There's been some weird social debates going on in the past week, and that even before we discovered our Commander in Chief is shooting blanks. Two debates in particular, both involving racism, apparently: Andy Haden's 'darkies' comment, and the bizarre furore over a radio station promotion, 'Hug a Ginga Day'.
I would say I don't consider pakeha with red hair to be of a different race to the other pakeha I know, but the Christchurch father who dragged his two children on to Close Up last week did - although it was hard to work out exactly what he believed, as he jumped from strained point to point.
The first episode rated so well (almost twice that of the competition in the 25-54 demographic) and by all accounts had incredible amounts of feedback (1500 emails was the number mentioned on the TV), so the debate was repeated the next night - same main two players, this time 'face to face... for the first time!' That night I'm told an unprecedented 30,000 people voted in the phone in poll ("Is Hug-A-Ginga Day harmless?"). Ratings were almost as high as the night before. On Friday night there was a third story, marking the actual day itself. All stories were incredibly watchable, especially those involving the quite bizarre father of the two redhead children.
On the week the Three Strikes law passed, virtually without mention, was Hug-A-Ginga day the most important story of the week, nay the year, meriting not one but three prime time spots? No. Will the Public Address readership decry this as yet another example of the decline of current affairs television? Undoubtedly. Did it, as they say, 'rate its tits off'? You betcha.
I don't know that the story itself bears much examination. A radio show with a history of puerile behaviour (and two hosts with a history of quite nasty treatment of others, including a co-worker, and who coincidentally and weirdly the same week opted to tug at heartstrings with a story on their inability to replicate (no comment)) decide to promote 'Hug-a-Ginga Day'. Are we supposed to believe, as Dom Harvey would have us do, that it's a day to undo all that bullying that goes on and say "actually mate, you're all right"? Or is it really just a day to reinforce the fact that Gingas are different? Do redheads really want to spend a day fending off people coming up to them wanting hugs? At least one 'bright-brown' friend of mine suggested most certainly not.
As I say, it doesn't bear much examination, and as a stupid promotion on a brainless radio show, hosted by idiots, it probably was never intended to. Certainly not the glare of three nights of current affairs television.
The 'darkie' incident is much more fascinating, for me the best part is watching people work out which is worst, Andy Haden's choice of words, or the fact such a quota might actually exist in our most successful Super 14 franchise (and in the case of more hardened rugby fans I've spoken to, whether it's a formula which should be emulated by the team they support). A discussion with my taxi driver confirmed my fears - as a coach of a prominent high school team - he believes the style of rugby currently in vogue is not conducive to teams with an abundance of our coffee-coloured brethren. (I can say that, right? Coffee-coloured? I love coffee. Who doesn't?) It seems ridiculous to me, but I know almost nothing about rugby, and even less about racial characteristics and stereotypes vis-a-vis the current rendition thereof.
Should Andy Haden be removed as an ambassador of our national game as it is about to be propelled onto the world stage?
"I know Andy, and Andy isn't a racist," say any number of rugby commentators. Perhaps, but if not then he is part of a very small subset (or is it a superset) of people who aren't racist but think it's okay to use the word 'darkie'. Perhaps the same subset of people who aren't sexist but think things were better when women were expected to stay at home and pop out kids. The same subset who remember back when a dog called Nigger was just a dog called Nigger. When men were able to drink a bloody beer in their section of the pub without having to listen to the shrill sound of their womenfolk. When, to probably misquote the late Douglas Adams, Men were Men, Women were Women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centuri were small furry creatures from Alpha Centuri.
John Key's initial instincts were right. Of course Andy Haden shouldn't be a bloody ambassador for the Rugby World Cup. As I believe it was Jim Anderton said on Backbenches last night, he shouldn't be an ambassador for anything. Of course if he is going to be an ambassador for anything, then the NZRFU is probably his best shot. Remember we are talking about an institution which only last month apologised for decades of racist treatment toward Maori, and only then because South Africa went first. If Andy is out of step with the current attitudes of the NZRFU, it's only by a fortnight. Actually, he's apologised hasn't he, so I guess they're even again.
And so Muzza McCully has taken this into account hasn't he? Old Andy can stay. Muzza says fair suck of the sav, he's a good keen man old Andy. Straight as an arrow, old Andy. Racist as the day is long, and a bloody decent bugger with it, old Andy. He can stay and represent our country, and our national game. Top bloke, good old Andy. He's on the level, old Andy. You know where you stand with old Andy. Old Andy? He likes to call a Spade a Spade.