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September 24, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Editorial

In 1957, writing on the state of his times, American Norman Mailer penned a message that has perhaps more relevance now, in modern day New Zealand than it ever did for 1950s America.

Writing in The White Negro Mailer said that “for the first time in civilized history… we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality could mean equally well that we might still be doomed to die as a cipher in some vast statistical operation in which our teeth would be counted, and our hair would be saved, but our death itself would be unknown, unhonoured, and unremarked, a death which could not follow, with dignity, as a possible consequence to serious actions we had chosen, but rather a death by deus ex machina…”

In our career driven society, it increasingly feels like Mailer is right. That we are “jailed in the prison air of other people’s habits, other people’s defeats, boredom, quiet desperation, and muted icy self-destroying rage.” In other words I get the sense that psychologically our only valid meaning is increasingly derived from our jobs; like cogs in a machine where individuality is akin to personalised number plates. The rest of our time we spend addicted to television (just under two hours a day according to Statistics New Zealand) processing and memorising how to “fit in”. This malaise is undoubtedly a result of our daily routine; 9 to 5 jobs, high accomodation costs, and the domination of new media. In the words of another writer, this time from New Zealand:

“Those peaceful New Zealand towns, centred upon a post office, a grocer’s store, a petrol station and a war memorial, are strange places to sleep in, if you stretch out on a bench in your oilskin, before the dawn shows itself above the scrub hills like a terrible unhealed wound. Nowhere have I felt more strongly the atmosphere of the graveyard… The young ones feel it too, though they do not know its origin… Perhaps their demonstrations and protests are an effort to regain communal sanity, to take on their backs the guilt of history which the elders have tried to bury beyond the reach of the spade.”

If James K Baxter is right then our zeitgeist is banality. In 2007, New Zealand has become an anti-adventure. In today’s society many of the most popular and mainstream ideas paradoxically don’t fit what many of us are whispering.

Take drugs, for example. While nearly 13 per cent of National Drug Survey respondents in 1998 stated that they had tried hallucinogens at some time there is little mainstream coverage of this topic. In a similar vein many of the popular and widespread ideas about sexual behaviour were completely irrelevant to what was really going on before Kinsey released the watershed Sexual Behaviour in the Human Male in 1948. After extensive interviews Kinsey showed that many sexual practices that were considered social deviancies were in fact quite popular. In a similar vein, I’d argue that much of what is going on in the clubs, flats and streets of Wellington is out of step with the status quo presented by the mainstream press.

In this issue, on page 16, I’d like you to journey beyond the bell curve to our article on drugs. I’ve made no attempt to detract from the authenticity of the writer, himself a seasoned drug user, who has been to rehab for substance abuse. Maybe I’ll get into trouble with the mainstream press.

Perhaps this issue will serve to demonstrate that there is no longer a freedom of the press that really means very much. Perhaps we will come to understand why so many are leaving these shores for the idea of a world beyond the smothering of the matronly ‘Godzone’ – and why they will probably not find that freer world.

If George Harrison is correct then The Beatles saved the world from boredom. Maybe we need a new Beatles.

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