Archive for ‘Language’ Category
It was a toss-up between posting this or my short fiction story “John Key goes to prison”. I will post the story some other time.
While doing research for a few upcoming KP posts on Asia I was distracted on the weekend by Vernon Small’s article about John Key and the outcome of the Broadcasting Standards Authority investigation into a complaint about his prison rape/soap joke while on the Radio station the Rock last year and rapidly spiraled off into what you are reading now.
But it was Small’s specific comment about Key “trading prime ministerial dignity for a populist hit” that really started me thinking about what exactly is going on with our Dear Leader and his carefully crafted media image.
Because while there have been recent articles claiming that Key is “plummeting” in the polls as preferred PM the reality is that he remains well head of the rest by a significant factor and while not at the Trump level of being able to kill someone in the street it’s clear that John Key can say and do things other could not get away with, PM or not.
So yes Keys popularity is the lowest it’s ever been and there is definite wisdom in what Small was saying but that level of analysis is not enough, right now we have only four of the journalistic five W’s (who, what, where and when) while what we really need is the why.
And it’s an area which has been examined before, the why of “why is John Key so popular?” question that NZ political reporters have been asking for a long time now. And with more than a few shots at it, the best of the bunch are Bryce Edwards piece in the NBR from 2011 and Tracy Watkin’s recent look at having Key around for a fourth term but neither really dig into Brand Key.
Watkins focuses on the Key playbook while Edwards notes the apolitical nature of Key and these are both valid approaches but Brand Key needs an actual breakdown of the brand and both pieces remain rooted in pure politics rather than from John Key being commodified in exactly the same way a bar of soap is or how a pop star marketed to their fans.
So with this in mind I aim to have a deeper look into John “you have a pretty mouth” Key through the lens of advertising rather than politics.
Now full disclosure, while not an expert on advertising, I worked in the industry for a short period (creative, copywriter and catalog model*) and I have always had an interest in advertising itself as in many ways it is the lingua franca of capitalism and the true art of our age. So while I may scramble the terminology at times I am looking at Key in the same way as I looked at creating an ad when I was employed to do such.
To begin with we need to look at the key principles behind Brand Key which are: brand awareness; brand loyalty; brand strategy; brand definition; brand equity; synergy and brand momentum. These are the key (no pun intended) principles behind Brand Key. Of course these terms are the language of marketing but, in this case, underneath there is a creepy layer of politics that we will get to that a bit later.
First up is brand awareness or how aware are they of Brand Key. For Key its pretty good, he is the PM after all and he regularly appears in the media both politically and at times non-politically in tabloid/gossip publications like those found at supermarket checkouts. He also gets named on blogs like this (oh the irony) and his face is recognizable as the PM of NZ. Most of us know who he is and would recognize him if he stepped out onto the street (as he did one time in Wellington as I was walking to work). So say his name (try it five times while facing a mirror) and people will know who you are talking about. That’s a high level of awareness.
Next is brand loyalty or how loyal are people to his lizardness. This can be measured by the fact that Key has remained popular in the polls as preferred PM for almost a decade now, that not a bad achievement despite him making rape jokes, pulling pigtails, sending in his lawyer to lobby for tax havens and all the rest of grubby little things he has been linked to. It is worth pointing out though that loyalty in public and loyalty in the party may not be the same thing as Judith Collins previous coup attempt shows that the art of backstabbing leaders remains alive and well in the National party (but they don’t call John Key the “smiling assassin” for nothing so he lived though that one).
Another point to note is that loyalty for Brand Key may not translate into loyalty to the National Party as its current position in the polls exists by virtue of Key capturing the all-important (at least for the time being) middle voter demographic on their behalf. Few if any would vote for National if it was not for Brand Key (something I noted in my previous post on the party).
From brand loyalty to brand strategy (what strategy is being used to manipulate the image of Key in such a way as to appeal to voters), we now start to get into the subtle and often unspoken nuances of Brand Key which is a combination of being apolitical (as Bryce Edwards noted in his 2011 article) and that blokey, matey, kiwi every-man quality that all male politicians in NZ, and a few female ones as well, desperately want to tap into.
