Monday, June 29, 2020

Karl du Fresne: There goes my collection of Viking records

I bristled – boy, did I bristle! – when I read that the housing company G J Gardner had withdrawn a TV commercial after someone objected that the name “Taranaki” wasn’t correctly pronounced.

Te Waka McLeod reportedly complained to the company and suggested its staff attend a “cultural competency” course. G J Gardner initially rebuffed her, explaining that the people in the ad were not paid actors but real people, born and bred in Taranaki, and this was how they chose to pronounce the name. “It’s a personal choice, this keeps our ad authentic.”

It didn’t take a genius to see how this was going to play out. McLeod posted the company’s response on social media – as you do – and G J Gardner suddenly found itself fielding more complaints. The company was soon in reverse gear, acknowledging it was wrong and apologising. “We do not wish to offend any New Zealanders of any ethnicity, culture, religion or lifestyle,” said national franchise owner Grant Porteous, metaphorically beating his breast.

He confirmed the ad was no longer on air and said “we need to do better” across the country in terms of pronunciation of Maori. “We should support this movement and the desire of passionate Maori to have their culture and heritage re-generated across all New Zealand.”

McLeod was reported as saying she was happy to see the ad pulled – well, she would be – and hoped it was the beginning of “a wider conversation” about getting pronunciation right, including within corporate organisations.

So what was it about this affair that made me bristle? After all, I agree we should make an effort to pronounce Maori names and words more carefully, which is not something that comes easily to someone brought up in Waipukurau. Try overcoming the habit of a lifetime by pronouncing that name correctly. I do it, but it requires a conscious effort and still makes me feel slightly, er, woke. Suffice to say, most of the people I know who live in the town still pronounce the name the old way – which, incidentally, is how Maori pronounced it too when I was growing up there.

Here’s the thing. I believe there’s a gradual cultural evolution taking place in which the country is moving toward correct pronunciation of Maori and greater recognition of the Maori language in general, even to the extent of considering the substitution of Maori place names for English ones (which is fine as far as I’m concerned, just as long as it’s done by popular, informed consent after an open debate).

My Pakeha grandsons pronounce Maori words correctly and pull me up when I don’t. But generations of older New Zealanders have grown up pronouncing Maori in a particular way (just listen to long-term residents of Wonger-newie and Tau-wronger), and I think we should cut them some slack. As G J Gardner initially pointed out, before their risk-averse PR advisers presumably got in on the act, the people in the TV ad were pronouncing Taranaki the way they always have. I don’t believe for a moment that they intended to degrade the Maori language.

In fact I’d go further and say we should respect people’s right to get pronunciation wrong, just as we respect the right of people to express opinions that we think are crazy. After all, broadcasters and journalists get away with mangling spoken and written English day-in, day-out.

In a sense, it’s a freedom of speech issue. But there’s a distinct whiff of cultural totalitarianism in the way that Maori language activists, who have been given a fresh tail wind by the overwrought BLM protests, demand that others conform to their ideals – and use online gang-ups to achieve it.

That’s the other disturbing thing here: the speed with which G J Gardner capitulated. Of course it was their right to change their mind about the ad, and some people will applaud them. But what message does it send when companies collapse in a grovelling, mea-culpa heap at the first sign of controversy, as they so often do? It signals that capitalism lacks the guts and confidence to stick up for itself, which is all the encouragement the enemies of capitalism need.

Speaking of which, I see that Nestlé in Australia is renaming its Red Skins and Chicos lolly brands because “redskin” was once (a long time ago) a derogatory term for a Native American and “Chico” supposedly can be – can be – an offensive term for a Hispanic person. (It’s also the name of a Californian city where friends of ours live. Perhaps that’s racist too.)

No doubt greatly heartened by Nestlé’s decision, an Auckland activist – a UK-trained lawyer, one of the many who arrive here and immediately set about turning us into the culturally enlightened type of society they think we should be – is now urging that Eskimo lollies and even Afghan biscuits be rebranded.

Afghan biscuits? Good grief. Should I, then, be throwing out my old Viking records? Should we lay siege to the makers of Kiwi shoe polish and demand that hotel menus no longer refer to English breakfasts? And how the hell have Indian motorcycles (a brand currently enjoying a spirited revival) survived?

A rational person would ask a couple of simple questions: is the brand name demeaning? Is it degrading? To which the answer, in almost all cases, is no. But we’re not dealing here with rational people; we’re dealing with ideologues and zealots intent on reshaping the world.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Mike Burr said...

A wonderful article, Karl, and thank you. To paraphrase Hugo, "There is nothing more potent than an idea whose time has come" and our nation of bandwagon-hoppers proves its truth on an annual basis. This year it's BLM; last year it was school students and climate change, the year before 'Me Too' and before that the Crusader name-change, even though the Crusaders have about as much to do with the events of the First Crusade in 1099 as the Kathmandu Clothing Company has to do with the Kingdom of Nepal.
Logic has never been apparent in these people's actions. I may not stand atop Mount Egmont because it's someone's ancestor, but the statuary effigies of my tupuna are routinely desecrated and mocked because it's become fashionable to be 'woke'. As long as someone points out to the mindless what they ought to be minding about, of course.
Mike Burr.

Anonymous said...

Yes...I'm a bit worried about the All Blacks now. This is obviously a case of serious cultural misappropriation and particularly worrying when one considers that not all of the All Blacks are in fact black. And, I have to ask when and where did the All Blacks obtain Maori consent to such blatant commercialization of the sacred Maori Haka?

