When did New Zealanders stop giving a damn?

by Bill Ralston / 15 May, 2017

Image/The Simpsons

Tuning out the media only allows the likes of Homer Simpson – and Donald Trump – to take over.

At what point did many or, indeed, most of us cease giving a damn? There was a time when we would march in the streets, write letters to the editor and rant with our friends about some atrocity.

These days, we get more excited when a new burger bar opens down the road. Having devoured every form of news for the past five decades, I may have become sated by troubling information and therefore I no longer give a fig when something awful or outrageous occurs.

Perhaps it’s because the US appears to be presided over by a man with the intellect of Homer Simpson. Will he nuke the little fat guy in North Korea? Can he build a Berlin-style wall between the States and his southern neighbour? Why did he employ modern-day Nazis in the White House?

There’s nothing we can do about any of those issues. We cannot have any influence on the outcome, so we tune out the static coming through the news and concentrate on what we can have an effect on.

True, there are some excited souls out there still rattling the cage about issues on social media, but they sound lonely and more than a little desperate as they yell at each other in their echo chamber.

Take a look at Auckland. It’s obvious that the biggest problem the city faces isn’t whether to have a waterfront sports stadium but horrific traffic congestion. The city has become completely choked at rush hour; a brief shower of rain or a single nose-to-tail accident brings traffic to a halt across the region.

Aucklanders may fret about house prices, but there is no point in living in an affordable home if it takes you hours to get to work or school. You have to wonder why there are not mobs besieging the office of Mayor Phil Goff or their local members of Parliament demanding action. We do not, it seems, give a damn.

I look out the window of our bach at the creek running into the sea and it is choked with great globs of green slime, washed down from the farms upstream. Kids swim in the estuary that it trickles through and a small sign warns parents of the dangers of disease from the water.

Our polluted waterways make for a recurring story. Our second-biggest export earner, dairy, seems in danger of killing our biggest earner, tourism, but we don’t give a damn.

The usual voices rise up to decry such situations, but they generally fail to resonate with most of us. Is the problem that we have become desensitised to outrage by the barrage of negative news about virtually everything that spews out of the radio and television and fills the newspapers?

Probably. But in the world away from the one portrayed by the media, most of us are too busy trying to make a living and, frankly, there doesn’t seem to be any way we can have a direct influence on those problems.

Our apathy comes to the fore during elections, which in recent times have inspired fewer and fewer of us to vote. That is the danger of not giving a damn: you end up with Homer Simpson running your country.

This article was first published in the May 13, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.


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