Well in Key’s case he has nailed it and this is reflected in loyalty to Brand Key, he is perceived as being an authentic kiwi male (likes rugby, drinks beer etc) which resonates with kiwi voters in that he is a male figure that they can identify with and which also appeals to female voters in the same mold as the fresh faced, suit wearing, middle aged white men first made popular by Tony “poodle” Blair but later co-opted by conservatives everywhere has appeal.
Brand Key as an image is incredibly strong and resonates in much the same way any popular brand does and through a variety of media formats (image, sound, word etc) which makes the strategy of billing him as an apolitical middle man perfect for appealing to middle ground voters unhappy with the perceived failures of partisan politics and wishing only for a simple message and action orientated leader (if only in image rather than actual action) an easy task.
The fact that Key has kept hidden his deep ideological background to the vampire squid and all that it entails from Godzone voters is proof that this strategy has worked wonders and remains viable today.
Following on is brand equity (or capital) which is the measure of how much good will a brand has banked away for a rainy day. Again in this area Brand Key has been very successful and while things have had a bit of a downturn of late (as with the rape joke not going quite as well as planned) it remains in credit with the mainstream voting public.
Brand equity is built primarily through a successful brand strategy and as we have seen the strategy has been so successful that it has led to a windfall of equity to which Brand key has used to offset moments like a backfiring rape skit on a brain dead radio show.
Then there is brand definition (the positive, open articulation of the brand though positioning it within a particular idea or framework) which is the opposite of brand strategy (which is primarily subliminal in its articulation to people). Brand Key has been defined by words like “pragmatic” or “human” or photos of him doing human things (like having a pizza delivered to his house) which all lead to John Key often being set apart from other politicians.
Brand Key is defined as a kiwi guy, popular and the kind of person you could run up and take a selfie with, the kind you would want to take a selfie with and to which we would like to know more of his life, just like we do when we hanker for more info about our favorite celebrity, a Kardashian like politician if you will (the spawn family from Hollywood not the aggressive alien spawn from Star Trek) for the political public to consume through vicarious means.
If Brand Key could be defined in the language of soft drinks then John Key is the politician that refreshes, with no added political baggage (like ideology and such) that Labour and the Greens have (well maybe the Greens) and focused on the things that matter, like having an economic surplus and lower taxes (i.e. getting wealthy). He is the politician you vote for when you want the classic taste of economic conservatism but none of the ideological aftertaste you get with ACT.
After brand definition is synergy, a king among buzzwords, even in marketing and now in government. Synergy in this sense means the magic of bringing it all together with that extra something special that gives things mojo where they themselves had none. Its the X Factor for politicians and Key is racking up the votes while the accordion player and albino dancers languish off stage. There is no denying Key has the X factor when it comes to politics.
And finally there is brand momentum, the movement or energy of a brand. The easiest way to picture brand momentum is to imagine a brand as a shark swimming, if its stops it sinks and it dies therefore it’s imperative for there to be continual movement and in marketing “movement” means exposure, new advertising campaigns (not necessarily any new products) to keep the brand in the mind of the public and keep it oxygenated and alive because there are always other predators/brands out there which will pounce on a weak brand and usurp its position as apex predator.
In the case of Brand Key there is no possible momentum outside politics. One could not imagine John Key helming the NZ version of Celebrity Political Apprentice (although I do like the idea of such a show) uttering some immortal line (“you’re a tree hugging liberal!” for example) at the end of each episode as another unfortunate contestant is hauled off to some distressing little room in the Beehive basement for another session on the rack before being returned to the backbenches to mutter “I love John Key” slowly and repeatedly during sitting days in parliament.
No, with no politics there is no Brand Key, it is only within those waters does such a creature swim and out of all the principles discussed this is the one area where Brand Key has a real problem because it is here that the limitations of Brand Key become evidently clear and where the veil on Brand Key is pulled away to reveal another layer; a dirty grimy layer, coating the surface like some sticky, amorphous and unidentifiable substance stuck to one’s finger that is difficult to remove and smells funny as it comes off.
