Brian Edwards Media

I offer my humble opinion on Eleanor Catton’s treason

Photo: Robert Catto

Photo: Robert Catto

I arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand in mid-September 1964 to take up a lecturing position at Canterbury University. My wife, infant son and I had been airborne for around 36 hours with a two-hour break in Los Angeles to have a shower and freshen up. We were greeted at Christchurch airport by the head of the German Department, not yet a professor, who escorted us to his Volkswagen Beetle into which we poured ourselves, our child and our luggage with some difficulty.

We were, it transpired, to be billeted in a motel until we found permanent accommodation. The motel was in somewhere called Riccarton where the yet-to-be-professor said he would deposit us while we ‘settled in’.

As we were shoe-horning ourselves out of the V-Dub I twisted my ankle on the unexpectedly deep culvert that is a feature of some New Zealand cities, but unknown in Northern Ireland and Scotland.  A twisted ankle is extremely painful and I made a comment along the lines “stupid bloody gutters”. My new boss responded that if I wasn’t going to like it here, perhaps I ought not to have come.

I would later discover that it was a prerequisite of acceptance to New Zealand society that you should “like it here” and fulsomely express that liking from the moment your plane touched down and certainly no later than the second  when your feet met the tarmac at the bottom of the gangway. Jetlagged heads of state, visiting politicians, Hollywood stars, the famous and semi-famous were greeted by anxious media with variants of the same question: “What do you think of New Zealand?” occasionally more directly expressed as “How do you like it here?”   

This need to be constantly reassured of our worth, this adolescent insecurity is still a feature of the New Zealand psyche despite our having won almost every glittering prize in every field of human endeavour from science to literature to sport to medicine to technology to making movies. Yes, we talk now about “punching above our weight” but our confidence in our own worth is skin deep at best. Our national ego remains fragile. We can handle praise – just. But, even if you are one of us, you criticise us at your peril.

Eleanor Catton will have learnt that lesson the hard way. The Man Booker Prize winner, only the second New Zealand writer to claim that prize, had, it seemed, committed the unforgivable sin of biting the hand that had fed her. She was, according to her most vitriolic critic, broadcaster Sean Plunket, “an ungrateful hua”, a term he later translated as “ungrateful scoundrel”. She was also, he said, “a traitor” to New Zealand.

Catton was evidently piqued at The Luminaries not being awarded the main prize at this year’s New Zealand Post Awards though her novel did win the Fiction category of the awards. “We have,” she said, “this strange cultural phenomenon called ‘tall poppy syndrome’; if you stand out you will be cut down.”

She’s right, though her failure to take the main prize at the NZ Post Awards doesn’t seem to me to be a valid example of the syndrome. Different contest, different judges, different criteria – end of story.

A couple of things particularly interested me about this episode. The first was Plunket’s emphasis on Catton’s ‘indebtedness’ to New Zealand society, her ‘ingratitude’ for everything her country had done for her.

“Here’s a woman who’s a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit, and works at a publicly funded institution, and has received a bit of financial help during her career to write things. Then she turns around and says she didn’t get a fair crack.”

Well, I’m not entirely sure why one should be “grateful” for an award given in recognition of one’s services to New Zealand literature. I see such an award as appropriate and deserved. And I assume that the money she earns as a university lecturer reflects her value to the institution and her students. Why should she be “grateful” for being paid to do a job, regardless of where the funding comes from? And if perhaps she should be grateful for ‘a bit of financial help during her career to write things’ (‘to write things’, Sean!) she has repaid that debt to New Zealand a thousand fold or more.

More insidious than Plunket’s accusations of ingratitude or his calling Catton ‘a traitor’ is the implication in all of this that if the state has assisted you in your endeavours and contributed to your success, you forfeit the right to publicly criticise the country, its people, policies or leadership. Loss of freedom of speech is apparently the interest you have to pay on your debt to New Zealand.

We are a people who like to celebrate the success, particularly on the international stage, of our fellow New Zealanders. We see that success as an affirmation of our personal worth, often to the point of living our lives vicariously through it.

This is nowhere more evident than in the area of sport. We idolize our sporting heroes. But our idolatry is contingent on our heroes not letting their success go to their heads, not getting out of line, not straying into areas that ought not to concern them, like social issues or politics, not being “up themselves”. Whether you’re an All Black, a war hero or a famous Kiwi thespian, you must keep your views to yourself or pay the penalty. There are myriad examples.

Above all we require our heroes to be modest about their achievements. And, in order not to leave any possible doubt of that modesty, to understate the achievement, minimise its significance and express embarrassment at the undeserved praise.

The commonest word you hear in New Zealand now in interviews with people who have won awards or gongs or widespread praise for things they have done is ‘humbled’. ‘I’m humbled by the public response, by all the letters of congratulation, by being recognised for my work.’ The word conveys the idea of having been undeserving, unworthy, of being reduced rather than increased in one’s own estimation. What a pity that the only acceptable way to respond to praise or congratulation in this country is by some mealy-mouthed apology.

Anyway, if I were Eleanor Catton I wouldn’t be too bothered by criticism emanating from the intellectual wasteland that is commercial talk-radio. No media segment in New Zealand has a more elevated view of its own worth or the worth of its opinions than this lot.

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162 Comments:

  1. well said Brian.

    • Thanks Brian. Re: “I would later discover that it was a prerequisite of acceptance to New Zealand society that you should “like it here” and fulsomely express that liking from the moment your plane touched down and certainly no later than the second when your feet met the tarmac at the bottom of the gangway”.

      Unfortunately I do not have Gerald Durrell’s book “Two in the Bush” on hand to quote or reference properly, but upon arriving at Auckland’s wharf in 1962 he was greeted by Kiwi media asking “How do you like New Zealand Gerald?”. His response was to remark along the lines of how the heck was he to know, having hardly arrived. Reading it to my young son at the time I laughed out loud, and echo Brian’s comments on our insecurity (although I would suggest it is generally white folk who suffer this).

      And recently I laughed out loud too, when listening to Kim Hill’s “f-bomb” interview with Tom Scott (the musician, not the cartoonist). See part transcription here: http://yournz.org/2014/12/06/tom-scott-on-and-off-radio-nz/

      The part which is relevant to this conversation goes as follows…
      Hill: And it was um pointed out that it’s all very well to talk about have nots but you did quite well out of New Zealand On Air… Scott: What do you mean? Hill: Well New Zealand On Air granted @Peace something like thirty thousand quid, ah dollars, and so you can hardly, oh well you feel free to bite the hand that fed you in some peculiar way didn’t you?

      Hmmm. Kind regards

  2. All valid points that I agree with.

    I don’t know if New Zealand is any different than any other country in the world with regard to adopting the achievements of others in their private endeavours as evidence of our national character but we do seem to have weird passive aggressive streak.

    The prime minister’s response exemplified this. The radio announcer’s misogynistic attack doesn’t even qualify as ‘tall poppy syndrome’ ( anyone with gaelic origins easily understands the spoken term hoor for what it is – hiding behind maori interpretations is a feeble sham when you surname is Plunkett).

    If Messrs Plunkett and Key represent New Zealander’s views then I defect and prefer to be a citizen of the world. You can admire them, but just because you were born here or live here doesn’t give you title to the achievements of others – whether they are McCaw, Adams or Catton. We might share geography but we are not proxies for each other. Because if that was the case then one gets to take ownership and responsibility for our neighbors with less admirable traits and behaviours as well.

  3. So much to agree with here. Thanks, Brian.

  4. There does seem to be an underlying assumption that someone who has achieved some level of success is instantly a socially insightful commentator. We are all entitled to our view… perhaps the real tragedy is they get the media attention along with long monologues like this one when we should merely shrug our shoulders and smile gently at a young peeved point of view.

  5. After spending some weeks in the US visiting family and arriving back in NZ I was left with the contrasting impression of how shabby and unsophisticated the place seemed. That feeling quickly wore off and I felt happy to be back home. Like living in a house that smells odd, you only notice it when you come in from the fresh air outside. Incidentally, the only people I recognised in transit were a very bedraggled and zombie looking Helen Clarke and husband dragging their suitcases along outside LA International Airport.

  6. you finally sum up your comment appropriately in your last line-the level of exchange of ideas promoted on talkback radio means almost certainly there isn’t much to challenge thinking people. An anology to Elenor not being awarded the supreme NZ prize is the non recognition of captain of the All Blacks, Richie McCaw, not being adjudged NZ player of the year in 2011 after the team won the World Cup but later declared international player of the year. I can’t recall him whinging about not being appreciated.
    I support Eleanor’s right to make her comments but would have more regard if she had done so on home soil rather than a long way away. Who is she scared of?

