that I have seldom seen opinion or feeling in the country so polarised. Actors on both sides of this drama have been abused, vilified, even threatened with death. A dispute that very few New Zealanders really understand has led to bitterness and recrimination, often expressed in intemperate and hysterical terms. There are echoes here of the ‘smacking’ debate, perhaps even of the divisiveness of 1981. And there are no real winners.

I have now spent hours discussing the issue with Judy, an award-winning television dramatist, former Chair of the Board of the NZ Academy of Film and Television Arts, inaugural President of the NZ Writers Foundation and former President of the NZ Writers Guild. She ought to know what is going on. But at the end of our discussions, I understand the rules of the game, but not how this particular game was played. To really understand that, you needed not merely to be party to discussions and conversations that took place on both sides of the dispute, but an insight into the mindset, motivation and real intentions of all the players.  

Given all those limitations, this is as close as I can come to a layman’s assessment of what happened.  

  • This dispute was never really about the Peter Jackson production of ‘The Hobbit’. New Zealand actors were not merely comfortable with the contractual terms and conditions offered by Jackson, they described them as ‘generous’. In particular, Jackson had negotiated with Warner Brothers for actors on the film to be paid ‘residuals’ – payments for later sales, merchandising etc.
  • What NZ ActorsEquity, self-described as a fully-funded autonomous part of the [Australian] Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance [MEAA,]’ wanted was the opportunity to negotiate and set down guidelines for minimum terms and conditions for its members working on television and movie productions filmed in this country. They wanted to talk to SPADA, the Screen Production and Development Association, representing New Zealand producers, and to Peter Jackson himself.
  • Jackson refused to talk to the union, citing a finding by the New Zealand Attorney General that such negotiations would be against New Zealand industrial law. SPADA also refused to talk to the union.
  • ‘The Hobbit’ thus became a vehicle for the Australasian actors unions to put pressure on SPADA, Jackson and, indirectly, local and foreign companies making movies in New Zealand. .Against this background,  Simon Whipp, head of MEAA, submitted  the following resolution to the FIA:

“Resolved, that the International Federation of Actors urges each of its affiliates to adopt instructions to their members that no member of any FIA affiliate will agree to act in the theatrical feature film “The Hobbit” until such time as the producer has entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance for production in New Zealand providing for satisfactory terms and conditions for all performers employed on the production”.

  • This amounted to an international actors’ boycott/ hold to sign/do not work order against ‘The Hobbit’, which was now effectively being used by the actors’ unions  as a vehicle to advance their case for contract negotiations with SPADA and (possibly) with Jackson.  
  • Given the paranoia of American studios about prospective industrial action during the production of a movie, further fuelled in this case by the involvement in the dispute of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, production of Jackson’s movies in New Zealand was now threatened.
  • In the face of the possible loss of ‘The Hobbit’ and subsequent movies to New Zealand and of widespread public opposition to the actors’ stance, the boycott was subsequently withdrawn.
  • This did not, however, reassure Warner Brothers or Jackson who maintained the damage to the American studios’ confidence had been done and that the movies might still be lost.
  • At this point, the government stepped into the act and the results of their negotiations with Warner Brothers are now known

My layman’s view of all of this is that in instituting and later withdrawing industrial action against ‘The Hobbit’, the New Zealand actors, naively rather than maliciously, gave the American producers of the movie genuine grounds for concern about the possibility of similar or worse trouble during the making of the film (and other films)  in New Zealand, but  that the dispute also offered the studio a unique opportunity to apply pressure to the New Zealand government to sweeten the deal. The outcome has been a loss to this country of both sovereignty and massive amounts of money; the actors are no better off and their situation may indeed have worsened; and the country is split down the middle by acrimonious debate, finger pointing and name calling.

No one, it seems to me has emerged particularly well from all of this. The actors were precipitate and naïve in starting something which they could not finish; Peter Jackson’s response can only be described as petulant and hysterical; the involvement of the CTU and the stridency of its approach merely served to fuel Warner Brothers’ paranoia; the American studio ruthlessly exploited its advantage; and the Government buckled to their excessive demands.

The lesson? Well, as I suggested in my earlier post: ‘If you haven’t got a plan, don’t get out of the car!’ 

32 Comments:

  1. Perhaps there’s another lesson for NZ Equity/MEAA: If you’re going to try bluffing on a weak hand, don’t go all in with professional card sharks. And if you must, don’t expect a lot of sympathy when you lose. Big.

