The New Zealander of the Year Awards have been an annual fixture in Salient since just now. Who will win this most prestigious of gongs? (Lima Sopoaga.) Does anybody even care? (Probably not.) Why is this even here? (We had three pages to fill.)
Read on to find out!
Evil Corporation of the Year
Where to start with fucking MediaWorks? The John Campbell-firing, Jay-Jay-and-Dom-employing, Paul-Henry-smug-grin vehicle has had, by anyone’s estimation (save that of a raving misogynist), a profoundly evil year.
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In 2015, across each of its million or so platforms, our answer to Fox News served up a festering, lumpy stew of sexism that was devoured by a depressing number of New Zealanders, only to be violently sprayed out the other end onto Stuff’s comment boards.
Yet the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. If MediaWorks has a flaw, it’s that they’re just so overtly awful that we couldn’t help but notice. In hindsight, cancelling Campbell Live wasn’t evil so much as it was breathtakingly stupid—there would have been less backlash had they cancelled the news. Meanwhile, MediaWorks’ radio arm needs only add Cameron Slater to become a complete rogue’s gallery of New Zealand’s most loathsome public commentators.
But The Bachelor—did we all forget we were meant to be hate-watching? Every time Mike Puru slurred the word “ladies” we got just a bit more desensitised, every time Art complained about his “hard choices” our rage got just a little blunter. Thankfully, MediaWorks was there to snap us back to reality—in July they gave us Crotchgate, in August The Cucumber Number and, in case we hadn’t got the point yet, in September we got (for lack of a better term) RankHoGate.
Please, Hillary, get out while you still have a soul.
Flag of the Year
Fire the Lazar
Sorry, Te Pepe. Sorry, Hypnoflag. Sorry, dumb plate logo thing. There’s only flag that truly captured New Zealand’s imagination this year. And that flag is Fire the Lazar.
Opening up the flag referendum to public submissions was simultaneously one of the dumbest and most brilliant things the National government could have done. How else could we have awoken to the notion that our national identity is best captured by a crude stick figure riding a bicycle? Or by a pentagram on a pastel background? Or, for that matter, by a kiwi shooting lasers (or rather, “lazars”) from its eyes?
Unlike other joke flags such as Eggsplosion or Red Peak, Fire the Lazar was popular because as well as being funny, it was relevant to New Zealand. The laser beam, for instance, has been an important New Zealand icon ever since Bruce Laser invented it in his shed in Hauraki, and it has gone on to adorn the logos of iconic New Zealand brands like Stuff and NZ Van Lines. Unfortunately, a groundswell of opinion against any flag that “looks too much like a logo” has meant that no laser-based design made the final five.
Politician of the Year
McCourt began the year with VUWSA and OUSA heading out the door and threatening to withhold their levies. He ends it with VUWSA back in the tent, OUSA likely to follow, and NZUSA’s half-million or so in revenue safe, for now. And all without running a single campaign! The turnaround is down in no small part to McCourt’s ceaseless politicking—a furious wave of soundbites, idealism and veiled threats, which veered toward self-parody (AGM, anyone?) but eventually saw an exasperated Rick Zwaan call a referendum.
Yet in the process McCourt relied on a big strategic hand from NZUSA’s parent company, the Labour Party—something that could come back to bite in the future. At the start of the year McCourt suspended his Labour Party membership to maintain the illusion of distance, but the two organisations have never looked closer.
For his next trick, McCourt will use legal threats to extort money from the dirt-poor Waikato Students’ Union, who clearly haven’t been members of NZUSA since 2013 (but NZUSA disagrees, so that’ll be $60,000 thanks).
Journalist of the Year
Otherwise known (or at least, she should be) as The Critic and Conscience of Reality TV, Alex Casey began the year as a staff writer for The Spinoff, at the time an exclusively television-focused website. Throughout 2015 her columns—particularly her powerful defence, in July, of Chrystal Chenery—hugely increased the site’s profile. Last month The Spinoff relaunched with a wider ambit, a who’s who of staff writers, and Casey in a new role as Television Editor.
During those weird few weeks where The Bachelor stumbled onto our screens, “made a connection” and then left us bereft, Casey’s weekly power rankings were arguably more fun than the show itself. Since then she’s emerged as the country’s most eloquent critic of entertainment industry sexism (see above). “I’ve been faced with the reality of our reality TV,” Casey wrote, “and it’s uglier than a rogue koala poop in an unsuspecting navel.”
New Zealander of the Year
It wasn’t easy selecting Salient’s New Zealander of the Year. Rick Zwaan? Max Key? Mike Hosking? Some other white male with an aggressively marketed face? We were getting desperate. Fuck, what even happened this year? I don’t know, things?!? Should we just make someone up and hope you wouldn’t notice?*
Let’s face it: 2015 wasn’t a great year for tertiary education. With students distracted by basic, long-neglected welfare concerns—increasing costs of living, the loan and allowances freeze, mental health, debt—issues of academic quality fell through the cracks. Honours is a dying breed; Master’s courses continue to be diluted; the humanities are under attack; and New Zealand universities, for the most part, continue their inexorable slide down the global rankings.
In 1947, a student president was forced to resign after giving a speech to first-years, in which he noted that “two activities always flourish when the light of the intellect is fading. One is rugby football and the other is religion.” It turns out he was half-right. Religiosity in New Zealand continues—glacially—to decline. But rugby? Rugby is everywhere. Rugby is life.
The Prime Minister thinks we should have a rugby flag. Stuff ran “Richie McCaw ad goes viral” as its lead news item. We are having our quadrennial arguments about the haka. Chris Rattue somehow has a paid writing gig.
Let’s get something straight: rugby is a silly game. In an 80-minute match, there are an average 44 minutes of stoppages. In other words, 55 per cent of a rugby match is people milling around scratching their balls. Don’t get us wrong; rugby is still much better than its bogan cousin, league. But come on, people—there’s a reason this game hasn’t caught on.
Yet rugby endures. When people say things like “Lima Sopoaga should go whitebaiting”, and most of the country understands the joke and doesn’t immediately assume it to be some kind of confusing racial slur, that says something about New Zealand’s collective psyche. We’re not sure exactly what it says, but we’re pretty sure it’s something. Right?
And so, circuitously, our quest for New Zealander of the Year led to the only possible conclusion. Lima Sopoaga is a rugby player from Wellington, who this year rugbied in the Presbyterian depths of Southland. He rugbied very well, and was invited to rugby for the All Blacks, where he continued to rugby well. Unfortunately, the goodness of his rugbying was insufficient to earn him a place in our rugby team for the World Cup. (We don’t know if you’ve heard, but there is a world cup going on.)
But Lima Sopoaga is more than just New Zealand’s fourth-best first five-eighths (yes, math students, those are actual rugby words). He’s a symbol for our nation of nearly-wo/men, the poster child for our parallel-universe-world-beaters, Schrödinger’s most heroic rugbying cat. When the All Blacks lose to France; or, failing that, South Africa; or, failing that, Australia, expect Sopoaga to be instantly knighted.
Also, he seems like a pretty nice guy.
*This was actually our preferred option for a significant amount of time. It’s almost as though New Zealand has nobody of note.