  7. BRAVO!

  8. Brings back memories of the worst aspects of McCarthyism. Criticism equals un-patriotism, if I can use that term. I expected better from Mr Plunkett.

    • Sadly, Joe, I didn’t expect more of Mr Plunkett.

      Just as well he’s no longer a public servant and can now exercise his right to be an opinionated blowhard at will…

      The insinuation that those working for government agencies or institutions should just shut up and be grateful, cap in hand, is irredeemably dreadful.

  9. And here is what Eleanor has to say – in he wonderfully articulate way:
    http://eleanor-catton.com/category/blog/

  10. Cheers Brian………… I think Plunket is a Plonker……. and I think Eleanor should have the undisputed right to say and think whatever she likes, a small thing called freedom of speech, you know what I mean, we all have that right….. some tho like Plunket and his kind abuse it constantly, and get paid for it………….. Bish

  11. Austin Mitchell nailed it back in the day. However the passive-aggressive insecurity reflex is a little more sinister now.

  12. I remember Illona Rodgers receiving a gong some years back and she boldly stated at the ceremony that she was proud that she deserved it. Good on her. She nailed it!

  13. I read the article, re Plunkett’s slovenly opinion, the other day and groaned. I’ve been living in the UK for the past 20-odd months and any news about NZ talk-back radio seems like a time warp.

  14. Very well said, Brian! I’ve lived here all my life, and I still cringe at the Kiwi cringe. And don’t even get me started on the intrusion of ‘humble’ into public life! (BTW, you were *my* German lecturer at CU all those years ago.)

  15. No doubt I will come to regret saying this, but after one month stationed in Auckland recently, after 3 years overseas,I found NZ to be almost a cultural desert, and TV in particular to be the “vaste wasteland” as heralded many years ago. The only oasis I found was the Auckland Art Gallery, admittedly at the quietest time of the year. Politics has descended to a bear pit. Think back not too far to Helen Clark’s days. At least you could respect her, regardless of your persuasion. It is great to see our old warhorse Brian Edwards responding to the current issue. Where are the likes of our erstwhile champions such as Tom Scott, David Beatson, Sharon Crosbie, even Paul Holmes and many others? People who loved this country, championed it and defended it to the hilt? Nowhere to be seen. Now “Nothing beside remains”…. And please don’t tell that if I no longer like it here to f off, because I am of here, and always will be. But I was very saddened by the spiritual desolation that I saw and felt.

    • Paul Holmes is unlikely to make comment on this nasty little episode. He may very well be spinning as this is discussed, however.

  16. One thing that may come across as nit-picky but it isn’t:

    Sean Plunket’s name is spelled with one t, not two as you (and your commenters) have rendered it throughout.

  17. Have to say I quite like the modesty thing and see it as a separate issue from being reticent to criticise NZ.

    Seeking praise is a sign of bad character, whereas doing praiseworthy things for their own sake is not. Being somewhat uncomfortable with praise is a way of showing that you value the latter rather than the former. Imagine if Willie Apiata had acted like Sally Field when he received his VC.

    I see that the taxpayers’ union has tabulated the amount that Eleanor Catton has received from the state (a paltry amount when compared to many academic grants). Does anyone else think it is ironic that the taxpayers’ union doesn’t appear to understand why we pay tax?

  18. And I have to say Brian, we benefited from people like you coming to NZ and critiquing what was going on here.

    I think what this episode with Catton has thrown up is that our media are full of the likes Plunkett and Paul Henry and Mike Hoskings, who day in day out pollute our airwaves with their worthless opinions. NZ is in need of intellectual scrutiny, that our msm are incapable of.

    BTW is it not possible that Ms Catton has a case against SP for libel? Surely calling someone a traitor, which is a crime is slander?

    • I agree with this person’s comments. The problem is not Catton nor criticism of the government of any other institution. The problem is opinionated, arrogant people working on broadcasting such as Sean Plunkett, Mike Hoskins and Paul Henry who do not debate and question the issue, rather they attack the person or profession with opinions that sound more like gossip than well- founded fact.

  19. THE PARTICULARITY AND THE DREAM

    The impressively monikered Karl du Fresne

    Has just given ‘social scientist’ Camille Nakhid

    A good wigging for expressing the view

    That immigrants should be given longer shrift.

    Karl grew up in a small Hawkes Bay town

    And he walks across his lawn every day

    In the Wairarapa to write in his shed

    For the Pakeha Establishment in Wellington.

    Actually, I’m amazed at how tolerant

    Our new immigrants are about how stuck

    Up and up themselves the Old Chums

    Are about their tightly-held corners.

    And I think Karl is missing something

    When he snides that we can safely assume

    That people immigrate to New Zealand

    Because it’s infinitely better than the place they left.

    And I get pissed off when the Oxford Companion

    Makes a big point of the fact that Allen Curnow

    Was a fourth generation New Zealander

    Who lived in a succession of Anglican vicarages in Canterbury.

    And that the keepers of New Zealand literature

    Quibble about whether Greville Texidor or Eve Langley

    Exhibited a sufficiently restrictive desideratum

    In articulating a New Zealand particularity or ‘common problem’.

    And that Kendrick Smithyman slags

    Tanned, earnest Slavic Polynesian faces

    Or that David McKee Wright assumes that

    The native who is a brother is a Pakeha.

    Or that my beloved Iris Wilkinson

    Talks so casually – so disparagingly about Nigger Jack …

    Or that Tariana Turia cites an enormous public ignorance

    That is starting to become actual hostility towards Maori.

    Time to give some ground, time to move on

    Time to open things up and make some space.

    Let’s face it, a quarter of us were born abroad

    And then there are the more and more mixed.

    Maybe the New Chums from Cambodia, Tonga

    China, India, Iraq, Somalia, Nepal and Kingdom Come

    Really need a bit more slack so that we can all pull together

    To bring up the future with a golden tether.

    The young, the best, the intelligent, brave and beautiful,

    Have made a long migration under compulsions they hardly understand –

    New generations are homing from distant shores

    Imprinted with this destination by their dreams.

    And an extraordinary thing may be happening.

    From the edge of the universe, New Zealand

    May become not only the site of our own dreams

    But a place where the world wakes refreshed.

  20. It is not only in New Zealand that it is “a prerequisite of acceptance …… that you should “like it here” … ” Perhaps it is a characteristic of “outback” societies. Quite a few years ago, travelling north of Sydney in the dead of night, with the only radio station beaming Slim Dusty, and yet more Slim Dusty, we stopped at Tamworth to fill up with gas. The attendant was quick to ask “How do you like Tamworth?” I looked into the gloom and said with all honesty “I’m not sure”. The poor guy seemed disappointed that his town had not been given the seal of approval that he was hoping for.

  21. yes, but do you like it here?

  22. It was neither a particularly incisive nor orginal critique – resorting to clichés such as “tall-poppy syndrome”, “neo-liberal” and “ambassador” didn’t add much that others do not opine regularly. Nevertheless, Eleanor Catton is entitled to believe and say what she wants.

    Plunkett was acting like a typical shock-jock. Sad to see Catton is silly enough to consider it, “the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails. But I will hope for better, and demand it.” Or is calling her ‘silly’, rather than fawning and slobbering over her every word an act of academic akin to book-burning now?!

    But it seems to me if your views as a writer are going be be touted as worthy of special consideration and dissemination, and in doing so you are going to throw your home-nation that has contributed something to your success (a stable peaceful learning environment, a publicly-funded education system, and occasional tax-payer grants acknowledging and nurturing the ‘cultural’ worth of your vocation)under the bus on the world stage

    …then you should at least have the good manners to do it to our intellectually and culturally-challenged faces first. I’ll even make a note to turn down the volume on the rugby commentary, and wipe the gravy stain off my singlet when she does so.

    • Well said Kimbo.

    • Forgive me if I appear to be reducing your last thought to an overly simple level…but is it reasonable to ask permission to say something to and about New Zealanders that is not completely laudatory? To run it up the flagpole to see if it’s OK to say when overseas?

      All of us who have been educated in the New Zealand system have had the same benefits, and those earned by merit were, well, earned. Should being the recipient of public honours make one more circumspect about speaking about the country that awarded them? Why? Are we that thin-skinned? Still?

