As a dedicated media geek, I wake up each morning to New Zealand’s broadcast news of record – the masterful Geoff Robinson, the muscular Sean Plunket, and the metronomically-consistent Nicola Wright on Radio NZ National’s Morning Report. These three I consider to be among the top talent in the NZ media industry, and we are fortunate to have them.
I also have a lot of time for Checkpoint‘s Mary Wilson – not quite so obdurate as Sean Plunket, but with as little patience for prevarication. It seems the producer who put together the advertising frob for Checkpoint which aired between the sport and weather segments of yesterday’s 0600 bulletin also has a good ear. You can listen to it here, but I’ve transcribed the good bits:
First speaker: We are not a country of whiners, we are not a country of slackers and we are not a country of selfish individuals. We are a gritty little country with the smarts and determination needed to weather this storm.
(Mary Wilson introduces Checkpoint)
Second speaker: You feel as though you’ve been marched out with a blindfold on and tied up to a pole, and your own army is there as the firing squad.
Now, neither of the speakers either side of Wilson is identified. That’s an important point – the first speaker is immediately recognisable as John Key, and his words are clearly to do with the recession and economically troubled times ahead (in fact, from his opening speech at the Job Summit); a bold bit of chin-up-what-what jingoism. Even if you don’t know who the second speaker was or what he’s talking about, his statement is so strongly worded and his tone so far removed from Key’s that they jar in relation to one another; and although the statements are topically different, their contrast and proximity to one another implies a relationship. Although they’re not obviously linked, a listener (in principle) goes away associating John Key’s upbeat jingoism with one’s own army as the firing squad – a hugely disturbing mental picture if you care to think about it. This is an example of the semiotic technique of associative montage, perfected by Soviet filmmakers, where parts of a text are contextualised and given affective weight by their relationship to other parts of the text (in this case, audio; in the classical case, still or moving images on film).
Because I failed to listen to Checkpoint last week when the story about the Army raincoats was in the news, it took a bit of research to find out it was Davey Hughes of Swazi who said the second bit. And it turns out that there is a link between the statements – but not the link you might expect; a real army but a metaphorical firing squad, and nothing to do with John Key. As a matter of reality, the government isn’t in a position to force the NZDF to choose one supplier over another mid-term, and to do so would set a dangerous precedent and open the government up to well-justified allegations of protectionism.*
Not that this makes any difference to the message as received by a naÃ¯ve listener to this piece. Montage, like other semiotic grammars but perhaps to a greater extent because we’re unused to it, transmits its meaning subconsciously. Actual rational reality doesn’t necessarily get a look in. Now, I’m not arguing that there’s a wily frob-producer at NatRad who’s employing Soviet montage techniques to propagandise John Key in the minds of loyal public-service broadcasting listeners, though I suppose if you were especially paranoid you could argue that airing it at wake o’clock in the morning makes it easier to prey upon the weakened rationality of the half-asleep.
This is the stuff of which peoples’ impressions are made – people have a feeling about a leader, they can’t quite put a finger on it and haven’t necessarily given it any serious thought, but nevertheless it’s their opinion and they cling to it. Despite Labour’s technically excellent but somewhat nasty `Mary’ ads in the dying days before the election, there seem to be very few such impressions of John Key. But he’s a leader going into a long term of economic downturn, and he can look forward to more such as this.
* You could argue that the NZDF should choose NZ-made gear – and the All Blacks should use Canterbury rather than adidas – but the fact is that Key can’t simply make it so.