  2. Thanks Brian. That commentary “feels” right. I won’t assert it is because like you I can’t get a clear take on things.

    My one quibble is around government involvement. I don’t feel the government had much choice but to buckle. There is clearly a lot at stake. And for the unions to get all righteous about it is a bit much. They precipitated a crisis. Resolving the crisis has affected their interests, but whose fault is that? It’s a bit like setting your house alight and then blaming the fire brigade for destroying your ornamental garden in the course of putting it out.

    • My one quibble is around government involvement. I don’t feel the government had much choice but to buckle

      I think that’ s right.

  3. Actors’ ‘hoist by their own petard’ was a term that sprang to my mind this week.

    But agree that mistakes were made on on all sides and ineptitude was another word I thought of.

    • Actors’ ‘hoist by their own petard’ was a term that sprang to my mind this week.

      Indeed. I only recently learnt that that meant – Blown up by their own bomb!

  4. I can’t agree that Peter Jackson’s response can only be described as petulant and hysterical. That’s not an evenhanded or balanced judgement.

    • I can’t agree that Peter Jackson’s response can only be described as petulant and hysterical. That’s not an evenhanded or balanced judgement.

      OK, it’s a matter of personal judgement. That’s what I felt when I saw him interviewed on Close Up and Campbell Live.

  5. A fair summmation, but I think a wider conceern is the damage the CTU has done to itself and indirectly to the Labour Party. As Chris Trotter in his article in the Dom Post this morning said, Phil Goff behaved like a possum mesmerised by the lights of an oncoming juggernaust and closed his eyes hoping the juggernaut would miss.

    The incompetence that the CTU has demonstrated over this is astounding. It is equally astounding that any part of the New Zealand work force would allow an Australian feral trade unionist to speak for them.

    You, Brian may remember the miners;’ strike in the UK; another example of a battle picked at the wrong time that was unwinnable. Another Trade union leader (I think it was Chapple of the ETU) described the miners as lions led by donkeys, areference from WW 1. I would not exactly describe actors as lions more like the gadarene swine but the principle is the same.

    Whatever you may think of PJ or Warner Brothers the labour movement has handed the National government a very large stick which will be used willingly to erode the rights of working people in New Zealand.

    That outcome should be of far more concern than whether or not the hobbit is made in New Zeland.

  6. Slightly ammended response to the Herald’s editorial:

    John Key should have entered into the negotiating room on a non-contingent basis. In the context of the already-tabled Government sweeteners for Warners — what has, further, been relinquished is just extra icing on the cake, for them. The amount of taxpayer money, Key has given up, wasn’t
    very significant in the context of Warner’s overall budget. And it would not have made any difference in the final analysis. But it’s an extra cost that’s been levied on the taxpayer, after the original arrangements were agreed upon.

    Warners were able to seize upon the knowledge: that 87% of the — polled — population were holding the unions to blame for the growing ructions as to pay and conditions. And there was a growing public backlash against them and the actors. Industrial uncertainty would eventually be self-resolved by the public’s anti-union sentiment. But Warners were able to leverage off this fear, to embolden-and-empower themselves, to issue veiled threats of “relocation”.

    Columnists (such as Paul Holmes), were right in the midst of the finger-pointing and fear- mongering, aggravating the deteriorating situation, further. Their behaviour was straight out of the pages of “The Crucible”.

    The “key” player (excuse the pun) was Jackson, himself. He’s the Director; so, as to ‘Where’ he wanted to film, was always going to be of material
    consideration to Warners’ decision. I can only guess, that Jackson was complicit with Warners — to put heat on the Government to extract further financial concessions. And, thus, give him additional latitude and insurance. (A buffer against possible production-cost overruns). Every little bit counts, so to speak. The unions’ action, clumsy as it was, came as pure serendipity for Warners.

    Oh, before everyone rushes to lavish praise on John Key as “The “Almighty Saviour”, just remember: he was negotiating with on open chequebook. Courtesy of the taxpayer. The PM was selling the country down the river, to buy much popularity for himself as the Mr. Fixit.
    Notice how, Key, put on his “tough act”, prior to going into negotiations. All that business-talk bravado for public consumption.

    The public has been, cynically, “suckered” by Jackson, Warners and our own PM. Easily accomplished, thanks to our “agrestic” heritage.