      • Hey, Neil,

        I’m not sure how you reduced my thoughts down to that when I stated, “Eleanor Catton is entitled to believe and say what she wants”.

        And no, she does not have “to ask permission to say something to and about New Zealanders that is not completely laudatory”. By all means we need clever and bright writers and artists to expose our faults. Personally I’ve always found Bob Jones one of the most amusing and insightful, although these days he is getting a bit long in the tooth, and rehashing ideas he kicked around 30+ years ago.

        Neither do I think being the recipient of public honours should make one more circumspect. However, those privileges do bring with it responsibility when critiquing your nation on the international stage (a fact alluded to by Catton).

        In Catton’s case, having received significant public largess (I’ve seem reports of up to $100K), I would have expected more accuracy, especially if she is going to have a tilt at our shared national culture. Put it this way: if she had wandered out the doors of the literary festival in Jaipur and asked the nearest beggar (let alone the average long-suffering New Zealand tax-payer for that matter), if that contribution is reflective of a New Zealand public policy that is (to quote Catton) “not appreciative of culture”, “did not have confidence in the brains of its citizens”, and an “embarrasment over its writers”, do you think they would have agreed? Furthermore do you think they would have concurred that the sum she received was reflective of a “money-hungry” and “shallow” attitude towards our writers?

        Also, as much as Sean Plunkett has acted like an arse in his choice of words, do you think in a nation like India and the wider sub-continent where writers and artists suffer genuine threats (Salman Rushdie) and in some cases die for their public expressions, do you think they would agree she is a victim of (to quote her yet again) “the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails” here?

        I’d suggest Catton is suffering from first-world problems, her expressions of angst made all the more amusing and incongruous because she is seeking to build her reputation at our collective expense before a third world country which now, courtesy of Catton, has reason to doubt our artistic freedom and collective intellectual sophistication. Thanks, Eleanor. Like I said, you are entitled to think and say what you want – just as I and Sean Plunkett can do likewise.

        On that note, Plunkett would have been more accurate if he labelled her a spoilt brat and self-obsessed ingrate and left it at that.

        • Hey Kimbo,

          * It should make no difference where Ms Catton said what she did. If it has weight, and I think it does, then it has weight irrespective of GPS coordinates.

          * NZ has a well-embedded history of anti-intellectualism, where people who use their brains instead of their bodies to express themselves are suspiciously scrutinised to the nth degree over their right to comment on national identity, policies and characteristics. It’s old, it’s specious and it serves nobody.

          * Why should the amount that Ms Catton has won through her undoubted talent, or the remuneration that she receives for her work in academia, be a factor? We need thinkers, who make us look again at NZ. Are there similar audits of the income of prominent and vocal New Zealanders who don’t work in academic or creative areas?

          • Hi again, Neil

            “It should make no difference where Ms Catton said what she did. If it has weight, and I think it does, then it has weight irrespective of GPS coordinates.”

            Er, actually, unless you are within the GPS zone, then you have do not have immediate access to the relevant data to judge the merits of Ms Catton’s cliams.

            “* NZ has a well-embedded history of anti-intellectualism, where people who use their brains instead of their bodies to express themselves are suspiciously scrutinised to the nth degree over their right to comment on national identity, policies and characteristics. It’s old, it’s specious and it serves nobody.”

            Ho, hum, yes that is the claim, and a rather cliched one at that – although there is a measure of truth to it. However, the brains/brawn distinction is primarily a false dichotomy IMHO. We are after all, a recent frontier-society, with all of the many strengths and drawbacks which that implies. Nonetheless, last time I looked we actually have one of the highest book-reading rates in the world. Plus, unlike many other nations, we don’t have any history of shooting intellectuals in the back of the head. Which means you are free to pursue your intellectual pursuits…

            “Why should the amount that Ms Catton has won through her undoubted talent, or the remuneration that she receives for her work in academia, be a factor?”

            Because it attests to the lack of credibility of her complaints.

          • Apologies – Nell

        • 22.2.1.2

          That’s a terrible argument, Kimbo. Relative to India, New Zealand has a pretty good record when it comes to gender equality, yet it would clearly be daft to criticise on those grounds a NZ feminist who attended a conference in India where she talked about some of the appalling attitudes towards women that still prevail in NZ. In other words, first world problems are in most cases actual problems.

          Moreover, the amounts of money given to Catton were small beer given the time scale involved and the fact that some of it was for conferences. I was paid more by the government of Canada to do my PhD, and at least Catton, unlike me, was attempting to write something with broad public appeal.

          Financial support for that sort of stuff in NZ is pretty meagre. It looks like a lot until you actually have to live on it. But that doesn’t matter. The arts budget could be twice what it is now, and New Zealand would still be a fairly anti-intellectual society (see: Australia). New Zealand doesn’t lack intellectual people any more than it lacks religious people. It’s just that overt public declarations of intellectualism are viewed by many the same way that public declarations of religiosity are.

          (now let’s see if you can respond without your customary logorrhoea).

          • Excuse my proclivity for logorrhoea, Lee, but while the arts budget, along with a lot of pressing needs could well be 10x what it is now, on what basis do you determine the amount Catton received was “small beer” and “pretty meagre”, especially as, commercially-speaking, she struck the jack-pot?

            It may indeed look like a lot until you actually have to live on it, but then (bringing it back to a first-world context), I’m sure it would please a number of New Zealand beneficiaries, or hard-working low-income families. You remember them, Lee? I seem to recall you pleading their cause from time to time.

            More to the point, given that Catton willingly threw herself into the on-going national debate on social justice that is founded on bed-rock issues such as tax rates and takes and budget allocations, I’d be more more interested in their opinion ahead of yours, Lee.

            Or are they to be denied a voice because they are “fairly anti-intellectual”. Especially if, contra Catton, they are so presumptuous as to try and bask in some of the reflected glory of her achievements, funded in part through their taxes.

            It is not necessarily a sophisticated term for the “overtly intellectual”, but nonetheless most folks appreciate simple gratitude.

            • 22.2.1.2.1.1

              Catton received a few travel grants and some minor fellowships (I think one was for 9K and another for 27K). I’ve actually lived on a PhD student’s stipendary income (more than what Catton was getting), and it’s not a life of luxury.

              And your argument is a false dilemma. We don’t face a choice between arts funding and funding welfare benefits. There are other cuts or taxes we could impose, so your argument fails basic logic.

              Whether or not Catton became rich (and she’s probably not that rich) is of no more interest than John Key becoming rich. Like every other New Zealander, they were the beneficiaries of the welfare state, which paid for their health care and education, and they grew up enjoying relative security due to our system of social insurance. It’s no more reasonable to bash Catton’s arts grants than it is to bash John Key for the social housing he benefited from (his hypocrisy on this matter is another thing).

              I would actually like to know if you understand the economic rationale behind arts funding and the funding of other “ideational goods”. If, as I suspect, you don’t know, then I wonder why you are even trying to debate the matter.

              • 22.2.1.2.1.1.1

                Perhaps you may want to check the logic and facts of your argument, Lee.

                We do indeed ultimately “face a choice between arts funding and funding welfare benefits” – as is implied by your reference to the “welfare state” – a concept Catton alluded to when she complained, “At the moment, New Zealand, like Australia and Canada, (is dominated by) these neo-liberal, profit-obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture”. In other words she doesn’t like the size of the public purse from which the culture budget is sourced, and how much is sliced out. Which is fair enough, and she is more than entitled to speak out about it. Given her intellectual expertise, it is welcome.

                But where there is a problem, and it is highlighted by your appeal to the Prime Minister’s state house up-bringing, is that John Key ain’t grizzling about the level of assistance he received. Instead, he is grateful, considers and says (contra Catton – as is HIS right!) that he is preserving and enhancing the welfare state that gave something to him, and most of all when he acts in his role as New Zealand ambassador, he doesn’t ignore or piss on that support sourced from the New Zealand community. And I’m not just talking about money.

                And as far as “I would actually like to know if you understand the economic rationale behind arts funding and the funding of other “ideational goods”. If, as I suspect, you don’t know, then I wonder why you are even trying to debate the matter”, frankly Lee, as you have a sense of superiority and demand for argument-framing that is common with (some) intellectuals, I’ll decline for the moment, thanks very much. I’d like to consider myself an “intellectual” (got some pieces of paper on a wall, and intentions to do a doctorate one day soon – not that those things necessarily prove anything. I’m also aware, first-hand, of the difficulties of juggling time and money when attempting peer-reviewed research, or attempting to publish one’s work commercially).

