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Are NZers passionless?

June 4, 2012

The Passionless People Revisited: New Zealanders in the 21st Century by Gordon McLauchlan

reviewed by Keith

This is McLauchlan revisiting his 1976 best-seller, The Passionless People – a seminal comment on the Kiwi character and our society, which famously described us all as “smiling zombies.” McLauchlan, now in his early 80s, has lost none of his passion – if the original Passionless People was a slap round the chops, Revisited is a jawbreaking haymaker.

McLauchlan reckons the smugness and contentment of the 50s, 60s and 70s has led to us being walked over by bigger, rival economies, bankers, marketers and advertisers: “We have jumped from the sheep’s back into the banker’s maw, leased the home and become an economic colony, largely of Australia, with China waiting in the wings.”

The result, he maintains, is a broken country, and it seems no-one has any idea how to stop our inexorable slide into eclipse – what other commentators have called a genteel decline. Kiwis have also allowed successive generations of politicians to trample all over us. McLauchlan aims especially pointed barbs at our politicians in general; “I think we’ve been appallingly governed now for years,” and at John Key in particular: “I am fascinated by his incredible lightness of being…”

‘Revisited’ is a comprehensive critique of modern NZ society, from mental health to the arts, from our addiction to sport and a binge-drinking culture to our national diet, from political correctness to sexual mores and habits. But it’s not just a whinge-a-thon, it’s full of entertaining anecdotes, quotes and snippets from throughout our history.

McLauchlan laments the lack of debate in this country, the way Kiwis avoid conflict: “A typical debate involves someone shouting and someone else shouting back, and then there’s an embarrassed silence.” He may have added, ‘and then nothing gets done’!

A quote, from a recent interview: McLauchlan acknowledges that there’s a basic decency and affection among New Zealanders; “…it’s just that you can’t get them off their arse to make them feel strongly about things that should matter to them.”

Many readers may think McLauchlan is just a grumpy old whinger, but having read this book, I feel that we need – badly – more passionate and wise commentators like him, to rattle our cages and to get us thinking about just where our nation is headed.

Revisited is cutting, caustic and thought-provoking, but McLauchlan’s affection for his countrymen shines through…it’s tough love, and it gives Kiwis such a severe smacking it’s a wonder Sue Bradford hasn’t tried to have it banned.

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