Dr Bryce Edwards
“Jesters do oft prove prophets” wrote political commentator William Shakespeare. So to what extent can we take contemporary satire as insightful commentary on the election campaign? Below are some of the more humorous and illuminating pieces of satire and light-hearted politics to come out of the election campaign. You can see Pt I here .
Dodgy political advertisements
Some of the most noteworthy satirical moments of this campaign were more by accident than design. The National Party scored a terrible own goal by putting up one of its “Keep NZ moving forward” billboards outside the Auckland City Mission, with homeless people sleeping underneath – see the Herald’s National Party billboard taken down.
National also accidentally created a homage to Sir John Key’s Ponytailgate controversy, with its TV ad featuring one of its male runners “giving his female peer’s hair what looks like a good-natured yank” – see Katie Parker’s A highly unscientific comparison of Labour and National's tv ads.
Plenty of “modifications” have been made to election hoardings around the country. And one of the most open to modification is the New Zealand First advertising that features Winston Peters with the slogan “'Had enough?” – see Kiri Gillespie’s Winston Peters targeted by 'funny' vandals.
National’s “'Delivering for all New Zealanders” election signs have proved to be particularly vulnerable to pizza jokes. And according to one article, “creative vandalism” has been higher than usual in this election, perhaps because of the “unprecedented attrition rate in party leaders” – see Michael Wright’s A beginner's guide to 2017 election campaign billboard vandalism.
The parties’ TV ads are always good for comedy. And Toby Manhire has evaluated them all in his column, Party ads: No danger of going viral.
On the Spinoff website, Manhire has re-captioned (or “vandalised”) the various videos. You can watch these, in order they were released: The first National Party campaign ad for 2017, explained, The first Labour Party campaign ad for 2017, explained, The first Green Party campaign ad for 2017, explained, The NZ National Party’s teal-clothed runners ad, explained, and Let’s do a new ad, fast. The Jacindamania commercial, explained.
Online political art and propaganda
On social media, the standout hit in this election has been the brilliant Twitter account, @NZAHparallels. This is explained by Nicola Keen: “The concept is simple but hilarious: New Zealand politics photos juxtaposed with classic artworks” – see her investigation: The art of politics: Painting a picture of the 2017 election.
They’re a little more hit and miss, but online political memes have taken off in this election. To see some of the top memes, you can go straight to their Facebook pages: Freshly picked Green memes, Kanye West lyrics explain NZ politics, Backing the Kiwi meme, and NZ swing voters against dogmatic party affiliated memes.
The phenomenon is explored by Glenn McConnell in his article, Inside the world of political memes and the teens trying to influence the election. He even finds a meme that includes this writer.
And although these memes are meant to be funny, according to Madeleine Chapman, “they’re unintentionally teaching ‘the kids’ about politics” – see her article, An illustrated guide to New Zealand politics meme pages.
All the leadership changes, twists and turns in this campaign might not be funny for the parties involved but Toby Manhire sees the funny side in Who's next in the resignation election? And you can reminisce with him about the worm, the planking, the bowties, and the drugs, in So farewell then, Peter Dunne. Here are your greatest hits.
Manhire also brilliantly mocks the leaders in the speeches he “uncovers” in two columns: What do our politicians think of children? and Party leaders' big speeches, uncut edition. In the latter, for example, he quotes a speech from James Shaw about the Metiria Turei benefit fraud controversy: “I just want to take this opportunity to say sorry, not that we're sorry, but also to acknowledge that what happened with Metiria was definitely a mistake, although not in any way a mistake.”
And of course, there’s one particular ex-leader, whose thoughts on the current campaign are captured by Andrew Gunn in his column, John Key's election fever dreams.
You can also see some of the party leaders when they first appeared on TV in their younger days – watch 1News’ Startling to hilarious: The first TVNZ appearances for Bill, Jacinda, Winston and Hone.
But the latest leadership lampoon comes from impersonator Tom Sainsbury – see his excellent but NSFW Kiwis of Snapchat on the two main leaders: Bill English and Jacinda Ardern face the end.
Metiria Turei’s downfall was no laughing matter but, in the aftermath, there were plenty of good jokes about how the party was coping. If you suspect the Greens have been all over the place in this campaign, spare a thought for James Shaw’s’ speechwriters who have had trouble keeping up with the different lines being run and spun by the leadership. Here are their inventive and flexible speech notes for the remaining co-leader – see Andrew Gunn’s Memo to James Shaw from Green Party Comms Unit.
One comedian even decided to throw his public support behind the Greens. Guy Williams speaks about the negative reaction he’s received, and why he’s not the only one going partisan: “I'm surprised I've gotten so much flak for nailing my colours to the mast. I think it's good for people to be honest about where they stand and New Zealand has a long, embarrassing history of partisan commentators. I can name at least three comedians/columnists who have hosted events for the Labour Party. Paul Henry was so committed he actually ran for National in 1999! [He lost to Georgina Beyer, which is one of my favourite things that has ever happened.] Mike Hosking has had his head up John Key's nether regions for so long that he was listed as a co-dependent in the 2013 census” – see: Why are Kiwis so aggro about politics?