                But here’s the thing – if there is one group who are more capable than others of articulately pleading their case for increased funding (which, like any other budgetary decision in a modern welfare state is at the IMMEDIATE expense of others) it is intellectuals.

                Nevertheless, like Key said – I like what Catton is doing, and I’m glad we have an arts and culture allocation from the public purse. But like all things in a modern welfare state, the rates of tax, the tax take and the budget are a matter of permanent debate and negotiation.

                • 22.2.1.2.1.1.1.1

                  We do indeed ultimately “face a choice between arts funding and funding welfare benefits”

                  No we do not except in the trivial sense that we face a myriad of choices about private and public spending. The size of public expenditure is not fixed. It is the result of policy decisions. Nothing prevents us from increasing both the arts and welfare budget at the expense of something else, such as defence or from raising taxes. You’re simply and obviously wrong about this.

                  as you have a sense of superiority and demand for argument-framing that is common with (some) intellectuals,

                  That’s called “doing it properly”. I bothered to get off my butt some years ago and look into the economic reasons why our society is structured the way it is (which has very little to do with my actual job. although it’s occasionally proved useful). It’s sort of the decent thing to do if you’re going to talk about it in public. Even then, I don’t insist on my views being taken as gospel.

                  If you don’t know why the arts are publicly funded, then why are you complaining? Catton is in the same position as any other person who is paid through compulsory taxation because the market won’t provide the good in question efficiently (see health care; education; public libraries; etc). The guys who collect my garbage every week are paid though compulsory taxes. Should they kowtow to the immense generosity of New Zealanders and keep their mouths shut? Of course not. They do what we pay them to do, just as Catton did (and did very well).

                  And where did I argue for increased funding for the arts? I honestly don’t care either way. I find national politics interesting to argue about, but I don’t expect anything worthwhile or reasonable to actually come of it, nor do I think it matters a great deal in the globalised world we live in. But lots of interesting things are like that.

                • 22.2.1.2.1.1.1.2

                  …and where have I argued Catton is not entitled to say what she wants?!

                  At the risk of continuing to talk past one another, the issue is the validity of her complaints –

                  First that the New Zealand community is somehow trying to steal credit from her original talent.

                  Second, that before this incident she has been treated as a tall-poppy in need of chopping down

                  And third, whether her claim that New Zealand public funding of culture is “tight-fisted” in the light of the some $100K she has received.

                  And in that regard I (and let me repeat it again) and I wager the majority of long-suffering tax-payers who funded it don’t consider that sum to have been “small-beer” and “pretty meagre”.

                  Which is why, when she complains – as is her right – it is also our right to consider her ungrateful. And some may be tempted to see a change in public policy and re-allocate the budget set aside for culture, whatever wonderful and self-satisfyingly convincing arguments you can muster for its purpose, and see it targeted instead at, say, preventing glue ear. Or someone’s tax will have to be increased so both (and a myriad of other needs) can be met. So SOMEONE, SOMEWHERE will have to pay if Catton’s demand is implemented.

                  You may call that trade-off “trivial”, and maybe from the perspective of your specialist expertise it is. Nonetheless it is NOT how most people think, hence it is NOT how politics works.

                  Which is why Catton is perfectly entitled to say what she wants…she just may not necessarily have been very smart.

            • I’m from a low income taxpayer household and we do not begrudge the funding Eleanore Catton has received for her amazing work – we applaud and celebrate her world wide achievements and think that any taxpayer assistance she has received has been money well invested. We also celebrate the fact that she has chosen to continue lecturing at a lesser known Institution in the heart of south Auckland – this speaks volumes – so we would rather have Catton speak about things she knows first hand about than have you theorize about us.

              • 22.2.1.2.1.2.1

                Agree with pretty much everything you say about Catton.

                But as you have failed to mention her comments or interact with the criticisms of them, it would appear you are have overlooked the elephant in the room.

          • The answer is clearly ‘no’, Lee – despite your cogent arguments.

            • Ya pays yer money and ya takes yer pick.

              Some see Catton’s commentary as insightful and valuable. Me? I’m leaning towards the view that it is a self-indulgent and rather trite journey to the centre of Eleanor – cheering by those whose existing prejudices have been stroked and massaged notwithstanding.

              • 22.2.1.2.2.1.1

                Kimbo
                since when were the Right the keepers of the purse and the only tax payers.
                I am happy, as a left of centre leaning citizen of NZ who also pays a considerable amount of tax, that the likes of Ms Catton have benefitted from the the support of the public purse. Perhaps if your mates on the right payed a bit more (instead of evading the taxman) we would have a wonderfully funded public services.

                • 22.2.1.2.2.1.1.1

                  “since when were the Right the keepers of the purse…”

                  Umm, since they won the last two elections, the first one with the significant policy difference from the then-Labour government of tax cuts. With the prospect of more tax-cuts by 2017.

                  “I am happy, as a left of centre leaning citizen of NZ who also pays a considerable amount of tax, that the likes of Ms Catton have benefitted from the the support of the public purse. Perhaps if your mates on the right payed a bit more (instead of evading the taxman) we would have a wonderfully funded public services.”

                  Great. Good luck on getting a government elected that will grant your wish-list.

    • Quite!

  23. I love New Zealand. I want only the best for it. I hope that John Key’s government is defeated next election, and that we elect a government that recognises value in more than just money and sport; one that reverses the creepy creeping corruption that hobbles us as we attempt to solve pressing problems that impinge overwhelmingly on lives endured in poor households. There is an alternative, and we should celebrate Ellie for being willing to articulate it.

  24. “In future interviews with foreign media, I will of course discuss the inflammatory, vicious, and patronising things that have been broadcast and published in New Zealand this week. I will of course discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails. But I will hope for better, and demand it.”
    http://eleanor-catton.com/statement/

  25. I have read of your arrival in NZ before and I recall a quote attributed to you which I think is apposite to this discussion.

    “In the UK the driving is cooperative and conversation competitive. In NZ the driving is competitive and the conversation cooperative.”

    You have previously denied the quote but regardless of who said it I think it sums up NZ perfectly.

  26. Well said Peter Watt.

    Your response is the best affirmation of the comments made in relation to this article.

    It is not about ‘being afraid’ of anyone. Your analogy ref Mr McCaw is not valid. He plays a minority sport that is played in very few countries by relatively few people. Akin to the US having a World Baseball league! At least as a writer this was an international award; an event/award that transpires national boundaries. The point that is being made and is very keenly felt by people who live in NZ (but come from elsewhere) is that yes, don’t you dare criticise us! For me it is symptomatic of a young nation. But you will grow up. We all have to in the end. I originate from Scotland, grew up in the south of England (Hampshire mainly). I love Hampshire and the downs, it will always be home. NZ is not home. That is not a criticism it is a commentary on a deeper sense of where I come from. I love NZ too and the two are not mutually exclusive. Some people in NZ need to relax and not feel threatened simply because people like me do not call NZ home (in a deeper spiritual sense). I was taken to task at work by a colleague who told me that ‘this is your home now.’ This in response to me using the phrase ‘back home’ etc. When I leave England after a visit I am coming home to NZ. But my heart, my memories are inextricably tied up with Hampshire and Devon too. That’s fine. NZ and some of its people should be happy (and if they like proud) that I place it (NZ) alongside those places in my deepest affections. That is, for me, the highest praise I can bestow on this beautiful place. My mother came from the Turks and Caicos Islands (from Scottish immigrants in the 1500s). I am the first in 10 generations, on her side not to be born there. I was born in Scotland. She moved back to the UK in the 50s but she always referred to Grand Turk as ‘home’.

    My turangawaewae will always be the English countryside. And that comes from a Scotsman!

    Relax; be confident and strong, eulogise the great things about NZ but also accept those things that are not so great and accept criticism of those not so great things; from whichever quarter they come.

    It’s the grown up thing to do!

  27. Yes, yes, yes.

  28. Hi Brian – minor thing, and entirely an aside to the debate at hand; I don’t mind your using my image of Eleanor to illustrate this article about her, but I do ask to be credited as the photographer whenever it appears. I’m sure you understand!

    Thanks,
    R

  29. Catton’s comments in my view cried out for a response delivered with the same vigour with which her’s were delivered. Something along the lines of what a load of cliche-ridden twaddle would have been good. That would have reduced the debate to a good old “my opinion, your opinion” contest. The treason aspect I agree is a false note. But then so too, is Catton’s response to the response. If you reserve the right to put it out there don’t be surprised if someone has a crack back, and please avoid concluding your motives/views are always holy and great but everyone else’s are an expression of evil and conspiracy.

