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22 November 2016


Robin Carmody

Any English-speaking country of NZ's size will have natural difficulties establishing its own film industry and indeed popular cultural industry generally, but the country seems to me to have grown and asserted itself sufficiently that such things are now necessary, that its people would feel incomplete without them. Around 2003-05 it had the most successful run of locally-generated hip-hop and R&B ever in the mainstream charts of any Anglophone country outside the United States, which probably reflected the low levels of physical single sales - as elsewhere - at that point, making it easier for music of relative niche appeal to cross over in such a way (certainly the current singles charts consist very largely of the global iTunes/Spotify staples; as everywhere else, the album charts are more local, but then they skew much, much older) but was an interesting example of a culture regenerating itself.

The way you talk of "hedged and cottaged England haunting the English imagination" reminds me of the unrealistic expectations some people in the main population centres have of what it could possibly be in the modern world, and specifically the way Joss Stone's career died here (while continuing to thrive abroad) because she started speaking in an American accent, which has done no harm to the careers of multiple singers from the main population centres. It was as if people had an expectation that Devon could possibly remain immune from such things, the very same people who'd be horrified if anyone suggested that, if they moved from, say, the West Midlands to Devon, they'd have to leave satellite TV and social media behind (which is, of course, what you would have to do if these areas were still going to be what people imagine them to be). As an inhabitant of such a part of England, I can speak from direct experience that it is little more than a global clone, which culturally differs from the most populated areas only in terms of ethnicity - and if you think (as I do) that that doesn't really matter, you have to wonder why it still holds such a place in people's minds if not for racially-motivated reasons, because there is nothing else to maintain the illusion of difference when you have to see it day to day. And then, of course, there is Isaiah Dreads ...

The appropriation/fusion stuff reminds me of a piece I've written for Shiraz Socialist - although unlike my other, shorter polemical piece, it has yet to appear - in which I address explicitly the way I used to be criticised for the same reasons (listening to global black pop in what they both thought, even if for different reasons, was the "wrong" place) by authenticists of both Left and Right.


Thanks for your interesting comment. There's a reference to Lord of the Rings in the film, which of course gave a giant boost to the film industry there. you can tour Peter Jackson's Weta Studios & it sells New Zealand as a location for quite un New Zealand films like The Hobbit. The sets are still kept as a tourist attraction.

Re the "global clone" - local cultural renaissance is often the precursor of political nationalism eg the rise of emphasising the folk among the Latvians as part of national self-assertion. The Maori cultural renaissance increased before the political demands for return of land and sovereignty started in the 70s. In Scotland Gaelic signs and writing newspaper articles in supposed Scots have appeared but of course the population goes on watching Strictly Come Dancing and Downton Abbey. The cultures have never been more similar - far more so than they would have been 100 years ago when Scottish nationalism was an eccentricity.

Robin Carmody

Yes, that is one of the great paradoxes of the SNP's rise. (re. Scottish nationalism being an eccentricity a century ago; just as proportional representation at Westminster almost went through both during WW1 and then after it, before WW1 a plan to devolve a significant amount of power to Edinburgh, after a lot of pressure in the later Victorian & Edwardian periods, was close to going through, but went on the backburner when Britain went to war for obvious reasons, and if anything Scottish nationalism came to be seen as considerably more eccentric than it had been in the Victorian & Edwardian eras because the sense of Britishness had been greatly enhanced by the wars ... although now it is the Scots, who at least in purest and oldest ethnic terms - lot more mixing in both places today, obviously - have far less German descent than the English, who seem less psychologically affected by *that* aspect of those wars' long-term legacy).

But yes, there is a strange dissonance between an electorate which invokes *political* nationalism without taking the same cultural stance, indeed seeing the former as more and more natural and the latter as more and more alien (often associating it with the post-WW2 years when Scotland was seen as more socially conservative and less progressive than England). Looking at an old 'British Hit Singles' earlier today I chanced upon a reference (it appeared on an EP which charted in 1990) to a Runrig song called "Satellite Flood", whose lyrics are indeed a warning of what Sky was poised and ready to do (in part because the British state did not act in defence of its own alternative), and if the SNP were still very largely supported by people who felt that way about mass culture (as they pretty much were in 1990, I think) they'd have a fraction of the representation they do. They couldn't have got where they are without winning the support of large numbers of tabloid readers & Sky viewers, thus diluting what the "movement" was originally identified with.

In the case of Maoris taking back their culture it may have had (this could be off-beam: you were there, after all, and I was neither there nor then) something to do with the decline of the British imperial cultural model, which (as with Scottish nationalism *as it was then defined*) made the embrace of a historic sense of who they were make more sense - opened the void for it to fill, so to speak - while, as in England and among the majority of Scots who saw no use for the SNP, the mass of the population followed more and more the American model. Latvia is a separate story; the folk culture there, as elsewhere in the Soviet bloc, had obviously been obliterated by different forces, the mighty year-zero state rather than the mighty year-zero free market, and the former
proved (although only a short time earlier many would have said the opposite) infinitely easier to wipe out in one go than the latter (which would provide a greater threat than they had once imagined, in its turn - although I do not blame them for clinging to the West in the face of the neo-'volkisch' nationalism of Putin, and hoping desperately that America's own turn to nationalism - a different thing from all other nationalisms because it is, for obvious reasons, much less defined against the global mass culture - won't leave them at its mercy).

But there is no imaginable starting point, no possible basis or origin, for anything remotely like any of those things in the part of England I live in, where any sense of localism is strictly a heritage fantasy, seen as completely incompatible with any aspect of modern culture (even among the relatively middle-aged) in a manner which makes, say, Liverpool seem like the most localist place in the world (especially among the young). I would say there is less of a chance of any kind of renaissance of strong identity in my area - with all it would anticipate politically - than just about anywhere else; Brexit, whatever others might say, is *because* of rock music not despite it, and that kind of fake-flaggery is about as far as things are ever going to get. The combination of global clonery with bull-headed pseudo-nationalism here is highly representative of most of modern England, outside the largely Remain-voting major cities and bohemian/intellectual enclaves, and is about as far from Maori or Latvian renaissances as could be imagined. But then, we ran the Empire ...

LOTR is obviously a huge reason for NZ's appeal to young, hip types worldwide (far removed from the rather stuffy old English types who used to be associated with it) although in the British TV of my childhood it always seemed less wannabe-American and less slick than the quasi-California of Neighbours & Home and Away ... more where Worzel Gummidge and Black Beauty ended up, and that may have planted a seed in the minds of the liberal types who (with good reason) find it so appealing now.

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  • Rosie Bell

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