  7. I cant help but think that the Richard Taylor organised protest served no useful purpose other than to ratchet-up the tension.

  8. It seemed to me that those posting on various blogsites were writing at enormously crossed purposes.
    Gerry Brownlie said in the House that Warners did not asked for legislation changes. Yet Brownlie said that it was all Actors Equity’s fault that they had to enact. As far as I can tell, all film actors in NZ are classed as contractors. Therefore the enactment does not alter at all the status of Actors Equity.
    I am confused!

  9. Earlier this week Mr Whipp claimed that our film industry is “in decline” and that the australian industry is “burgeoning”. Mr Key claims, on the same day I think, that the aus film industry is “in tatters! Some clarity would be appreciated.

  10. I had a discussion (heated) with a friend last Saturday, before the Govt grovelled to Warner Bros. I always believed the movie would be made in NZ and the issue was about getting more money out of the gvt.

    One could say the Actors Union were naive, but they do not deserve the vitriol that has been dished out to them. If one believes in democracy, then workers (in this case actors) have the right to negotiate their wages and working conditions, which are pretty poor for the majority.

    Peter Jackson may be a wonderful director, but my respect for him took a battering when I watched him on Campbell Live. As for John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures, his comments about Robyn Malcom and Jenifer Ward Lealand were outrageous. He said they were unlikely to get any more work because they were damaged goods. He obviously does not intend to employ Robyn Malcolm for any future TV series.

  11. Earlier this week Mr Whipp claimed that our film industry is “in decline” and that the australian industry is “burgeoning”. Mr Key claims, on the same day I think, that the aus film industry is “in tatters! Some clarity would be appreciated.

    Well, Simon, the people I know who were put out of work when Green Lantern shifted from Sydney to Louisiana a few weeks before production was due to start might beg to differ with Mr. Whipp. Ditto for the businesses in Broken Hill who’ve been told that production on Mad Max 4 is being delayed again — this time, until early in 2012.

  12. As for John Barnett of South Pacific Pictures, his comments about Robyn Malcom and Jenifer Ward Lealand were outrageous.

    What’s really outrageous about them, Joan, is you seem to be making them up. He hasn’t threatened to blacklist either woman, and what he said is this, paraphrased by the Herald’s Derek Cheng:

    He said anyone should be free to express their views but producers would be reluctant to hire them because public perception was a huge factor in casting.

    That’s actually true, Joan. Do you think it’s a coincidence that Mel Gibson is finding it rather hard to get work with his record of drunken racist and anti-semitic rants?

  13. I’m really surprised that no one’s mentioned how Peter Jackson sued New Line Cinema about the profit-sharing imbroglio, with regard to the LOTR trilogy box office receipts and the income from residuals and the associated marketing products. Jackson launched a much-publicised law suit, claiming he’d been gypped by NLC, for millions (even, “hundreds of millions”). NLC coughed up a substantial sum to Jackson — whether it was by a favourable court ruling or out-of-court settlement, I can’t recall. The upshot was: that NLC made it well known that they would NEVER engage Jackson in any of their future film projects. They were that pissed with him.

    In 2008, NLC merged with Warner Bros. NLC, actually, bring all the main components into the film projects; they are elemental in any film’s production. Warners are the “heavy hitters” when it comes to financing, marketing, promotional events and distribution. Warners has also JV’d ”The Hobbit’ with MGM, who is the subject of a takeover from Lion Films.

    The thing is this: NLC and Peter Jackson have, clearly, “kissed and made up” in order to proceed with ‘The Hobbit’. How can it be, that millions of “Our” dollars goes to Warners etc., to get resolution of labour uncertainty; moreso, when the union was climbing down, faster, than someone exiting a fire escape? It can only be, that Jackson is doing everything he can, to patch-up his past — and very ugly — fallout with NLC. And he’s parlayed the union fiasco as his contrived subterfuge, to lean on the Government to make more concessions. And, Key, (dumb as he is) has acquiesced. Not by hard-fought negotiations but by meek compliance, he’s just rolled over. Money’s no object when it comes to, Key, being a Poster Boy. Especially, when it’s not his own money.

    The real sad thing is, that certain actors have been cruelly laid out on Jackson’s sacrificial altar, in the quest of paying homage to his gods.
    That’s the real injustice, here.

  14. Joan I don’t think any of us disagree with your starting position that actors have the right to negotiate their conditions. Egalitarianism is in our blood.

