Marc's bloke spotting
Amateur anthropologist Marc Ellis has written a guide to the Kiwi bloke. He and his mate Charlie tell Adam Dudding why they've got a soft spot for Finkles, Funny Whakas and Kiwi Battlers, but would run a mile to avoid a Wodgewick.
CONSIDER THE bogan. He's rough as guts. He's keen on loud music, loud hairstyles and loud women. And in the opinion of Marc Ellis, there's at least a tiny bit of him in every Kiwi male.
So that's where the ex-All Black/TV celeb/orange juice mogul and his friend Charlie Haddrell started when they resolved to write a book in celebration of Kiwi blokes, loosely modelled on Barry Crump's 1971 Bastards I Have Met.
The Crump book – an A-to-Z of male archetypes from the "Actual Bastard" to the "Zealous Bastard", by way of Bad, Hard-case, Miserable and Unlucky Bastards – was an old bach-reading favourite of Ellis's. He fancied creating a modern version, and after the 40,000-plus sales of his 2006 autobiography, his publisher Hachette could hardly refuse.
Ellis knew his old Otago Uni mate Charlie had a way with words – the emails Haddrell sent home while living in Italy during his years as New Zealand's consul-general had been "shut the office door, grab a coffee and give yourself 20 minutes to read it" material. So one night in 2008, over many Efes beers at an Auckland Turkish restaurant, the pair turned the first sod, scribbling notes anatomising the Bogan and his sub-species the Cooter and the Wettler ("Westie Metaller"), and digging up hard-case anecdotes as illustration.
Haddrell: "I remember the next morning going, `There it is! We've got the book!' And I read through and thought, `what a load of shite'." Yet over the following months emails were exchanged, more beers were drunk and plans were laid for the 24 other archetypes that would eventually make up the finished volume – Marc Ellis' Good Fullas: A Guide to Kiwi Blokes. Chapters were written, swapped and revised around day-jobs, and an illustrator was commissioned. The writing was split 50-50, but Ellis is the famous one so it's his name that features prominently on the cover. The whole thing was, evidently, a gas.
ON A chilly Friday morning, I met the pair in a Ponsonby cafe to talk about their Good Fullas, and perhaps join them in observing the New Zealand male in the field.
They were seated in a corner, Ellis hiding beneath a white beanie and a large moustache with Haddrell, a tall hairy man wearing a huggable sort of corduroy jacket. Coffees and large bowls of porridge had been ordered.
The double-act is a very Marc Ellis way of doing things. He seems to have a limitless supply of old mates he hooks up with when having a crack at a new project. He's built a sizeable juice and fizzy drink company with his boyhood mate Stefan Lepionka. He's successfully horsed about on telly with his rugby league buddy Matthew Ridge. When he needed a ghost writer for his autobiography Crossing the Line, he turned to journalist Kirsten Matthew, "a friend of mine who I'd known since I was 13". He and Haddrell are part of what Ellis calls a "tight crew" of "20-odd boys". They are both 38 and, it must be said, clubbable.
It's not hard to pin them down within their own "fullas" taxonomy. As Otago Uni old boys they are Scarfies by definition. Ellis is also something of a practical-joke-loving Henanigan (witness his publicity stunt of 2007 where he set off explosives in Rangitoto's volcanic cone to simulate an eruption), and perhaps a motor-mouth Storyteller.
Despite his careers in rugby and rugby league, he doesn't particularly identify as a Rugbyhead, as that is someone who "lives, breathes, sleeps, farts and sweats" the game. Nor, despite his entrepreneurial successes, does he see himself as a true jerk-with-a-Merc Pranker (derived from "Prize Wanker" and distinctive for his obsession with not only chasing wealth but dressing to match).
Haddrell ticks a few category boxes too. Since returning from Italy, he's been a civil service 9-to-5er, which makes him a Cardycrat ("I just shuffle paper around the desk and wear a grey suit"). Of an evening though, "I transform into a Kiwi Battler – young family, no money. And in the weekends there's a bit of a metamorphosis and I turn into a bit of a Henanigan/Storytelling Bogan."
