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Insights 34: 13 September 2019
As the dust settles on KiwiBuild, Eric Crampton comments on Newsroom on where to now.
Briar Lipson discusses on NBR about the lessons that can be learnt from a partnership school in the UK.
Research Note - Hands-on: New suggestions to reform the vocational sector in New Zealand.

When comedy meets ignorance
Dr Oliver Hartwich | Executive Director |
The prospect of a new Taika Waititi movie is usually a reason for joyful anticipation. However, watching the trailer of Jojo Rabbit and reading the first reviews left me appalled.

Jojo Rabbit is Waititi’s take on the Third Reich. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival this week and will be shown at cinemas from October.

Waititi, the New Zealander of the Year 2017, calls his slapstick movie an “anti-hate satire”. Still, I wonder whether it will do more harm than good.

There have been outstanding satires about Hitler and the Nazis. Charlie Chaplin’s classic The Great Dictator (1940) mocked the monumentalism of the Nazi regime. Mel Brooks used the Nazi theme to critique the US show business in The Producers (1967). Jerry Lewis satirised militarism in Which Way to the Front? (1970).

These classics leave no doubt about the character of the Nazis: They were evil. In Jojo Rabbit, however, they stumble through the plot like “clumsy morons”, as the Guardian’s critic describes it.

Other reviews were equally scathing. Vox said, “it’s more of a comedy with satirical elements than a true satirical tale”, while Vanity Fair crushed it: “It’s Possible to Make a Good Comedy About Hitler—But Jojo Rabbit Isn’t It.”

What concerns me even more is that public knowledge of the Shoah is so poor nowadays that audiences will fail to abstract from Jojo Rabbit’s slapstick humour.

In a recent survey, only 43 percent of New Zealanders said they knew a reasonable amount or a lot about the Holocaust. So what would the rest make of a Holocaust comedy?

To see what happens when historical ignorance meets slapstick, go back to Germany. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, comedies like Sonnenallee (1999) and Good Bye, Lenin (2003) hit the screens. They showed life under East German communist rule in a funny, satirical and even nostalgic way.

A few years later, social scientists from Free University Berlin surveyed young Germans about their knowledge of their country’s communist past. The researchers found that public knowledge was shaped by these movies. Respondents did not regard the failed ‘German Democratic Republic’ as a dictatorship but as a somewhat quirky country.

Waititi would not have wanted to promote such a normalisation of evil. But given our lack of history awareness, it may well be the outcome.

Kia Kaha te Reo Māori
Briar Lipson | Research Fellow |
Monday saw Wellington’s Lambton Quay come alive with a joyful parade celebrating Māori Language Week.

Yet, when asked whether her government would make te Reo compulsory in schools Prime Minister Ardern dodged the question, explaining instead that even if the government wanted to do this, New Zealand lacks the necessary teaching workforce.

Her argument makes sense, at least in the short-term. But there are other, more long-term reasons why compulsion might not be right.

Take the experience of Wales, where I grew up, as an example. There, compulsory Welsh was phased in for all children aged 5–14 from 1990. This compulsion widened to age 16 in 1999, and age 3 in 2011.

As a result, most adults in Wales aged 34 and younger have learned Welsh for up to 11 years. However, it is not clear from census statistics that compulsion is working.

In each census year 1991, 2001 and 2011, the same proportion, just 15%, of 20- to 44-year-olds reported being able to speak Welsh. This was even though by 2001 some, and by 2011 significantly more, of this age bracket had experienced compulsory Welsh.

Part of the explanation seems to be that despite learning Welsh from age 5, too few students develop confidence,and amongst those who do, skills drop dramatically over time. In 2011, despite 5+ years of study only 42% of 10- to 14-year-olds reported being able to speak Welsh, and amongst those ten years older the proportion fell to just one in five.

As the then Welsh Education Minister acknowledged, despite their years of compulsory study, too few school leavers feel confident and able to use the language beyond school.

Various reasons will explain why, but one stems directly from Welsh’s compulsory status. Overnight, it turned a language people fought for into an obligation. While a voluntary approach can harness parental support, compulsion can undermine it.

Interestingly, without any compulsion, the number of students enrolled in Māori language courses in New Zealand tertiary institutions increased by 34% between 2009 and 2018, and 86% of these students are over 25. 

Balancing compulsion and flexibility is a perpetual challenge. At the Initiative, we believe our national curriculum is too flexible. However, Monday’s joyous parade, evidence from Wales, and the healthy figures on voluntary uptake of te Reo all point to letting Māori language grow organically.

That can happen only when the politicians stay out and continue letting parents and school boards decide.

Joel Hernandez | Policy Analyst |
Everyone has their guilty pleasures. For many people that guilty pleasure is a cheesy melodramatic soap opera.

While most people indulge in daytime drama’s Shortland Street and Coronation Street, the Initiative’s Chief Exec, Oliver Hartwich, loves watching Brexit.

Formally known as 10 Downing Street in the pilot episode, Brexit has all the hallmarks of a good soap opera.

Typically defined as an ongoing serial drama, Brexit has no shortage of never-ending theatrics, surprising plot twists and concurrent storylines.

Early seasons focused on the referendum to leave the European Union, while the middle seasons focused on failing negotiations and party politics. Today, the focus is on a failed general election and an upcoming tomato crisis.

If these plotlines make no sense, that’s the point. Confusion and chaos are part of the current Prime Minister’s master plan.

Like any good soap opera, Brexit wouldn’t be complete without cliff-hangers.

First, it was former PM David Cameron’s resignation.

Two years later, it was PM Theresa May’s turn. May and loyal fans shed many tears.

Today, viewers are awaiting the current PM Boris Johnson’s resignation.

Brexit, like many other popular soap operas, has a raft of main and supporting characters that come and go through the seasons.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Merkel are Brexit regulars, though I hear Corbyn is vying for a role in the main cast.

Famous cameos also make an appearance, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin are just two examples.

I’m still waiting for the one-hour special with the Queen and Duchess, Meghan Markle.

Unlike many popular soap operas, the characters in Brexit are neither young nor beautiful; however, they are remarkably bold and restless.

Brexit wouldn’t be a soap opera without extramarital affairs and crazy hairdos. Thankfully, Boris Johnson pulls double duty.

With all that said, soap operas eventually come to an end when the ratings start to dip.

On 31 October fans and critics will get to witness the shocking season finale of Brexit.

Not to disappoint, however, there is always a plot twist at the last minute.

No, Boris Johnson isn’t Theresa May’s long lost evil twin.

The twist is Brexit won’t ever be over even if it is ever delivered.

For some protagonists, Brexit won’t be enough. Conversely, some antagonists will be asking for ‘Brenter’ in the immediate aftermath.  

Whether Brenter becomes a spin-off soap opera or material for another season is yet to be decided.

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