    The trouble is rights only have value if recognised by others. The problem NZ has here, as in so many things including comparative health workforce salaries we discussed some months back, is that our perception of ourselves and the reality are different. We are not a first world country in strictly economic terms. And as a consequence we need to think carefully before we demand things. Hence the comments about the actors being naive.

    Moreover, demanding things when you have no leverage and when you are impacting on the well-being of other workforces starts to look like recklessness and selfishness.

    Finally, when you have been demanding and reckless and maybe selfish as well, it is probably worth taking the medicine and not casting around to find someone else to blame for the consequences of your actions.

    Merv, that is a great conspiracy theory based on nothing in particular.

  15. Merv@08:42:
    The upshot was: that NLC made it well known that they would NEVER engage Jackson in any of their future film projects. They were that pissed with him.

    No, Merv — that was a rather unfortunate blurt from then-CEO Robert Shaye. I think we can judge the weight that New Line’s owners put in Shaye’s business judgement by the fact he was, in effect, fired the same day the company he founded ceased to exist as an independent production and distribution house.

  16. I hope that this isnt a slippery slope where contracting becomes a widespread practice throughout all industries.I note NZ Post is looking to turn posties from employees to independant contractors.

  17. 55,000 New Zealand businesses closed in the year ended Feb 2010, up 6 percent on the previous year. (NZ Dept of Statistics, 29 October 2010)

    Were any of these New Zealand businesses offered tax concessions or tailor-made legislation to keep them operating? Why does only a US firm get such special treatment? (It’s a safe bet those 55,000 firms employed more than the few thousands in the film industry.)

    It will be a very frosty Friday before New Zealand media reports honestly or less than positively about Peter Jackson and his concerns, because they are all afraid of losing access to his studios, premieres, locations, star interviews, etc, if they do. Media self interest prevails, so they become PJ’s cheerleaders.

    It’s also a fascinating coincidence that the announcement that Weta Workshops would be handling the Avatar business was not made till the day after our government had made its concessions to Warner Brothers. Would Richard Taylor have got so many of his workers out protesting about the Hobbit had they been told the week before that their jobs were in fact already secure because of Avatar? Great timing – well finessed.

  18. Dazza -a very perceptive take on media motivations for one sided coverage.

  19. I think PJR is on the money: the legislation promulgated by Govt is the thin end of the wedge -and I think I have a line on how they’ll drive it home. They’ll play the Human Rights card. ‘Oh dear: seems we can’t apply it solely to actors; that’s discrimination by employment status. We’ll apply it across the board then.’ It will be something along those lines I suspect.

    Of course Contract for Service ensures that the employer will be exempt from paying holiday pay, overtime, penal rates, sick leave, annual leave…
    Neat, eh?

    This whole gig was lose/lose from the get go. No one came out well from this, least of all the wage or salary-earning taxpayer as well as contractors-for-service, who once again was robbed. But why should I expect anytghing else from the kleptocrats who have been running this country for the last 25 years?

    I have to diverge from the popular view on whether or not the Govt had to buckle: it had to do nothing of the kind. It is my belief that the making of ‘the Hobbit’ will cost rather than benefit New Zealand – and that was before The Rt Hon. PM added gratuitously to the bill. Further, the whole schemozzle demonstrated the same thing as the rancid ‘Loyalty Campaign’ did in respect of the America’s Cup in years agone. This country doesn’t even deserve to have the thing made here.

    Lest that last remark sound inconsistent, I should explain that I see no good reason why the making of ‘The Hobbit’, or any movie, should come at a net cost to New Zealand. But the over-generous concessions made by this Government has ensured that it will. What happened to the goodwill this country ought to have earned with the grants in respect of LOTR?

  20. Brian, I saw only the Campbell Live interview and didn’t think Jackson was hysterical.

    Also, perhaps mistakenly, I don’t think it fair to attack Robyn Malcolm or any of the actors. I entirely believe her that she thought it appropriate to lend her support to an action that might improve conditions for younger and less well established actors. I think that’s precisely the kind of leadership and character people in her position ought to adopt. Sadly, I think she was very badly supported/advised by MEAA.