They see their people everywhere. Just the other day, Haddrell was in a Grey Lynn cafe, admiring the diversity of an incompletely-gentrified suburb. He saw a couple of Prankers come in and scan the business section. He saw a genuine Wodgewick (more about him later), a possible Carny (a showman of the kind you'd see manning the ferris wheel at the Easter Show), and in the street there were numerous Big Freshes (Pacific Islanders, more or less), and even the odd Thrumpet (the kind of flat-capped working-class Pakeha you'll see at a pub leaner placing a few bets on the dogs).
Some labels are familiar, but others are derived from the private language of the Ellis-Haddrell tight crew – or freshly coined. You've heard of the Bogan, but what about the Brogan, the Dalmogan and the Offcut (Maori, Dalmatian and feral sub-species respectively)? The finer gradations of the computer-obsessed Nork (who subdivide into Nerds, Geeks, Dorks, Twerps and Dweebs) are deftly sliced.
So yes, this is game about stereotypes, which necessarily means butting heads with political correctness. But really, was it necessary to paint the only gay category, the Finkle, as a squealing queen, with a description containing five separate references to limp wrists? Did they really want to make the Maori Funny Whaka a fun-loving musical fellow with an inimitable beat, or the Asian Hopper (from "grasshopper") a poorly endowed lover prone to spitting in the street? Was it really necessary to put a tub of KFC into the hands of the Big Fresh?
Ellis has a response ready: "You need to put a smile on people's faces... So if you take offence, up yours really."
In fact, "we were mindful that we couldn't hammer some stereotypes home". So efforts at balance were made. Alongside the gag about Asian penis size (which in any case, Ellis claims, was "done in a really beautiful way"), there are paragraphs decrying the anti-Chinese laws in the 19th century and celebrating the Asian contributions of "two dollar shops, sushi... fireworks, green tea, leading-edge fashion, cheap knock-offs, half-price massage ..." It could have been worse. The Funny Whaka was originally going to be called the Happy Hori, but wiser counsel prevailed.
"Everyone we've written about we're writing with a fair degree of knowledge," says Ellis. "We're both social animals. We spend a huge amount of our time in as varied and strange a place we can. We find that really exciting, and that's the cool thing about New Zealand – we've got so many weird and wonderful people."
Haddrell: "The frame of mind we wrote the book in was: they're all Good Fullas! We love going out and having a curry with a Pandabear (a fulla from the Indian subcontinent), and we love going into the RSA and there's a grumpy Thrumpet in there complaining about what it used to be like in the 50s."
So perhaps this is simply a loving piss-take, poking equal opportunity borax at the luckless Ginga, the rural Cockie and the wannabe Waori (a distinctly Aotearoa take on the American Wigger, who's as white as John Key but sounds like Billy T).
Yet there is some real venom, reserved for two archetypes in particular – the CAVE Man and the Wodgewick.
The CAVE (Citizen Against Virtually Everything) is a beardy, PC, walk-short-wearing Luddite desperate to protect wetas and snails regardless of the cost to the march of progress. He would also like to ban Christmas. He comes in sub-acronyms including NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard); NOTE (Not Over There Either) and BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything).
The real object of loathing though is the Wodgewick (or Wodge), whose chapter was bashed out solo by Ellis as the deadline loomed. This is the arty, opinionated metropolitan guy with the cooler-than-thou T-shirt and op-shop jeans and a Fair Trade coffee in his hand, who holds shallow but loudly espoused do-gooder opinions about human rights, the plight of the poor, global warming and other such bunk.
Without wanting to get too painfully Wodgewick-ish, I'd argue that the CAVE man and Wodgewick chapters reveal Ellis's (and to a lesser extent Haddrell's) horrified, slightly paranoid reaction to the ascendancy, under Labour in the 1990s and 2000s, of the tree-hugging, feminist-friendly, regulation-loving centre-left. (Though it's a mark of Ellis's ability to sup with the devil that his "good friend" Helen Clark wrote the glowing foreword).
