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Love – factually: TV's entertaining and informative political shows

Lisa Owen: looking as if she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Amid the blather on the box from politicians, one young idealist thinks they have their values wrong.

Back in 1985, US educator and cultural critic Neil Postman lobbed a grenade at television in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. “When cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments,” he wrote, “when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then … culture-death is a clear possibility.”

At the time, I thought he was being a bit alarmist. In the age of such horsemen of the cultural apocalypse as Mike Hosking, Bill O’Reilly and Donald Trump, it appears he may have had a point.

And yet it is possible to be both entertained and informed. Lisa Owen trying to interview Act’s David Seymour on The Nation defied satire. The media had this election all wrong, Seymour insisted. Act, not Winston Peters, would be the kingmaker. “Do you know what you polled on our last poll?” enquired Owen gleefully. “I’ll tell ya!”

The figure was a Lilliputian 0.4%. Seymour was only emboldened. “That means our potential market is 99.6%! The Act Party has a bigger potential market than any other party!” he crowed. Owen pointed out that reaching Seymour’s goal of getting five Act MPs into Parliament would require an ambitious 900% increase. “Yeah, but maths class is down the hall,” said Seymour. Yes, down the hall with his 99.6% potential market.

Owen wondered if Act would bring in some new blood. The temptation, said Seymour, was to parachute in such big names as Richie McCaw and Gemma Flynn. “I don’t think the answer is to bring in people who you have to beg to join the party,” he said. “Did they turn you down, David?” purred Owen, by now looking as if she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Co-host Paddy Gower wasn’t on that morning, but when he is, he can be relied on to deliver the issues of the day with all the gravitas of a man whose pants are alight. “We’re going to tackle the big issues with the big interview because that’s how we roll!” he yelled at us the week before. “Check out this Twitter panel, it’s an absolute ripper!” The show did some useful analysis of the ongoing melee surrounding Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson’s Hit & Run book. After the panel discussion, Gower summed up: “The Government and the Defence Force need to stop hiding stuff and tell the bloody truth!”

Over on TVNZ 1’s Q+A, there was a refreshing interview with Rhodes Scholar Max Harris, who is about to release a book, The New Zealand Project. The talk was of how to engage young voters. The show had done some vox pops. “I don’t care for them, to be honest,” said one young non-voter of our political masters. Another didn’t vote last time because Russell Brand told her not to.

Harris had also talked to young people. “One told me it seems like politicians are experts in self-promotion and cutting people down,” he said. He proposed some answers, including civics education in schools and something a little more tricky to achieve: a new politics, centred on values – “care, community, creativity,” he said. “Even love.”

Good luck with that, you thought, as Jessica Mutch grilled Paula Bennett on, among other things, the sledging in Parliament of Jacinda Ardern by Nikki Kaye and Maggie Barry. “Nah, it’s politics,” beamed Bennett, who seems to have decided to outdo John Key in honing a “what, me worry?” attitude, and now blithely chuckles her way through entire interviews. “Winston Peters called me fat in public many times,” she said, all but wiping away tears of mirth. Politics as usual: Harris says there has to be a better way. He’s 28, hopelessly idealist and he has a point.

THE NATION, Three, Saturday 9.30am and Sunday 9.55am.

Q+A, TVNZ 1, Sunday 9.00am and 11.30pm.

This column was first published in the April 15, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.