  21. As an aside, what I find really interesting is that Jackson and Taylor received awards from the Clark government that left them as Mr Jackson and Mr Taylor. Now, thanks to the puffery espoused by Mr Key (I presume he hopes one day to be “Sir” John) these Knights of the Realm are found to be not much more than hollow men, interested, at least in part, in self-aggrandizement. If anyone is to be allowed to be called “Sir” perhaps we could wait until they are sufficiently old enough not to make oafs of themselves. Eighty would be a good age to start.

  22. For a wider perspectivew read Chris Trotter’s column in today’s ‘The Press’.

    I quote the following extracts from his column,

    ‘Who are we now? What have we become? Where, exactly is New Zealand?’….. How did it come to this? When did New Zelanders lose touch with their country’s own identity to such a degree that many now take more pride in being associated with a work of literary fantasy than their own homeland? …… Central to [the] task (fostering the neo-liberal economic order) has been the deliberate falsification of this country’s recent history. For New Zealanders to become the “global citizens” of the “borderless world” that neo-liberalism requires, all generators of national identity, all the mechanisms of economic sovereignty must be dismantled……. New Zealander’s must be persuaded to perceive their country’s recent past in darkly negative terms …….. Neo-liberalism has erected a raucous culture of rampant greed and conspicuous consumption…….. All that matters is winning…… Anyone attempting to block the great man’s (Peter Jackson) path must be dismissed as, to use Paul Holmes’ ripe vocabulary “filth” ‘. (C Trotter, The Press, 02/10/2010)

    There are undercurrents at work in our society/culture that are not always apparent at the time. Neo-liberalism and post modernism conspire to make us all appear the same, supposed equals (global citizens) in a world of boundless opportunity.

    Where are the critics of socio-cultural movements in New Zealand? Brian, you touch on many issues pertinent to this via your blog. Where are the academics who analyse societal trends? Thank goodness for Chris Trotter and the few others who speak out.

  23. What NZ Actors‘ Equity, self-described as ‘a fully-funded autonomous part of the [Australian] Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance [MEAA,]’ wanted was the opportunity to negotiate and set down guidelines for minimum terms and conditions for its members working on television and movie productions filmed in this country. They wanted to talk to SPADA, the Screen Production and Development Association, representing New Zealand producers, and to Peter Jackson himself.

    Jackson refused to talk to the union, citing a finding by the New Zealand Attorney General that such negotiations would be against New Zealand industrial law. SPADA also refused to talk to the union.

    Sigh … Until 2006, Equity negotiated guidelines with Spada, in the form of the so-called “Pink Book”. The craft guilds negotiate the Blue Book of guidelines.

    That stopped when NZAE became part of the Australian union. 18 months ago, Spada approached NZAE to renegotiate the now-outdated Pink Book. NZAE refused, because it didn’t want to negotiate guidelines, but sought binding collective agreements. Spada took the view (with some justification) that it was legally prohibited from striking such agreements with independent contractors.

    Spada sought a meeting with Equity after the Hobbit dispute went public, and was declined. A second approach was more successful and a meeting, brokered by Gerry Brownlee, finally took place.

    The respective parties have agreed to … renegotiate the Pink Book. That is, the action that NZAE spokespeople have repeatedly dismissed. It was a complete backdown by the union.

    Moving on: although union spokespeople were declaring “we only wanted a meeting with Peter!” after the issue went public, it’s now evident that a request for a meeting with Jackson had never actually been made. At any rate, the union seemed to want to negotiate an industry agreement via Jackson — I think it would have been unwise and unethical for Jackson to put himself in that position.

    The motion passed by the actors’ meetings essentially ignored the key issue — the existence of a global “don’t work” order against the Hobbit, and completely ignored the idea of a collective agreement, which was the ostensible point of the boycott (if you read the notices, that’s what they said). They were actually told a collective agreement wouldn’t be possible, for the same reasons as Spada cited.

    Also, the boycott was put in place as far back as June, on the basis that the producers of The Hobbit had refused to negotiate. We now know that at that time, and for some time after, Warners had not been asked to negotiate. The strategy was to impose the ban — and then use it as leverage (this is Jackson’s “gun to our head”). It didn’t work out very well, and I think Warners got in some payback when it withheld the news that the dispute had been settled. Playing hardball can rebound on you.

    There’s more to it, but I’m becoming weary of explaining it. My view is that the union’s strategy and tactics were disastrous, and its failure to talk to other screen unions before embarking on its stunts was unforgivable.