  30. Dear Brian

    Won’t you come back? Please? I for one miss your pungent, piquant, incisive (fill in this space…….) comments on how we’re going in this little paradise and the (usually) interesting, literate responses they draw forth.
    Please???

  31. “Loss of freedom of speech is apparently the interest you have to pay on your debt to New Zealand.”

    Except Plunkett never said that or hinted at that. He disagreed with what she said, quite a different thing from saying she should not be allowed to speak.

    • However, Plunket called her “a traitor”. Traitors are not normally granted the right to freedom of speech. With the possible exception of last words from the gallows.

      • Well, Plunket is surely entitled to use whatever words he thinks are relevant. Maybe he engaged in a little hyperbole or maybe he genuinely feels she is a traitor. Either way, he is allowed to speak. You can’t say that Catton should be free to speak but Plunket should be denied the right.

      • 31.1.2

        You are indulging in misleading hyperbole. Traitor has a common meaning as disloyal which was quite obviously what Plunket meant rather than proposing legal sanction.

  32. “In future interviews with foreign media, I will of course discuss the inflammatory, vicious, and patronising things that have been broadcast and published in New Zealand this week. I will of course discuss the frightening swiftness with which the powerful Right move to discredit and silence those who question them, and the culture of fear and hysteria that prevails. But I will hope for better, and demand it.”

    Now she sounds like a banshee. Oh and she really should keep her mouth shout if she cannot handle criticism.

    • And people wonder why women are reticent to express opinions in public or on social media.

      A broadcaster decided that the reasonable response to her comments was to call her a traitor and a whore (Plunket’s “hua” defence is clearly nonsense – my folks are from the north east of England, I know what “hoor” means).

      Perhaps next time Sean Plunket says something I don’t like, we should all ring in and call him a paedophile.

  33. You are so “on to it” Brian. I agree wholeheartedly with you. It has often struck me how desperate locals are of one’s ultimate loyalty in whatever form they deem it to be appropriately expressed. As NZ society filters down to small town stuff, even vigilante pressure to measure up to some “norm”. Bordering on the ridiculous sometimes and certainly counter-productive.

  34. Yes, what is it with all these people who say they’re humbled when they have something to be proud about? They’re subverting the meaning of the word humbled.

  35. As a past convener of judges for the NZ Book Awards I don’t think it was appropriate for Catton to cavil at not getting the top prize. One of the terms of entering into the contest is that you accept what the judges say with as good a grace as you can manage, no matter how ill conceived it might be. But that said as past president of the Society of Authors I entirely endorse her comments on the lack of support for the arts of the Key government (despite Chris Finlayson’s best efforts). The contrast between the current Prime Minister and his predecessor when it came to choosing an ‘extra’ portfolio says it all. Helen Clark chose arts, culture and heritage presumably because she believed that our culture was something to be enjoyed by all New Zealanders. John Key chose tourism because he obviously believes that our culture is something you package up and sell to visitors. As for Sean Plunket, he continues to make a goat of himself in public as usual and should be ignored

  36. Couple of points:

    1. Nice to hear a Kiwi’s thoughts with no spin. Eleanor’s refreshing.

    2. Most Kiwis I know are happy with rugby, fishing and family. Is that uncultured? Maybe. But no complaints have been heard so far.

  37. This is all well and good, but what is the impact on house prices in Auckland?

    • Onwards and upwards in the words of Mike Sabin possible leveling as the effects of our tides pulls at the reality of our existence with the seismic activity going on in the Pacific Ocean which we have no way of knowing when the big one will start and then who will have the answer

  38. Brian, somewhere in this correondence, you are asked to make a return to TV Broadcasting. I wish you would, because there is a veritable dearth of intelligent (political) interviewers. Sad to say, the rot was started by Sir Robert Muldoon who hounded two brilliant contemporaries of yours out of the country. I refer to Joe Cote & Simon……..?
    Thanks for the essay on EC.

    • Walker. Except he was not hounded out by Muldoon but went on to be an apologist for the Rogernomics crowd

  39. Memo to Catton: If you want to be rude it is unwise at the same time to be stupid. Or, as a Herald columnist put it, don’t be a dick.

    Not much more to be said, really. However, if it is really necessary to itemize her ignorance:

    http://index.gain.org/country/new-zealand

    NZ amongst the most ready and least vulnerable to deal with whatever climate change happens. It currently has one of the lowest unemployment rates and best economies in the world.

    There may be things Ms Catton knows something about but she is doing a good job of demonstrating what she knows nothing about.

    • New Zealand is one of the ‘least vulnerable’ countries when it comes to climate change? There is no such thing as a hierarchy of effects when it comes to the climate change danger. The whole planet is at risk

      • 39.1.1

        There is no such thing as a hierarchy of effects when it comes to the climate change danger.

        Of course there is because there is a hierarchy of risks.

      • Unfortunately some influential New Zealanders would have us believe that AGW is all a hoax despite the ever growing evidence. The late smarty pants Dr Dennis Dutton and arch buffoon Rodney Hide come to mind.

        • 39.1.2.1

          AGW is not a hoax but alarmism is. Global warming is slow and manageable and will likely be more beneficial than harmful for the foreseeable future.

          And the science is very far from settled as every engineer and proper scientist knows.

  40. Interesting.

    When I read her comments, a tiny portion oif all her comments on the programme, my only response was to think that they were uncontroversial, verging on the blindingly obvious. I might expect more of one of our leading wordsmith’s but given their place in a long interview, probably not a big deal.

    They were, however, concisely, clearly and effectively expressed, which I would expect of such a skilled writer.

    Is there anything else to this?

  41. 1. Comet impacts earth.
    2. Next ice age begins
    3. Earth continues to warm at 1 degree per century.

    • I’m sorry if I was not clear. I meant three in relation to climate change. The scenario you propose is possible but hypothetical and highly unlikely. Climate change, on the other hand, is highly likely if we proceed down our present path

      • 41.1.1

        Those three are directly related to climate change. I can’t imagine anything more direct since the first two are unpredictable low probability high impact events while the third is high probability low impact.

        You could of course include silly low probability events like dying polar bears and sudden increases in sea levels that the IPCC liked to pull out of its modeler’s hats if you prefer.

  42. Don’t know about Catton, but Plunket is a plonker – along with Hosking, Williams and the rest of the intellectually puddle-shallow crew at Squawk radio.

  43. I took Eleanor Catton’s comments to refer to the current government, not to our country.
    Despite what Key and his sycophants would like to believe, his government and the country are two very different things.
    Thank goodness.

    • 43.1

      No, she was an equal opportunity insulter spraying odeur at the government, the arts establishment and the population in general before moving on to the media.

      Mind you I don’t think Alan Duff’s defence helped as he threw in a few axes of his own to grind.

      It may be that the editing of her article really did remove some relevant context but rather than explain that she chose to throw more petrol on the fire.

      • 43.1.1

        What I read concerned the government and was true. I note you don’t try to defend the government.
        If you can’t effectively attack the message, attack the messenger.

        • 43.1.1.1

          You are obviously not paying attention. See above, comment 39: http://brianedwardsmedia.co.nz/2015/01/i-offer-my-humble-opinion-on-eleanor-cattons-treason/#comment-184285

          • 43.1.1.1.1

            What I am paying attention to is our debt which is on track to reach $100,000,000,000 this year and the Key government has not yet posted a surplus. If they can, by some miracle, achieve a surplus of $1,000,000,000 then they will have to do so for 100 years to pay the principal and then start on the interest.
            So, how prepared are we for paying for the effects and mitigation of climate change? The good credit rating Key inherited from Labour won’t last forever so we can’t keep on borrowing.
            All we can hope for is that the countries to whom we owe money will be wiped out by climate change and we won’t have to pay them back.
            But that’s all for our children and our children’s children and our children’s children’s children to worry about so you won’t have to worry.
            But I do.
            By the way, how long do you spend trawling the Internet for data which support your rather odd view of the government?

            • 43.1.1.1.1.1

              NZ Govt debt interest payments are about 2% of GDP. Tell us again why that is a problem that won’t be resolved by a modest growth rate of perhaps 2%?

              And what do you think the normal debt/equity ratios are for well run public companies?