And it is not the fault of any of the principles of advertising which fail when applied to Brand Key but the concept itself of applying marketing techniques and ideologies to something such as politics. Sure it shows the pervasiveness of late stage capitalism in penetrating all aspects of society but that does not mean that they will work as intended to even work well. The commonality of the public and community that politics is supposed to represent does not fit well with the highly individualized act of consumerism in the 21st century.
Branding in politics, as in any form of branding, is style over substance, it is artificially building up something which does not exists or has not yet had the time to reach such a state naturally before delivering it to an eager consumer to be consumed and in the case of John Key few if any would consider him a genuine statesman when compared to his ongoing image as Prime Minister. Key at best is a manager, a middle manager, following the orders from higher up and implementing their agenda rather than formulating any real policy or ideas of his own.
In his past career as a market speculator he may have shown some brilliance in manipulating the small variances of the market to make his vampire squid bosses rich but that was the extent of it (although there is no doubting that Key, unlike many in Nationals cabinet, is a genuinely intelligent person). His miracle advance through the ranks of National in the early 2000s has all the hallmarks of a heavily stage managed career path, not one of his own making or design (he had the talent but a bit of promotion never hurt). John Key is a cypher, of no importance himself but useful in the grand scheme which is why he is so apolitical because making money needs no real political allegiance and as PM he himself is just an actor playing a role.
Therefore the building and maintaining of Brand Key has been essential to hide this simple fact. Brands tap into the subconscious, bypass the rational and distract the mind (like a meme or a virus) with easily repeatable images and words’ all of which are to hide from view the true fact that product A is exactly the same as product B.
The shaping and molding of John Key into Brand Key has been an unqualified success in the last decade but this has not been at the behest of John Key. He may have allowed himself to go under the spin doctor’s knife in order to enhance his image (much like Helen Clark did with her makeover while PM, to appear more human and less like a Quentin Blake drawing) but this was in the service of his “role” as PM and not a conscious or natural evolution.
And its those spin doctors sitting in such close proximity to the PMs office that are likely the same individuals who brought about the Dirty Politics scandal which exposed the National party agenda for winning the 2014 election as one less focused on winning the vote or enacting any actual policy changes and more about smearing the opposition; using attack blogs, rumors and manipulation of the political discourse to such an extent that all other voices are drowned out and the only thing one can hear is the mind numbing buzz of the Brand Key jingle burrowing its way into your head like some brain controlling worm.
So what happens to Brand Key when John Key loses an election or decides to retire from politics, what happens to old brands when they go off to die?
Most brands don’t age well, think of all those pro-smoking adds from the 1940’s or other lame and nauseous adverts from the 1950’s onward (like coke or Macdonald’s) with their artificial realities, happy families and smiling faces hiding the grim realities (such as lung cancer or type two diabetes) which come after the product has been bought and consumed.
The chances of John Key turning out to be a classic or iconic brand are low. Brand Key has been more a series of flash in the pan media moments with its strobe light effect smashing again and again in the victims eyes, blinding them to the generic product wrapped up in marketing hype; rather than a NZ trusted brand which radiates appeal to kiwis.
The likely legacy that Brand Key will leave behind is as the Fred Dagg of his generation, a caricature of a politician with his endless media moments rather than genuine Kiwi political figures who left behind real legacies (such as Norm Kirk, Keith Holyoake, Robert Muldoon or David Lange); a smooth talking city boy with a bland soul rather than an authentic political individual that enacted real positive political change**.
I end here with a quote from a hero of mine which fits this post rather well; it came to me by chance as so many things in my life do. Take it away Bruce!
“Those who distrust the life-giving force within them, or who have none, are driven to compensate through such substitutes as money. When a man has confidence in himself, when all he wants in the world is to live out his destiny in freedom and purity, he comes to regard all those vastly overestimated and far too costly possessions as mere accessories, pleasant perhaps to have and make use of, but never essential.” Bruce Lee.