    Compare and contrast with Irish Equity’s recent legislative victory, which gave independent contractors the explicit right to negotiate collective agreements (by amending competition law). The NZ Writers Guild had been gearing up to campaign for similar change, along with fraternal guilds in other countries. That’s pretty much shot now. Equity screwed up very badly indeed.

    Meanwhile, Trotter et al poured class war rhetoric all over everything. It was fairly insane.

  24. I concur with Chris Trotter’s sentiments. This is something I sent to a few people…

    “”If ever mass hysteria gripped this country, it was no better demonstrated that the last few weeks, when an industrial dispute erupted between Peter Jackson and Actor’s Equity. The reaction from every segment of New Zealand society was one of collective naked fury not seen since the Under Arm Incident of 1981 or as divisive as the Springbok Tour, in the same year.

    A simple dispute between Employer and Union turned into a near-panic and events spiralled unbelievably out of control, taking all the main players by surprise. There were street marches; Youtube videos of Union officials harassed by anonymous video-photographers; threats; counter-threats; abusive emails(again mostly anonymous); newspaper editorials; and Talkback radio and internet chatrooms that demanded blood and the sacrifice of First Born.

    All over a couple of movies about hairy-footed fantasy characters.

    Actors Equity, to it’s credit realised that the ire of the Village Mob had been aroused; were screaming for retribution; and duly called off any and all industrial action. Mostly to no avail, as reason had taken leave of most New Zealanders, it seems.

    Finally, our esteemed Prime Minister and Typical All-Round Nice Bloke, John Key, faced off against a high-powered gang of Hollywood executives from Warner Bros. He went into the meeting declaring beforehand that there would be “no bidding war” with the likes of Slovakia or Hungary to retain the movies.

    He came out some hours later confirming that tax-payers would be paying $85 million to Warner Bros, and we would be changing our labour laws to comply with their wishes. The Mafia couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.

    But was on Earth caused such a nationwide, feverish hysteria from so many normally easy-going Kiwis? What sparked such an outrage that saw local actors threatened with violence and even death? Even Robyn Malcolm stated she would be selling her home – such was the naked hatred being expressed toward members of New Zealand’s Actor’s Equity.

    To be clear, this mass hysteria has little to do with an industrial dispute.

    It has little to do with the prospect of losing a $650 million dollar venture to Eastern Europe.

    And to be brutally clear, most folk couldn’t care tuppence about local actors and technicians losing their jobs in the process.

    After all, New Zealanders have stood by quietly and meekly as company after company relocated their manufacturing base and call centres tro China, Australia, Fiji, India, and elsewhere. Certainly not one single New Zealanders marched in the streets when Fisher & Paykel moved their manufacturing to China or when Telstra Clear moved part of it’s call centre to The Philippines; as did many other companies.

    Since the late 1980s, tens of thousands of jobs have been lost overseas, and most of our manufacturing sector has followed suit. Even our farmland is now up for grabs (more on this in a moment).

    So obviously, New Zealanders are not to fussed about the ‘gutting’ of our economy. It has been happening for over twenty years and mostly with practiced indifferance by The Kiwi Masses.

    So what was it that stirred the blood of ordinary New Zealand men and women to boiling point?

    The answer, I would suggest, lies in our sense of self; our national identity.

    Quite simply – we don’t have one.

    Once upon a time, we took pride in our rugby team, the All Blacks. Players such as Colin Meads, Sid Going, Brian Lahore, Ian Kirkpatrick were the stuff of legends. We were a tiny nation, but our team of fifteen black-garbed heroes could venture forth and thrash teams from far more numerically-populated nations. Australia, Britain, South Africa, France – all fell before The Mighty Blacks.

    Then, as rugby became commercialised and slightly less “heroic”; splintered into various other ‘codes'; tickets became outrageously expensive; and the names became more South Pacific than South Island – we slowly ceased to identify ourselves with the game. We became more sophisticated and were tempted with other sporting distractions in which we could take a small measure of national pride.

    Also once upon a time, we took pride in being a rural country that could out-produce any other agricultural and farming country on this planet. Our archetypal hero, Fred Dagg, was a simple character with common sense wisdom and good-natured, blokish, humour.

    But we outgrew Fred Dagg; John Clark moved to Australia; and our farmers began to speak with American, Australian, and Chinese accents.