Conversation with Ellis in person seems to support this theory. He's a global warming non-believer and is suspicious of recycling ("deforestation and pollution are major issues, but as for putting your plastic in a different box ... bury the bloody stuff; it's much better for the environment"). He's sick of leftish media beat-ups on the cops: ("if you're a crim you deserve to get the shit kicked out of you, you know"). And he thinks disgraced All Black Robin Brooke isn't getting a fair crack of the whip: "No one's cared to go to Fiji and study the facts."
Ellis, you might say, is no Wodge.
THE WODGEWICK was an irritant to illustrator Donovan Bixley too, but for a different reason.
On the phone from Taupo, the collaborator, who never actually met Ellis and Haddrell in person, says: "I just felt really awful doing the Wodge, because I kept thinking, `Shit, this is me. I'm one of these wankers.' It's a bit too close to the bone. I didn't like that chapter."
Bixley's first attempt at the Wodgewick caricature ended up, unintentionally, as a self-portrait – face, clothes, stance and all. He reworked it to create some distance. (A similar unconscious process meant the Scarfie and Henanigan characters still look uncannily like Ellis.)
As a self-confessed Wodgewick, Bixley isn't likely to share the authors' views, but he says creating the 25 caricatures was a guilty pleasure.
"Most of my work is children's books, and it's very PC – more PC than you can possibly imagine." For this book though, "Marc and Charlie would come back and say `make him fatter, give him a big beer gut, put a cigarette in his hand' – all the things you're not allowed to do. `Make his eyes bloodshot; give him some scars; put a bucket of KFC in his arms!"'
"They're just stereotypes," says Bixley. "But there are people out there like that."
AFTER THE authors had polished off their porridge, Ellis, Haddrell and I went looking for some of their stereotypes, settling at the Occidental, in central Auckland's Vulcan Lane.
Sure enough, there were plenty of strutting and be-suited Prankers. I'm pretty sure I saw a Bogan, some Finkles and even a Smurf (that's a younger Finkle) and maybe even a Gym Dandy (a sub-category of Rugbyhead, explained Ellis with "body like Baywatch; head like Crimewatch. Plays like Jane, looks like Tarzan").
But as Ellis said, there was something a bit rotten about sitting there like a bunch of teenage girls, pulling people to pieces. That wasn't the point of the Good Fullas project. The idea is that you use the book to identify yourself and those close to you, and you can't base that solely on appearance.
Ellis pointed to a middle-aged man whose clothes were neither flashy nor frumpy and introduced me to just one more category, which isn't in the book.
That, he said, was an Oskar Schindler. Like the nondescript hero who protected all those Jews from the Nazis, he goes about his business, and you just can't tell what's beneath.
"But he'll read the book," said Ellis. "And he'll know who he is."
THE BIG FRESH
"Fullas of Polynesian or Melanesian descent and, by virtue of their name, very large and usually very hungry. Big Fresh are loyal to a fault, love a laugh but demand a close eye when on the turps."
The Bogan "Rough as guts Fullas who surround themselves with loud cars, loud music, loud hairstyles and loud women."
The Finkle "Flamboyant, effeminate and fruity homosexual Fullas taking on the overt female role."
The Funny Whaka "A carefree and jovial Maori Fulla who spends most of his time chuckling, chortling, giggling and cackling."
The Wodgewick "A confused, capitalist, egalitarian, bohemian, conservationist and in addition to that a fervent social climber."
The Scarfie "A carefree and irresponsible student Fulla, discovering the meaning of life (and an interest-free loan) by living it to the full."
Source: Marc Ellis' Good Fullas – A Guide to Kiwi Blokes, by Marc Ellis and Charlie Haddrell, illustrated by Donovan Bixley. Published by Hachette, $44.99.
Sunday Star Times