*-because when you are a short, skinny dark hair guy in Asia you can work as a photo model. And yes I have a schizophrenic CV, that’s my life.
**-That does not mean the john Key as the actual human being may not turn out to be a genuinely interesting person but this post is looking at the political context only.
There was an attempted coup in Turkey on the weekend. So far there are no real details on why and militaries can end up intervening in politics for a variety of reasons. Jets were scrambled, an attack helicopter was shot down and people massed in the streets and suddenly as it started it was over.
What is known is that while Erdogan is back in power I don’t think this is really a victory for democracy as he has become increasingly authoritarian over time and been connected to more than one scandal while in government.
Already the media has been talking about “purges” of both bad military personnel and anyone else who happens to oppose him so don’t expect the underlying issues which sparked the coup to go away anytime soon.
Add to this an ongoing bombing campaign in Turkey, often directed at military personnel and the “fun fun fun” next door in Syria and it’s not too difficult to see what may have been going through the minds of the plotters when they decided to have a coup.
The death toll from all of this is around 300 and it appears that those in the coup maker’s side decided to fire on civilians at least once, which while not the turning point, would not have been a recommended means to gather support when overthrowing a government.
Meanwhile in the US more police officers are dead in what is starting to appear to be tit for tat style killings in response to police killing various black American males.
While tragic I can’t help but feel somewhat concerned that in a nation full of guns and racial tensions (among other things) this is not going to be the last time this happens. An example has been set and if the police continue to use guns as a means to enforce the law then expect others to do so as well in response to issues of police behaving lawlessly.
And while somewhat peripheral to the situation, killings those tasked to enforce the law is a text book indicator of a brewing insurgency. Usually these acts happen to not only send a message and destabilize the current authority (allowing the insurgent to substitute its own authority) but to also acquire weapons to which further the struggle but in gun crazy USA there is no need to worry about getting your hands on high power weaponry (thanks NRA!) so consider this just a message sent.
Politicians and pundits wring their hands, the president says something reassuring but I can’t see any political means for the US to step away from this. The US looks more and more like an apartheid state every day and nothing I hear from friends and family living there gives me any indication that the horrible momentum of a dying super power will be arrested before the inevitable fall happens (for those who would like to get an indicator of how this goes I strongly recomend Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire as a text book read for how Empires fail).
And over in Asia the sabers are being rattled after the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) decided to enforce the UNCLOS (United Nations Law of the Sea) against Chinese actions in the South China Sea, deeming them illegal.
Will that actually stop China from building islands and military bases on coral reefs and atolls and behaving belligerently? Probably not as the immediate response out of Beijing was to declare it “rigged” in favor of the West which I would normally consider an appropriate response from China but in this instance just smacks of sour grapes.
In fact I expect immediate action form China in the wake of this as its already verbally blasted Australia for commenting unfavorably on this and I wonder if our current trade spat with China might be related to our not kowtowing to China on this issue.
What is clear that this one has been slow brewing for the past half-decade and even longer once you get into the history of it (one of my specialist areas of Masters study) and with natural resources like fishing, possible oil, and territorial sovereignty on the line among China, Taiwan, The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and Japan (as something similar is brewing between Japan and China over disputed islands between them) no body is likely to be able, or willing to back down.
Add to this increased naval and related weapons sales to all parties and the US firmly opposed to China on this issue and you have all the makings of a cold war style thriller (which, if I remember correctly, was actually predicted by some Cold War style Tom Clancy type novelist in the 1980’s, whose names escapes me at this time).
And finally in NZ we have two individuals shot dead by the Police in one week. Both may have been in self-defense and both may have been justified (as details, while sketchy, seem to indicate that it was a means of last resort or in the face of imminent threat) but again the message is clear and unlike the US not (at least yet) a common occurrence in our society.
There is no common thread among these events except one which is, as the song* says, that “death is the silence” in the language of violence.