    We were a nation left with not many heroes, except for randy doctors and nurses on “Shortland Street” and high-flying financiers such as Faye & Richwhite and Allan Hawkins. Except that Faye & Richwhite were eventually investigated by the Securities Commission for insider-trading; the NZ Railways they purchased was looted and our rail system fell apart through lack of maintenance; and Allan Hawkins ended up in jail. The doctors and nurses on “Shortland Street” carried on with their amourous activities.

    Then almost overnight, a new hero burst upon the scene: Peter Jackson.

    Jackson started off in 1987 with his Z Grade splatter-movie, “Bad Taste”. He quickly ran out of money and required tax-payer bail-out to the tune of $235,000 from the New Zealand Film Commission.

    The film achieved a small measure of cult-status and kick-started Jackson’s career. His subsequent films were popular, employing unique and charming aspects of Kiwi culture and humour.

    In 2001, Jackson’s first installment of “The Lord of The Rings” was released and became an international sensation. The eventual-trilogy earned Jackson Hollywood accolades; millions of dollars; and more Oscar Awards than could be carried in Fred Dagg’s old wheelbarrow.

    Indeed, the entire country shared in the radiant glory. New Zealand was suddenly the center of international attention, if not most of the Known Universe. To be a Kiwi was cool. Tourists flocked to our country, eager to see the mountains; the rivers; the forests; and Hobbits roaming freely. Aotearoa became Hobbiton.

    The Mountain Troll stood guard in Wellington’s civic square. A hero’s parade at the World Premiere of “Return of the King” wound it’s way through Wellington’s streets. Dragons adorned The Embassy and Readings Theatres. A giant arrow was cleverly plunged into the side of a Courtney Place pub. And a giant statue of Gollum greeted visitors to Wellington’s International Air Terminal.

    We suddenly knew who we were; we were the mythical land of Middle Earth. We were the nation that produced a man who could complete three complex movies, back-to-back, reaping hundreds of millions in profit in the process.

    It put New Zealand on the map and our national and personal pride was boundless.

    When the trilogy won a combined total of seventeen Oscars, Billy Crystal was moved to say, at the 2004 Academy Award ceremonies; “It’s now official. There is no one left in New Zealand to thank.” .That was the point at which Kiwis experienced a collective orgasm.

    As many of the protest-placards stated during the recent “Save The Hobbit” marches; “New Zealand IS Middle Earth”.

    So when Actor’s Equity began their industrial action at the end of September, they were not just taking on Peter Jackson. Nor were they taking on Warner Bros. No, Actor’s Equity was “attacking” New Zealand’s deepest, cultural psyche.

    New Zealanders now identified so closely with hobbits and Middle Earth that any suggestion that movie productions be moved offshore was akin to wounding our collective heart. No wonder we responded with such irrational anger and hatred; our very national identity was under threat and as any psychologist will tell you, assaulting a person’s psyche can have far more dire consequences than simply biffing him one.

    New Zealand was not about to lose something we identified so closely with. (Because we had nothing else left in which to express our national pride.) And certainly not through industrial action led by an Australian, through an Australian trade union – which in itself raised stark issues surrounding our rivalry with that country. Australia was (in)famous for attempting to steal our cultural icons and now it appeared that they were after ‘Our Precious’, The Hobbit.

    Yes, it seems we are that insecure.

    So when John Key bent over backwards to the Wide Boys from Warner Bros, he was prostituting this country because he had no alternative. Far better to “take one for the team” than an alternative that, conceivably, could have resulted in people actually being harmed or killed.

    Yes, the hatred was that palpable.

    For a brief moment in our history, we went collectively mad. We were Bilbo Baggins faced with the awful prospect of losing The Ring forever.

    And like Bilbo, we just couldn’t bear to part with The Precious. We were The Precious and without it, we were faced with a cultural emptiness.

    We are indeed slaves to The One Ring.””

  25. A very persuasive narrative, Mr Macskasy! Like you, I have never been able to understand what benefit there was to this country of exporting industries, exporting jobs, exporting expertise, exporting talent. Not to mention exporting treasure.

    I have long suspected of the higher strata in our society a certain ‘cargo cult’ mentality that hopes that someone from outside this country will ‘save’ and enrich us. Perhaps the sacrificing of home-developed wealth, even unto looting the commonweal to enlarge the gift, was an attempt to propitiate whatever deity they worship – oh yes, that’s right: the Free Market, so called. I knew it had to be some metaphysical myth or other…

    Cheers,
    Ion