Have you ever noticed how the New Zealand mainstream media goes ga-ga whenever a New Zealander – usually in the sports arena - has some degree of success? Suddenly nothing else matters.
This week the media got into a lather because Scott Dixon won the Indianapolis 500.
He won this by going around the oval track two hundred times and going faster than anyone else.
Only diehard motor fans will know anything at all about this race. The rest of might of vaguely heard of it or are completely ignorant of its existence. Or we just don’t care.
But the fact that a New Zealander (albeit with a pronounced American accent) won it apparently changes everything – well, that’s according to the mainstream media anyway.
Moments after the Dixon won the event, Pippa Wetzell on TV1’s Breakfast was struggling to make sense of its stupendous significance. After implying that watching racing cars go around a track 200 times was boring she then told us that the Indy 500 was ‘the most important race in the world’.
She didn’t look entirely confident about her claim though.
For the remainder of the day the media went into a Scott Dixon frenzy. By the time six o’clock came around, both TV1 and TV3 had decided Dixon’s victory was worthy of being the lead news item. By this stage TV1 and TV3 were describing the win as ‘historic’. Dixon was even being likened to Edmund Hilary.
This wasn’t journalism. It wasn’t even sports journalism. It was empty-headed cheerleading.
But this is par for the course with mainstream media. If a New Zealander won the World Egg and Spoon Championship then it would end up as the lead item on the evening television news - and that would be followed by some ghastly gushy interviews on Close Up and John Campbell.
And, worryingly, there’s a degree of nationalistic jingoism in the media chestbeating. It’s almost an ‘us’ against ‘them’ mentality. It’s ‘our boys’ against ‘the Poms’ or whoever the enemy is this week.
Former Listener editor Finlay McDonald once wrote that this nationalistic tubthumping was a product of ‘small county syndrome’ and that it betrayed a serious inferiority complex.
But I think something else might be happening here.
In the past twenty or so years New Zealand communities have been destroyed, fragmented and attacked by waves of ‘free market’ reforms.
And market culture has replaced the social democratic egalitarian ethos that existed in the post-war era. These days the values that are constantly promoted via the media are the values of the stockmarket, the values of venal capitalism.
But if it’s all about the individual and economic-self interest what is there to bind a country together? If you’re getting paid low wages, and struggling to make the rent why should you, well, just put up with it?
Hey, says the corporate media, its okay because we’re all ‘united’ behind Scott Dixon, the All Blacks (although this ‘brand' ain’t what it used to be) – or,non-sportingly, film director Peter Jackson. In TV1's words we're all 'One' - what's a little wealth disparity between friends?
TV1's promo for its upcoming Olympic Games coverage is very revealing in this respect.
Against a black backdrop there is a silver Olympics logo and a New Zealand fern logo. Then we hear a voice – it’s a TV1 continuity announcer – and he says, in reverential tones, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, the national anthem of New Zealand’
The promotion is not about the actual sport but the promise of an award ceremony featuring a gold medal winning New Zealander. Already TV1,four months or so before the actual event, is bumping up the nationalist hype.
Karl Marx is often crudely characterised as being ‘anti-religious’. After all didn’t he say that religion was the opiate of the people?
However Marx, although not religious himself, was not anti-religious. What he did condemn was the role of religion in capitalist societies.
Religion was used to justify the status quo with all its economic injustice and political oppression (the rulers of society had a divine right to rule) and the working class were told to put up with their lot in life because there would be a better life waiting for them in Heaven.
This is what got the old man angry.
In our ever-increasing secular society though religion though just doesn’t cut the mustard as a binding social force.
In New Zealand – and elsewhere – sport is the media's new religion. The promise of Indy 500 winners, the All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup, someone – preumably Valerie Villi – winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games, this is what is supposed to make us happy enough to put up with low wages, rising prices and redundancies.
Bread and circuses…