*-The Language of Violence by The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
Posted on 08:47, July 20th, 2011 by Lew
Dear Martin Warriner,
In objecting to the addition of macrons to Māori place names on the Kāpiti coast, you are quoted as saying that you “emigrated to New Zealand, not to “Māoriland”.” For your information, this is New Zealand, this is how we do. I understand you feel as if your colonial superiority is under siege, but how’s this: we won’t tell you how to represent your culture, and you don’t tell us how to do ours. Fair enough?
If not, it isn’t too late to piss off back home if you don’t like it. Perhaps you could take John Ansell with you.
Dame Katerina Te Heikoko Mataira has died. Dame Katerina’s contribution to the survival of te reo Māori was enormous. She was one of the driving forces behind the renewal of the reo following generations during which its use in the education system was officially punished, causing matua and kaumatua to become reluctant to teach it to their tamariki mokopuna. She did this largely by what are essentially traditional methods; by promulgating the Te Ataarangi immersion-teaching method. Most simply and perhaps most crucially, she used the reo, illustrating that it is a living language, coining terms in reo which previously existed only as loanwords or bare transliterations; the most famous is probably ‘rorohiko’ (literally ‘lightning brain’; computer). She was also one of few authors to write prose novels in te reo, among her other works.
Her passing made me think of what is probably the greatest recent achievement of Māori — the Kōhanga Reo and Kura Kaupapa Māori immersion schooling systems, which have probably done more for Māori cultural wellbeing than any other set of initiatives. Beyond a simple mode of communication, a language represents a store of knowledge which cannot be losslessly translated; it has encoded within it māori (in the pre-Williams sense of ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ rather than referring to a race) cultural and historical meaning; and its use enables its users to tap into that baseline culture, granting them access to a resource they cannot find elsewhere. Sir James Henare described te reo as “the core of our Māori culture and mana” and asked, “if the language dies, as some predict, what do we have left to us?” and further, “the language is like a cloak which clothes, envelopes, and adorns the myriad of one’s thoughts.” Sir Mason Durie, who quoted Henare, also argues that the struggle for te reo “typifies Māori determination to assert a positive cultural identity in a contemporary world” (in Te Mana, Te Kawanatanga, p59). Many others have described the importance of te reo to Māori; these are just examples close to hand.
Dame Katerina’s death brought kōhanga and kura to my mind not only for these reasons, but because they are exemplars of effective public policy delivered through and mostly by the communities they target. They are what, if we are very fortunate and work very hard, Whānau Ora could be like. Looking at their success and looking at the potential for similar achievements in other fields, it is disappointing that the left so dogmatically opposes more initiatives along these lines, deriding them as “privatisation of welfare”, or as “pork and puha politics for Tariana’s mates” before they’ve even gotten started.
I agree with DPF, that for the sake of historical correctness, Wellington’s Majoribanks Street should probably be changed to Marjoribanks, and Nairn Street should probably be changed to Nairne, since that’s how the names are properly spelt. This is precisely the argument I made with regard to Whanganui, and as DPF says it’s no different. But as is so often the case, the idiots of the KBR are reflexively shrieking “racism” because Wellington City Council aren’t recommending a change to the NZ Geographic Board.
The lack of a change is not racism: it’s that nobody seems to care. Whanganui Māori got their name change after decades of concerted and organised lobbying, public demonstration, private petition, backroom negotiation, research and campaigning on the topic. What would be racist is to expect that these changes in Wellington — trivial though they are — should go through as of right just because one historian thinks they should. The decision to change an entrenched name is and must remain a matter of civil society deliberation: those who favour the change lobby for it; those who oppose it lobby against it, both bring whatever evidence and principled arguments they can to the discourse, and those authorities empowered to decide the matter do so in accordance with appropriate legislation and customs. So, to those who want the names of Stewart Marjoribanks and Alexander Nairne properly recognised, I say: start lobbying!
From a more-or-less random sample of my writing on this site, more than 50% comes back telling me I write like David Foster Wallace. I’d never heard about him until now, but wikipedia lists his form as “postmodern literature” and “hysterical realism”. I can see how that cap would fit. But Wallace hanged himself in 2008. That’s not so good.
