The secret diaries of...2013
OPINION: It was a vintage year for low farce and high foolishness in New Zealand public life, for shameful acts and disgraceful behaviour, for sheer stupidity and evil doing, and I was very grateful.
As the writer of the Secret Diary series, I have a deadline every Friday to locate and affectionately or mercilessly humiliate the wretch of the week. All throughout 2013, they had the courtesy to make themselves known.
Thank you, Aaron Gilmore! O dickhead supreme. Cheers, Richard Prosser! How goes it in Wogistan? Len Brown, John Palino, Luigi Wewege - I owe you, crazy guys.
The madness went on and on. Colin Craig. Seven Sharp. Anna Guy. Stan Walker and Daniel Bedingfield. Shane Jones and Grant Robertson.
John Banks made an ass of himself, as usual, but this time he didn't get away with it. Good riddance! I always loathed him.
Peter Dunne, though, inspired a measure of sympathy for his rapid descent into oblivion, proving that the one thing more ridiculous than a midlife crisis is a late-life crisis.
John Key and David Shearer tied for most appearances in the Secret Diary, with three each. Poor old Shearer! Twitchy and equivocal, he ended up jumping the snapper.
Key held on to power, and continued to resemble a moral and intellectual vacuum. I usually wrote diaries about his head floating away. I guess I felt about bad it, because I dreamed I ran into him, and lied, "Listen, deep down, I've got a lot of respect for you." He stormed off. I respected him for it.
The dichotomies of satire. Mockery, and guilt; duty, and fear. All humorists are only one misjudged joke away from revealing the douchebag within.
Bill Ralston likes to tell a story about Muldoon's response to someone who reprimanded the PM for kicking a man when he was down. Muldoon cackled, and said, "No better time."
I approached the diary of America's Cup loser Dean Barker with a sense of dread. I kicked him, of course, knowing that I was also kicking New Zealand. A woman in Masterton wrote to the paper to rightly complain that reading the diary had made her "feel sick".
As an author, I get invited to speak at arts festivals; I wished the faint lady had come to the talk I gave a week later in nearby Featherston. I wanted to apologise to her in person. It's not my heart's ambition to induce nausea in readers. But sometimes it just can't be helped. Taylor Swift sings, "Why'd you have to be so mean!" The diary made me do it.
The diary, with its cruel streak, its jeering from the sidelines, its tart little commentaries; also, though, the diary playing it safe, the tame court jester. There it was, obediently joining in on the chorus of disapproval of Maria Krarup, the Danish MP who visited New Zealand and memorably insulted a powhiri as "a dancing ritual by a half-naked man in a grass skirt, shouting and screaming". What a douchebag! And yet her remark wasn't entirely false.
The worst thing you can do in New Zealand public life is say the wrong thing. The best you can do about it is apologise, with genuine humility.
Radio Live hosts Willie Jackson and John Tamihere lacked sense, grace, and much else for their apparent attitudes towards victims of rape. They said they were sorry, but it was half-hearted and resentful. As soon as they got booted off air, the diary waded in to pull faces and blow raspberries, to everyone's satisfaction.
But I didn't really have an opinion about Tamihere and Jackson. I hesitated before writing that diary. For a moment, I wondered about satirising Giovanni Tiso, who led the advertising boycott against Radio Live. The moment passed. It might have been funnier, but unwise in so many ways. Also, you wouldn't want to run into Tiso in a dark argument. He'd have the last word.
Too anxious to mock. So much less trouble to shoot fish in a barrel - Tamihere and Jackson, Susan Devoy, spy boss Ian Fletcher, anyone in parliament. They offered no resistance. They came quietly. They were already ridiculous; it was as though they wrote the diary themselves.
Steve Braunias is a Metro staff writer
- Sunday Star Times