              As for climate change chances are that the benefits of warming and higher CO2 levels will improve agricultural production far more than the cost of any adaptation that may be necessary.

              • 43.1.1.1.1.1.1

                2% of GDP is a significant amount and the principal still has to be repaid or do you believe we should go on paying interest forever? I suppose we could always borrow to pay it.
                How long do you expect us to sustain a “modest growth rate of 2%”? In about 120 years, everything will double – we can’t sustain that, we live on a planet with finite resources, not on Planet Key.
                The government is not a public company, much as you and Key would like it to be.
                The higher carbon dioxide levels could well benefit agriculture, at least on the land which isn’t inundated by the rise in sea level. Perhaps you are one of those who watches the level of his gin stay the same as the ice melts which “proves” sea levels won’t rise. You should drink less of it.

                • 43.1.1.1.1.1.1.1

                  John, is there ANY chance you can put aside your habitual tribal bias? Or is it REALLY a case of “National borrowing: bad! Labour borrowing: good!”?!

                  To refresh your memory, for the past two terms while the present government has been borrowing to prop up key economic and social infrastructure (as has every other government in the developed world), here in NZ both Labour and the Greens have criticised Key at times for not borrowing ENOUGH.

                  Clark’s government, just like the Holyoake government of the 1960s enjoyed outstanding external world economic conditions. Key, like the third Labour government in 1973-75 had to deal with the opposite – and like the Forbes-Coates government in the midst of the Depression a major urban earthquake.

                  In a small trading nation like New Zealand, the captain is not responsible for the weather in which the ship-of-state must sail. Instead, you judge them on their navigation skills.

                  Don’t like the amount of borrowing that has taken place on Key’s watch? Fair enough, although you don’t usually strike me as standing in full agreement with ACT’s core policies.

                • 43.1.1.1.1.1.1.2

                  There is no reason not to go on paying interest for ever. That is exactly what companies do and it is the way future generations contribute to the infrastructure they inherit.

                  Growth can be sustained for as long as human ingenuity improves efficiency and technologies. We have an infinite amount of energy available to transform materials into whatever we need to support our lives. We need only to develop the skills and knowledge necessary.

                  Sea level rise is modest and steady at 3mm per year. By the time it is any kind of problem we will have technologies to deal with it.

                  There is no rational basis for your fears and ideologies.

                • 43.1.1.1.1.1.1.3

                  …or if Key had borrowed more to fulfill Catton’s culture budget wish-list would that mean she would not have made the accusation he was a typical of “neo-liberal, profit obsessed, very shallow, very money-hungry politicians who do not care about culture.”

                  …but it would have seen you ramp up the volume even more that he is nothing but an irresponsible spend-thrift?!

                  All very confusing when you have said of Catton’s critique, “What I read concerned the government and was true”.

                  Make up your mind!

                  Or does asking that question mean I too will earn the suggestion I’m drinking too much gin? Good to see you take your own advice “If you can’t effectively attack the message, attack the messenger.”

  44. “In an interview with the Guardian at the weekend, (Catton) criticised “the scale and shabbiness of this jingoistic national tantrum”, which she said “shames me deeply as a New Zealander”.

    “I believe it can be countered only with eloquence, imagination, and reasoned debate – qualities that might seem to have disappeared from our national conversation, but that persist, and will continue to persist, despite efforts to humiliate and silence those who speak out.””

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11395177

    Perhaps Eleanor Catton could do with a spot of media training particularly damage control.

  45. “She’s right, though her failure to take the main prize at the NZ Post Awards doesn’t seem to me to be a valid example of the syndrome. Different contest, different judges, different criteria – end of story.”
    Sums it up nicely.Sean continues to devalue his opinion with his kneejerk comments.
    As for your Boss, the soon to be Professor,he demonstrates an atitude of management all too common .Since I was born here I get the “We will get someone else “used as a veiled threat of dismissal and replacement .A handy bargining chip at any employment negotiation with employees.

  46. She sounds like a sulking ingrate, to me.

  47. The other subtle implication is that she should ‘pay us back’ for the help we have ‘given’ her. You hear it about Lydia Ko, too, now she’s world number one. Not so much Peter Jackson, but the America’s Cup boys get it regularly. Perhaps Plunkett could join that list and pay back all the ‘taxpayer help’ he has received that has contributed to his success, as a personal gesture of his gratitude and patriotism and humility? Or would that make him look like a hypocrite?

  48. Comment 43 (continued)

    Kimbo,
    I know you were just itching to use the phrase, “habitual tribal bias” but you really should stop reasoning in extremes: if you’re not for us you’re agin us, black and white, if A doesn’t work then try Z. Reason along a continuum. I know it’s hard but do give it a try.

    To refresh your memory, I have never, ever written, “Labour borrowing: good”. No borrowing is good. And before you leap to your keyboard, there is no mortgage on my house, no HP on my car and nothing owing on my credit cards, I’m a free rider. All the debt I have are the monthly bills I am about to pay. Sorry about that.
    So the rest of your comment is irrelevant.
    It seem you are using the (incorrect) assumption that I agree with ACT’s core policies as a pejorative just as Key used the suggestion that Eleanor Catton was a Green supporter. Good to know you hate ACT as much as Key hates the Greens.

    Drinking too much gin? Well, there’s got to be some explanation.

    Alan,
    If there is no reason not to go on paying interest forever, I assume you mean that the principal is never paid off. It then follows that we should go on borrowing. Therefore the interest payments will increase. If we don’t go on borrowing, why borrow in the first place?

    As far as human ingenuity is concerned, is this the same human ingenuity which is unable to control the yo yo which is entirely man made financial system?
    Infinite amount of energy? Nothing is infinite except the universe and human stupidity (Einstein) and the idea that we have an infinite amount of energy is an example of the latter.
    You show a touching faith in future skills and knowledge. Obviously you bet on long shots.

    Sea level rise modest and steady? The fall-back position of one who has reluctantly ceased to be a climate change denier.

    There may be no basis for my fears and ideologies based on your rationality but then, you live on Planet Key.

    • 48.1

      We can go on paying interest without continuing to borrow. Or like any business borrow or pay back from time to time according to need and ability.

      There is an infinite amount of energy around us amd many ways to harvest it. That you don’t know it means nothing. And technological progress is not a long shot so long as Green Luddites or destructive wars do not overtake us.

      Anyone who uses the phrase “climate change denier” merely shows such gross ignorance of the subject as to be unworthy of further conversation. So you know nothing of science, economics or business. Why am I not surprised?

      • 48.1.1

        That you believe there is an infinite amount of energy around us indicates an serious lack of mathematical knowledge. Obviously you have no idea what “infinite” really means. I’ll give you a clue: it doesn’t mean a lots and lots.

        If you believe there may be destructive wars, then that doesn’t do much for your argument.

        I know what I mean by “climate change denier” What does it mean on Planet Key/Wilkinson?
        Unworthy of further conversation? Does that mean you’ll shut up? I think I struck a raw nerve.

        I do hope my extensive knowledge of science, economics and business is not the same as yours. In fact, it can’t be, based on your comments. By the way, you forgot to mention engineering and not the kind of engineering which is used to fix your car although that’s probably the only kind you’ve heard of.

        Once again you make inference to your towering intellect. Pity it’s not combined with wisdom.

        • 48.1.1.1

          The universe is around us, full of energy and infinite.

          Only an idiot denies climate change. Only a moron thinks climate alarmism sceptics deny climate change. If the cap fits wear it.

          And I spent 13 years on a University payroll helping three kinds of academic engineers with their research.

    • “…No borrowing is good…If there is no reason not to go on paying interest forever, I assume you mean that the principal is never paid off. It then follows that we should go on borrowing.”

      Hmm. Explains a lot about you, John.

      Not sure that is a long-term recipe for timely economic success that will meet our social and cultural needs, especially as our (relatively) capital-poor nation has always used borrowing from about the time of Julius Vogel in the 1870s onward to create a better future. And I seem to remember we paid off those loans. And the ones Walter Nash secured in the late 1930s. And the loans used to cover the almost continuous deficits we ran up from 1973-93 (most of which WASN’T Muldoon’s ‘Think Big’)

      More to the point, that is not how most Kiwis want to live their lives so it is pointless to rail against a Prime Minister who is in sync with the electorate. You may not have a mortgage (and, no, I wasn’t going to mention ask), but most businesses and home owners are happy to use the capital of others to purchase time and opportunity. And they also vote accordingly. ACT is about the only party that say they would not borrow – hence the reference. Wasn’t meant as a pejorative. Just trying to make sense of your…eclectic and ‘complex’ views. :)

      Is there a possibility that your risk-averse opinion of lending is a tad distorted and extreme? A bit like the anti-alcohol and sugar and fatty foods zealots: The real skill is in using it wisely so you rule it, rather than it ruling you.