Don said...

It works both ways. Much of Te reo is a kind of pidgin English when you consider how much of it is actually mispronunciation of English words. Where are us non- Maori who should be up in arms about Poneke, Akarana, motoka, morenga and dozens of examples too numerous to mention.
Recently I gasped when entering our local library to see a big notice on the newspaper stand:
NUPEPAPA. Was it a joke? No more so than calling a hotch-potch of English words a language.

Unknown said...

It is arrogance to assert that there is a correct pronunciation of te reo. What we are today told is that we MUST say things the way Ranginui Walker and his Whakatōhea iwi pronounced them in the eastern Bay of Plenty. Over many years several of my Ngapuhi clients scoffed at this Whakatōhea pronunciation as being "provincial" and worse adjectives. Take away message is there are as many correct pronunciations as there are iwi

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

I am Dutch. The administrative capital of my country is Den Haag. Most of you mispronounce that as 'The Hague'. I am very offended. You must all enrol in a cultural competence course on the pronunciation of Dutch place names. So there.

Anonymous said...

Radical [part-] Maori “brown necks” and post-colonial-guilt-tripping white liberals claim most New Zealanders see nothing wrong with [part-] Maori privilege; and that only a handful of benighted “racists” object to it.


Some poll results:

-82% No to compulsory Maori language in schools (Yahoo Xtra poll).
-96% of non-Maori students of Year 9 and above do NOT learn Maori despite it being an available option in many schools (NZ Herald, 23 July 2014).
-85% No to special Maori housing (Bay of Plenty Times, 20 April 2013).
-81% No to “Maori are special” (Close Up poll, July 2011).
-81% No to Maori names for North Island and South Island (Stuff poll, 2 April 2013).
-82% No to “h” in Wanganui (Referendum conducted by Wanganui District Council, 2006).
-79% No to a special Maori voice on the committees of Rotorua Council (Rotorua Daily Post, 9 May 2014).
-82% No to special Maori wards on New Plymouth Council (Taranaki Daily News, 15 May 2015).
- 79% No to Maori wards, Waikato District Council, April 2012.
-80% No to Maori wards, Hauraki District Council, May 2013.
-79% No to Maori wards, Nelson District Council, May 2012.
-52% No to Maori wards, Wairoa District Council, March 2012 (high proportion of [part-] Maori voters).
-68% No to Maori wards, Far North District Council, March 2015 (high proportion of [part-] Maori voters).
-70% want Maori wards in local government abolished (Consumerlink, Colmar Brunton poll, March 2012).
-68% want the Waitangi Tribunal abolished.

On average, around 20% of New Zealanders think [part-] Maori should have special privileges. Around 80% do not. This, of course, includes many New Zealanders of Maori descent.

But it is the 20% that have captured the public debate, with their false narrative of “victimhood” and “oppression,” their lying revisionist version of “history,” and their mob shouting down all opposition, no matter how reasoned and principled, as “racist” and “bigoted.”

Most of the 80% who privately disagree with Maori privilege won’t say so publicly, since all the noise in the public square leads them to believe a majority agrees with Maori privilege. They’re cowed into silence by fear of social marginalisation for not holding group-approved attitudes.

Anonymous said...

But they’re not alone. They’re a substantial majority, though they have yet to realise it. Some of us have been doing this a long time. We will help the silent majority to see that people are prepared to stand up and be counted. We will not be silenced, and we will eventually win the day.

As Edmund Burke reminds us: “Because half-a-dozen grasshoppers under a fern make the field ring with their importunate chink, whilst thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, chew the cud and are silent, pray do not imagine that those who make the noise are the only inhabitants of the field; that of course they are many in number; or that, after all, they are other than the little shriveled, meagre, hopping, though loud and troublesome insects of the hour.”

In social psychology, “pluralistic ignorance” describes a situation where a majority of group members privately reject a received norm, but wrongly assume it is widely held, and pretend conformity so as not to appear out of step with everyone else.

Most people, whatever their level of intelligence, want to hold “correct” beliefs and attitudes. Their overriding drive is to belong and conform. To do so, many will internalise received dogma without applying intellectual scrutiny to it.

Hans Christian Andersen’s story of The Emperor’s New Clothes warns us against buying into group-think for social approval.

A vain Emperor who cares only for appearances hires two swindlers who promise to make him the world’s finest suit of clothes cut from a cloth invisible to anyone who is stupid or unfit for his position.

The fraudsters pretend to weave the fabric to make the suit. Invited to admire the cloth as it is being woven, the Emperor’s ministers can see nothing, but pretend to see looms full of beautiful fabric taking shape for fear of appearing unfit for their positions. On his own inspection visit, the Emperor does the same.

Finally, the swindlers announce that the suit is finished. They pretend to dress the Emperor in it and he marches before his subjects at the head of a grand procession. Behind him, his courtiers pretend to be holding up the train of a non-existent cloak, so as not to be seen by others as unfit for their positions.

Not wanting to appear stupid, the townsfolk also play along with the pretence. Then a child in the crowd, too young to understand the need for the charade, loudly blurts out the Emperor has nothing on.

Others take up the cry, until everyone is saying the same thing. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the crowd is right, but continues to pretend otherwise because backing down would be to own up to his own stupidity.

Our day will come, and those who would marginalise the majority will be bashed back to the mediocrity and opprobrium they deserve. These ethnocentric haters and wreckers (and their West-hating Socialist traitor enablers) are filth on the face of our country.