(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, March 2.)
THAT creepy little man Andy Warhol said that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. For years I didn’t have a clue what he was on about, but his prediction has eerily come true.
“Reality” television offers everyone a brief shot at celebrity – and boy, don’t people queue up to grab it. Whatever this says about the state of the human race, or at least the state of the human race in supposedly advanced societies like ours, it’s not flattering.
The factor common to virtually all reality TV shows is that participants must be willing to humiliate themselves twice over: first in front of some god-like, judgmental figure(s) on the programme and again in front of the television audience.
In the latest examples of Warhol-style television, contestants vie with each other in The Apprentice New Zealand and MasterChef New Zealand, both derived from international franchises.
I refuse to watch The Apprentice, but I gather participants are expected to indulge in ruthless back-stabbing in order to seek favour. This is not my idea of uplifting entertainment.
Now, MasterChef New Zealand. Television is so obsessed with cooking programmes that food has been described as the new sex. But are people actually cooking more, or cooking better, as a result of watching all this foodie porn? I wonder. The appeal of cooking programmes, like most shows masquerading as “reality” TV, is essentially voyeuristic, which makes the comparison with porn and sex all the more apt.
I’ve watched MasterChef only in bite-sized chunks, if I may use a gustatory metaphor. I would get a severe bilious attack if I tried to consume an entire show.
But I have seen enough to confirm that all the predictable elements are in place: portentous music, dramatic camera angles and tight editing to ramp up the tension; close-ups of contestants looking apprehensive and even tearful, as if their lives depend on surviving the cull at the end of each programme; and of course the stony-faced, omniscient judges, who are presented as super-beings to whom all must bow in awe.
The entire programme is imbued with an air of gravitas more befitting a murder trial, which serves only to accentuate the absurdity.
You have to wonder why self-respecting adults would allow themselves to be bullied and grovel submissively before fellow human beings whose only claim to distinction, for heaven’s sake, is that they know how to cook a steak medium-rare or prepare a perfect crème brulee. For their part, the judges look even more ridiculous, imperiously denouncing participants for their culinary transgressions before theatrically banishing them to the outer darkness where, we must assume, no hope resides.
The only touch needed to complete the pantomime is for the judges to don black caps and pronounce the words: “Your soufflé collapsed. I sentence you to be taken to a place of execution and there to be hanged by the neck until dead”.
* * *
THE CASE of Benjamin Easton, reported in this newspaper last week, is a striking example of the overweening sense of entitlement that weighs down the groaning welfare system.
Mr Easton collected an unemployment benefit not because he couldn’t get a job (although given what we now know about him, he may have great difficulty finding an employer willing to take him on), but because he had taken it upon himself to rescue the citizens of Wellington from their own council.
He went on the dole so that he could devote himself full-time to a campaign against allowing buses in what is now Manners Mall. No one asked him to do this, mind you. He just knew that this was what people would want, and that it was all for the good of his fellow citizens.
Never mind that the residents of Wellington elect a council to make decisions on their behalf. Mr Easton, displaying the customary intellectual arrogance and moral superiority of the Left, selflessly decided to save them from their own folly.
He probably reasoned that if only we could see the righteousness of his cause, we would be delighted to subsidise him in pursuit of his goal.
But not content with this humungous conceit, Mr Easton went further. He occupies a ratepayer-subsidised council flat while 380 people – some of whom, it can be assumed, are genuinely needy – languish on the waiting list.
He justifies this by saying that “As soon as democracy didn’t work for me I felt justified going into a council flat and taking a public wage”. So to his sense of entitlement we must add a sense of grievance and injustice.
Democratic decisions work against other people too, but most shrug their shoulders and get on with life.
Meanwhile the number of New Zealanders on welfare goes on climbing. Sickness benefits are up by a staggering 80 percent since 1999, invalid benefits by 63 percent. The ease with which Mr Easton was able to secure a benefit will only confirm people’s concerns that the welfare system is a soft touch.
The sad fact is that he is not alone in assuming that the rest of us owe him a living. There are thousands more like him. The difference is that Mr Easton is stupid enough to admit it.