      Then again, we are moving further away from Eleanor Catton…

      • 48.2.1

        Explains a lot about me? It was reductio ad absurdum which is not far to go based on some of the comments published here.

        At least Julius Vogel used his borrowing to create a better future rather than borrow to fund tax cuts for the wealthy.

        Adolf Hitler was “in sync” with the electorate, at least at the beginning, and look what he did to his country.

        I am grateful you find my views eclectic and complex. They arise from my thinking along a continuum and not following your black and white logic.

        Moving further away from Eleanor Catton? Based on your comments, I would have thought that would appeal to you.

        • “Adolf Hitler was “in sync” with the electorate, at least at the beginning, and look what he did to his country.”

          You win the Godwin’s Law prize.

          Goodbye…

  49. Totally agree. Thanks for writing this.

  50. @Kimbo 22.2.1.2.2.1.1.1
    …and that is why we don’t entrust politicians and reactionaries with distributing the fund to individuals. We have grants boards and professionals to do that. Appreciate your disclosing where your priorities lie though.

    • “…and that is why we don’t entrust politicians and reactionaries with distributing the fund to individuals. We have grants boards and professionals to do that.”

      Indeed. So why is Catton grizzling about “neo-liberal, tight-fisted politicians” who care nothing about culture?! Are they irrelevant in the equation?

      • She appears to be attacking the philistines for the reduction of funds being made available for distribution, not the distributors.

        • Indeed. Yet she was the recipient of some $100K. Despite what Lee Churchman above may say about that amount being “small beer”, to me and many other that means there is a huuuge credibility gap in Ms Catton’s criticisms.

          • 50.1.1.1.1

            $100k? Kindly subtract all that was paid to her for teaching. She worked hard for that and earned it. Taxpayers’ so-called Union indulged itself in the same kind of dishonesty. If you had ever tried to do a teaching job honestly, you would not dishonestly include payment for teaching in that $100k.

        • …and I’m not so sure based on these figures, and factoring in efficiencies that are being gained across the board in all government expenditure, that these figures support her claims: –

          http://www.budget.govt.nz/budget/pdfs/estimates/v8/est14-v8-artcul.pdf

  51. Good article Brian. Sean Plunket is a prat. I listened to his rant about the lovely Eleanor. Cringeworthy, to say the least. Plunket probably would not recognise culture if it bit him on his big fat bum!

    But I have to take issue with some of your psychological analysis, Brian. Your claim that NZers are embarrassed by praise is not how I see things. Quite the contrary, NZers seek out praise. You are correct, that we expect our sports stars, or celebrities to be humble. But this desire for humbleness does not seem to apply to the general masses, and media, who as you correctly point out, tend to live vicariously through the achievements of successful NZers. All manner of skiting seems to be acceptable, especially on the behalf of these successful NZers. Just as long as the successful NZers themselves do not do it, it is deemed perfectly acceptable.

    My theory is that this false modesty is one sign of NZ’s collective national narcissism. The purpose behind the false modesty of the narcissist is clearly to aggrandise. We look at our sports stars, and view their humbleness to be representative of our own nation character. But in reality, this is an illusion. Another sign of NZ’s collective national narcissism is our extreme sensitivity to criticism, be it at the hands of foreigners, or other NZers. Our knee-jerk response to criticism is almost always personal abuse. Eleanor is just the latest example, but it happens all too often. That’s my theory, anyway!!

    • 51.1

      Generalisations are always wrong including this one.

      Our media seize on any criticism because they are so rare and inevitably the silliest responses also make the news to keep the story alive. Imagine the US media trying to report every time the US got some international criticism.

      I doubt NZers are any more inclined to live vicariously than any other nation with modern media and communications. That seems to be a claim devoid of either evidence or theory.

      • “Generalisations are always wrong including this one.”.

        Does that include ones about “lefties”? ;)

      • I think that is fanciful thinking on your part, Alan!!

        Do you remember a certain promo for tvone, a few years back now, the theme of it appeared to be along the lines of NZ being a very understated nation. The key line being “a land where understatement is an understatement”, or something similar. I never did suss out exactly what it was supposed to be about.

        Contrast that with the traditional NZ war dance, the haka, which is often performed impromptu, on various occasions, most noticeably at sport events. It could only be described as loud, and designed to attract the attention of observers.

        Your line of argument that it is the media that fans most of this does not hold true. You may recall a couple of years back the Hollywood actress Anna Faris described NZ men as crude and vulgar on a US tv show. NZ Tourism, for some bizarre reason, thought it needed to respond, by calling her a pothead stoner with little credibility! You cannot blame the media for that.

        I would claim that NZers, far more than most nations, do indeed live vicariously through the achievements of others. The prominence given to NZ success, especially sporting success, often figures prominently in the news, if not leading the news!

        • 51.1.2.1

          You have never watched US coverage of sporting events like the Olympics? You would never guess any other nation figured.

          And really your whole comment confirms the role of media sensationalising.

          • 51.1.2.1.1

            I fail to grasp your point, Alan. As the US tends to dominate the medal tables, I’d imagine coverage of US athletes also dominates. Perhaps not enough coverage of the Equestrian for your liking, Alan? NZ’s fixation with that particular sport further proves my hypothesis that we live vicariously through others achievements, even when the sport is one that is as incredibly boring and stuck-up as that one is!!

            • 51.1.2.1.1.1

              Your imagination is inadequate as is obviously your experience. The U.S. coverage is not dominant but exclusive.

              As a friend of mine commented after a while post-doc-ing in the US, the media covers only local and US news, “the latter known here as The World.”

              • 51.1.2.1.1.1.1

                ooh get her!

                Alan, you appear to be suffering from delusions of superiority. You my friend, are a nuffie. But luckily in your case, a narcissist personality hides this cruel truth from you!!

                • 51.1.2.1.1.1.1.1

                  Never mind, Dean. I’m sure your conviction of NZ’s national narcissism will be vindicated by your every day experience without my further contribution.

                • 51.1.2.1.1.1.1.2

                  My theory applies at a national, collective level, not at the individual level. Although judging by your conduct in here Alan, the accusation might seem to apply equally to you at the individual level.

                  Further evidence of this theory can be seen in NZ’s collective bullying behaviour. Eleanor is just the most recent example. But we saw similar behaviour, directed in particular towards Robyn Malcolm and Jennifer Ward Lealand, during the Hobbit crisis. You might recall that was a fiendish plot hatched by jealous Ockers to sabotage our Hobbit industry. Which highlights another symptom of the narcissist, a willingness to believe in conspiracy theories. The bullying of Quade Cooper is another example, from the sporting field, but there are many others.

                  On a similar theme, another sign of narcissism is a belief that others are jealous of you. We can see this in the endless bouts of feigned indignation at the Ockers whenever they allegedly “claim” another Kiwi achievement as their own. Split Enz, Pavlova, Crowded House, Rusty Crowe, Phar Lap, Sam Neil, Lourde, Kimbo, etc etc.

                • 51.1.2.1.1.1.1.3

                  Is this you Dean?

                  http://www.north-carolina-mugshot-browser.com/Counties/Mecklenburg-County/Dean-Carmine-Papa.22928386.html

            • “Kimbo”?!

              I think you mean Kimbra!

              And the boorish tribal behaviour you cite is common around the world. If you play for the Boston Red Sox, Barcelona or Arsenal, just watch the indignation of the fans if you switch to the New York Yankees, Real Madrid or Tottenham Hotspur.

              And beyond sport the Scots do it with the English – as per the narrative around their recent independence debate and vote.

              • 51.1.2.1.1.2.1

                Careful Kimbo, he doesn’t like disagreement. He’s already labelled you narcissist previously too.

                Only five million more NZers to go, Dean.

              • 51.1.2.1.1.2.2

                Not really. The behaviour I cite is different. It is collective. It is sustained. It is vindictive. For example, Man Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan used the occasion to announce that he was ashamed to be an Ocker because of the Abbott govt’s environmental policies concerning coal, forests,etc in Tassie. For this act of poor judgement he got nothing like the insults and personal abuse dished out to Eleanor. I don’t recall a sportsman being targeted to the degree Quade Cooper was. Indeed, your lame efforts at denial serve merely to confirm to me that I am on to something here. You don’t mind if I include both you and Alan in my sociology thesis? I’ll use nom de plumes for you both, of course!