Gareth Morgan gets picked on
The minor parties usually throw up something or someone for humourists to poke fun at. Last election it was Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom, and this year it’s Gareth Morgan. Many have lampooned his “lipstick on a pig” statement – see, for example, Raybon Kan’s It's an election Gareth, not a beauty contest.
And Beck Eleven has “come up with a few alternative job opportunities” for the party leader if he doesn’t make it into Parliament this weekend – see: Gareth Morgan knows best (and he'll keep telling you that).
But best of all, Scott Yorke presents a diary entry of A day in the life of Gareth Morgan. It starts: “Just spent a refreshing three hours discussing policy on Twitter. A lot of people on Twitter seem to think they can distract me with insults but I’m not playing that game. The only thing that matters to me is policy. Read our policies, I tell them. I don’t care about personal abuse, and I won’t rise to your bait. This is not about personalities. And grow up and get a real job, you economically illiterate social media snowflake twitterati trapped in your beltway bubble identity politics echo chambers.”
But this doesn’t mean Winston Peters has been forgotten by satirists – see Andrew Gunn’s Antiques Roadshow appraises the election year value of a 'winston'.
The strangeness of Steve Braunias
One of the most productive parodists of the campaign has been the NZ Herald’s Steve Braunias, with his secret diaries, ping-pong challenge to leaders, and reports from accompanying the politicians on the trail. One of his best is the Secret Diary of campaign trail food. But also check out the Secret Diary of the election campaign, and The Secret Diary of 100 days till the election.
And Braunias’ latest concentrates on the tax disputes and debacles of Steven Joyce, Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern – see: Secret diary of the election campaign.
In his series on ping pong politics, Braunias challenged all party leaders to a game of table tennis. Here’s the column that introduces the whole concept: Ping pong diplomacy. In this he discusses his opponents, such as James Shaw: “I'd love to beat him because I can't stand his face. It's a slappable mug, isn't it, smug and smirky and holier than thou. But he's agile – he does something called bikram yoga – and he's smart. Table tennis is the game of intellectuals and philosophers. He'd be in his element, the prick. We'll see: He's said yes.”
You can read the various encounters in the following articles: Jacinda Ardern proves a good sport, Shrewd shots from cheerful opponent, Making Andrew Little eat his words, Through David Seymour like a dose of Epsom salts, The octopus who became a shark, and The sad, final chapter.
Unfortunately, the Prime Minister never accepted the challenge, which Braunias then mocks in the Secret Diary of Bill 'Chicken' English.
But in terms of strangeness, Braunias is rivalled by the humour of Lyndon Hood, whose most recent election humour has been “to test the political parties to see if they are real” using the Blade Runner film’s Voight-Kampff test – see: Policy Captcha.
The cleverness of Toby Manhire
Toby Manhire, who writes for both the Herald and The Spinoff website has been at the top of his game during this election campaign. Standout columns from him include I dreamed of ... and Feels like teen spirit.
The first example perfectly captures the idiosyncratic politics and language of various politicians – for example, Shane Jones: “I dreamed of butter chicken, of condiments, of kai moana. I dreamed of the crepuscular excrescence incumbent upon your old bloody mate, etcetera. Matua Shane Jones emerges from the proverbial shadows, to the great infinity pool of political utility and true mateship, e hoa. Whanga: to lie in wait. Rei: to ambush. The master and the servant travel together but for the tempest that bedevils their path and assails the butter chicken, etcetera.”
In Manhire’s second column, the various leaders try to “joy-ride the youthquake” – here’s Gareth Morgan: “Gareth Morgan, you got that bloody right. Shut up and listen. I'm Gareth Macron. I'm Gareth Corbyn. I am just like those guys and nothing like them. I am a man of great wealth and a total outsider, just like Donald Trump, and I'm nothing bloody like him, you got that because if you don't you're a bloody idiot. I can't stand stunts and cheap tricks, got no time for that bullshit, as I told my audience when I exploded out of a giant lamington to announce TOP's education policy. I am inhaling evidence-based policy and breathing out a breakthrough cannabis policy. I'm smoking the establishment. Miaow!”
For Manhire’s latest, see: The election alphabet. Going through the alphabet, Manhire pokes fun at everyone – and here’s a personal favourite: “J is for Jacind-, the most heavily used prefix in New Zealand English, which can be been placed in front of pretty much any word you like to make a very clever and original new word.”
Plus, Toby Manhire has teamed up with another Toby – Toby Morris – to put political humour out on another platform, RNZ’s website – see their latest useful collaboration: Toby & Toby's definitive guide to the next government.
Finally, for an in-depth discussion about satire and politics in New Zealand, you can watch this week’s very good Maori TV programme, Media Take on political satire.