Outliers include the post from the other day about tits and teeth news presenter selection, which is like Stephen King, possibly confirming Pablo’s dim view of it. The dam breaks, my only real attempt at satire, apparently reads like James Joyce. My epic and furious response to Chris Trotter from a while back is in the style of H P Lovecraft, which I think is rather fitting.
Public advisory, especially for DPF:
And to bring the post back around to the topic of Chinese authoritarianism and responses thereto, with a bonus llama connection: The Song of the Grass-Mud Horse made a splash a year or so ago, as a protest against the Chinese government’s internet “harmony” policy. The video is below (and contains necessary obscenity):
This graphically illustrates a point that shouldn’t need to be mentioned, but often does, and of which I was not fully conscious until I spent some time in China: for all that they are propagandised as such in the West, the Chinese are not simply mute automata struggling under the heel of their dictators. The public sphere, however constrained it might be by our standards, exists — and the diversity of views aired in it is increasing, not decreasing.
That’s the question from Michael Laws in response to the shocking news that local Māori are calling for “Rimutaka” to be changed to “Remutaka”. His dire predictions are coming to pass. The savage, foreign spelling of Whanganui has been coercively imposed by the forces of craven self-hating white PC liberality upon the good burghers of Wanganui — sorry, I mean Wonganewy — and now every Māori place-name in the country is going to be similarly stripped of the light patina of civilisation bestowed upon it by the linguistic touch of the God-fearing right-thinking settler.
As local councillor John Tenquist — or should that be Tinquist? — says, it’s always been that way for more than his 76 years, so that’s how it should always be:
Of course. Those old people knew what they were doing back then when they changed the name. Wouldn’t have done it without a reason. Back in those days, they knew that eating at the dining table was the final bulwark against the collapse of Western civilisation, betokened nowadays by so much more than the creeping advance of Hori-fied place names. We are losing our grip, little by little. We even have to sing the national anthem in Māori — and the Māori version first, even though they didn’t write it! Our country’s most-trusted citizen and most-decorated war hero is a Māori. We’ve got a Māori flag, a Māori All Black team, and half our goals at the World Cup were scored by a Māori! I fully expect that by the time of the 2014 World Cup we’ll be fielding a team called the All Browns. In the unlikely event that we can qualify, given the well-known lack of footballing skill possessed by those not of European extraction.
And would you look at that: Mayor Michael was right all along. Once again, spearheading this frontal assault on all that is right and proper are those bloody river Māoris and their unpronounceable names:
The Mairist Republic of Whanganuistan draws ever closer. And we’re supposed to call the highest peak in the Wellington region after something some savage once sat his arse on?
It’s past time for New Zealand’s downtrodden, powerless, disenfranchised white majority to rise up, and let the clarion cry be heard: “Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, we’re being repressed!”
“John Key has made a meal out of ongoing Treaty negotiations with Ngāi Tūhoe, remarking at dinner with representatives from neighbouring iwi Ngāti Porou that if he were in Tūhoe country, it would be him on the menu. Tūhoe have found his comments hard to swallow, with lead negotiator Tamati Kruger saying the remark was in “poor taste.” Others believe the gag should be taken with a grain of salt, as a self-deprecating reference to the roasting Key has received since ruling out the return of Te Urewera National Park. The decision has soured iwi relations with the government, and effectively put negotiations on the back burner.”
(Some artistic license employed, but I’ve seen each of these puns in bona fide media coverage over the past 24 hours.)
Update: It seems nobody other than ak and I have the stomach for a pun-fest. Oh well.
Still, better to remain silent than engage in the shrieking, confused and exploitative orgy of idiotude on display at The Standard. Its only meaningful distinction from the response of the KBR seems to be the lack of ginga jokes. And the comments are a bit shorter. A shame, because there was some reasonable sense from both posters and commentariat on this topic yesterday.
I was reluctant to post while I had the chance on ANZAC day, since there was such a good debate going on, and now I’ve (temporarily) run out of time again. So just a few quick observations.
Ok, so not so brief after all. Discuss. I’ll dive back in as I can. You can treat this as an open thread as well: post what you want to talk about.