                • 51.1.2.1.1.2.2.1

                  Sociology! How delightfully appropriate. Be my guest, Dean. I couldn’t care less and certainly no need for secrecy on my part so long as you don’t take liberties with the truth or misquote me.

                  I do expect a copy though. I’m always up for a good chuckle at utter nonsense.

                • 51.1.2.1.1.2.2.2

                  I thought that might tickle your fancy, Alan!

                  I’ll be sure to mention you by name!

                  You are a VAIN MAN, Alan.

                • 51.1.2.1.1.2.2.3

                  Knock yourself out!

                  It should be an interesting read. What is the title by the way? Aotearoa/New Zealand 2015: Kristallnacht revisited.

                  Yes, I know it is sarcasm, the lowest form of wit, but I’m not guilty of Godwins Law. Refer to John Northcott at 48.2.1

                • 51.1.2.1.1.2.2.4

                  No, I’m not at all vain, Dean. I just don’t give a stuff what idiots think or say.

  52. Anyway, as some wise person told us last week, Ms Catton is only a “fictional” writer. So there!

    • In general artists are very attached to their creations and very defensive towards any criticism, just like a mother getting told that her baby is ugly.

  53. I dunno, celebrity mouths off at NZ, NZ mouths off at celebrity.
    It’s called free and open speech. Enjoy it, embrace the hate.
    There’s plenty of precious nannies in both wings that would love to shut it down.

  54. I could not agree with this more!!!!

    http://laudafinem.com/2015/01/31/is-new-zealand-herald-editor-shayne-currie-really-a-slimy-two-faced-prick-or-is-he-just-another-clown/

    • 54.1

      A tirade of personal abuse stacked with generalizations and cherry-picked anecdotes. Will that be your sociology thesis too?

      • So now we object to personal abuse, do we? I see.

        • 54.1.1.1

          It is most often an indication the abuser finds his or her other arguments inadequate. On the scale offered in your link it suggests are rather serious personality disorder.

          • 54.1.1.1.1

            Get off your high horse Alan, its got ebola!!

            HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!

            “An arrogant but limited intellectual I think”.

            That’s YOU, to a tee, Alan!!

            Irony, or what? (please, no lectures).

            How many BOOKER prizes have you won, Alan, if you don’t mind me asking?

            • No one here is questioning Catton’s undoubted ability as a writer, nor the merits of her Booker prize win. Indeed, they have been applauded either directly or by implication.

              What some of us have questioned is whether that gives her a free pass to be instantly acknowledged as an expert on all she opines. That is allowed, isn’t it?!

              And if and when she does so, whether her opinions stack up (e.g., She has received over $100K in state-funded assistance, yet considers public funding for culture is tight-fisted).

              I seems to me if there is a glaring incongruity in her analysis,

              …and she is called out

              …and then she complains, “…eloquence, imagination, and reasoned debate – qualities that might seem to have disappeared from our national conversation”

              …then she has MAYBE rightly earned the description, “An arrogant but limited intellectual I think”.

              Plus it was stated by Alan Wilkinson as an opinion, “…I think”, not as a fact.

              Or does a Booker Prize qualify you as an expert on all matters related to national culture and politics? Hmmm. Fair enough. So does that mean if you are an international currency trader that automatically makes you an expert on running a country?

              Fair enough. I expect to see the critics of John Key’s former vocation, and his supposed lack of suitable qualifications for PM, some of whom congregate in these parts, revise their opinion.

              Or is it just different if your line of reasoniong comes into conflict with your existing opinions?

              • 54.1.1.1.1.1.1

                Who says she must be instantly acknowledged as an expert? Catton certainly isn’t making such a demand. Is she not entitled to an opinion, just as you are? Her status as Booker prize winner does elevate her opinion over flotsam such as Alan, and you, Kimbo, no offense intended! But we have no interest in what you think. The opinion of achievers is, however, of interest to many, like it or not. You are however, free to point out where Catton may be mistaken in her views. But that is not really what has happened. She was subjected to personal abuse. No point in trying to rewrite history now. It happened. The evidence is there, for all to see. Do you honestly begrudge her any assistance she has gotten? At least it produced something of worth. Unlike the $1000 a week paid to bludger Bill to live in his own home!!

                • 54.1.1.1.1.1.1.1

                  “Who says she must be instantly acknowledged as an expert?”

                  You. In context you implied it in your question, “How many BOOKER prizes have you won, Alan, if you don’t mind me asking?”.

                  “Catton certainly isn’t making such a demand.”

                  Hmm. Her original criticisms were sweeping, and when she was called out over them, she implied she possessed superior intellect and virtue and an indignant, injured-party status, rather than addressing the substance of the criticism, “I believe it can be countered only with eloquence, imagination, and reasoned debate – qualities that might seem to have disappeared from our national conversation, but that persist, and will continue to persist, despite efforts to humiliate and silence those who speak out”

                  “Her status as Booker prize winner does elevate her opinion over flotsam such as Alan, and you, Kimbo, no offense intended!”

                  Given the lightweight thinking and debating skills of the one who says it (as evidenced by the quality of your posts) – no offense taken.

                  “She was subjected to personal abuse”.

                  To a point, yes. As I acknowledged before, Plunkett was playing the shock-jock. But it doesn’t mean he didn’t have some valid material to work with.

                  “Do you honestly begrudge her any assistance she has gotten?”

                  Absolutely not! My problem, as I have stated consistently is when she discounts, indeed completely ignores it while dissing New Zealand’s support and public budget for culture on the world stage.

                • 54.1.1.1.1.1.1.2

                  You seem to be doing a lot of inferring, and implying, if you don’t mind me saying, Kimbo!

                  There is a difference between a demand to be “acknowledged as an expert” and the expectation that one’s opinions be treated with a degree of decency and respect, even by those who may strongly disagree. It’s really not that hard to do. But the red mist takes over and we have these knee-jerk, overly aggressive responses to criticisms. It happens all too often in NZ.

                  I’m afraid the conduct of both you and Alan in here merely serves to highlight my hypothesize, as stated in a previous post. This is further evidence of narcissistic personality disorder. The lack of wit. A basic lack of self-awareness. No offense intended! “An arrogant but limited intellectual I think”. Hence my rhetoric question to Alan.

                • 54.1.1.1.1.1.1.3

                  “I’m afraid the conduct of both you and Alan in here merely serves to highlight my hypothesize, as stated in a previous post. This is further evidence of narcissistic personality disorder. The lack of wit. A basic lack of self-awareness. No offense intended! “An arrogant but limited intellectual I think”. Hence my rhetoric question to Alan.”

                  Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, but I’m sure you have enough capacity for (to quote you) “self-awareness” (you do, don’t you?!) to see it undermines your (implied!) status as a paragaon of virtue, or a worthwhile voice for “decency and respect” in response to the alleged “knee-jerk, overly aggressive responses to criticisms. It happens all too often in NZ.”

                  And are you paid everytime you use the word, “narcissistic”? It’s just that you rather throw it around like confetti.

            • 54.1.1.1.1.2

              I see your judgements are untroubled by any sense of perspective, Dean. Yes, I think Catton is a limited intellectual which is common for specialists who tend to know a lot about rather little. No, that doesn’t mean that I subject her to the torrent of vile abuse that the sad individual you linked to subjected everyone he disagreed with.

              It has apparently also escaped you that I haven’t at any time criticised Catton’s literary skills, nor do I regard them with the same scepticism I have for sociologists, you in particular.

              • 54.1.1.1.1.2.1

                You did not like what she said. Therefore she is “An arrogant but limited intellectual I think”. But how would you know, really? Truth is Alan, you don’t.

                • 54.1.1.1.1.2.1.1

                  Spent two decades in universities, Dean. I’ve met enough limited intellectuals to recognise one when I see one (or two).

                • 54.1.1.1.1.2.1.2

                  And it wasn’t that I didn’t like what she said, it was that her comment revealed a complete lack of knowledge of her subject. Intelligent people don’t pretend knowledge they don’t have.

                • 54.1.1.1.1.2.1.3

                  Still seems very presumptuous of you, Alan.

                • 54.1.1.1.1.2.1.4

                  Time will tell if I am right, Dean. Or maybe and hopefully she will become older and wiser.