A long, strange 12 months: the alternative 2016 awards
OPINION: Most of us will be pleased to see the back of 2016, writes Philip Matthews.
So that's it, nearly. The most generous thing you could say about 2016 is that it kept us on our toes.
We had nothing to predict except unpredictability. That means that a very different year calls for a different way of doing things. These are the alternative 2016 awards. You could also call them the alt-wrong awards.
WRITER OF THE YEAR
Even Bob Dylan isn't bothered about whether you call his work "literature" or not. Neither was Shakespeare, he guesses. But the Nobel Prizewinner for Literature in 2016 wrote lines decades ago that kept on becoming relevant again. "He not busy being born is busy dying" seemed meaningful in a year marked by one celebrity death after another, from David Bowie to Carrie Fisher. "Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked" is a Dylan lyric that kept popping into our heads despite our best efforts to keep it out. But in Stockholm at the close of the year, Patti Smith caught the mood of 2016 with a rendition of apocalyptic Dylan lines like these, written back in 1962: "I heard the sound of thunder, it roared out a warning, heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world."
OPTIMIST OF THE YEAR
It was a tough year in which to be an optimist. It's possible that the only person who thought 2016 ended better than it started is new Prime Minister Bill English, who was personally gifted the job he once auditioned for and failed to win. We might have said Donald Trump was a contender for this but it's hard to know if he even wanted the job he got. We might also have said Andrew Little but it's so hard to tell what he's thinking. Joy, hope, despair – it all looks the same on him.
LOSER OF THE YEAR
Sure, John Key went out on a high, most popular Prime Minister in years, the Teflon man, and so on. We heard all that. But his big legacy? That was a flop. Key pushed and pushed for the public to remember him by picking the beach towel flag he loved over the actual New Zealand flag and he failed, losing 56 per cent to 43 per cent. So much for all that "political capital" he had saved up.
SOOTHSAYER OF THE YEAR
Celebrity psychic Kelvin Cruickshank has reportedly quit the long-running series Sensing Murder in which three non-experts fail, week after week, to solve murders but we may have found a replacement. Celebrity pastor and self-styled "Bishop" Brian Tamaki demonstrated that he too has a weird knack for knowing what will happen next. On Sunday, November 13, Tamaki ranted to his followers about how Christchurch's earthquakes were obviously caused by sinfulness. Hours later, a massive quake struck the notorious sin capitals of Kaikoura and Waiau.
RABBLEROUSER OF THE YEAR
Can you hear the people sing, singing the song of one angry man? Regardless of whether you fully understood what broadcaster and poet Gary McCormick's beef with Air New Zealand was about exactly, it was hard not to be moved and inspired by McCormick's revolutionary rhetoric. "Even if justice doesn't prevail, it will be served. I'm not just doing this for myself, it's for all New Zealanders," he declared as he waved a flag from behind the airport barricades.
BROADCASTER OF THE YEAR
We love the work of Paul Henry, Kim Hill, John Campbell and one or two others but we have to look further afield. During a year in which the most powerful democracy in the world elected an unrepentant misogynist and sexual pest, it was Megyn Kelly of Fox News who alerted viewers to the quality of the man they were considering when she asked way back in 2015 if calling women "fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals" is behaviour worthy of a president. Trump's infamous response: "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever." Those were the early days of the Trump campaign. It should have stopped then.
KIWI SATIRIST OF THE YEAR
Again, we love the work of Ben Uffindell, David Slack, Guy Williams and one or two others but we have to look further afield. From the safety of a TV studio in New York, Last Week Tonight host John Oliver seemed to take a personal interest in the more absurd workings of New Zealand politics. The flag debate was a riot. That sex toy that hit Government minister Steven Joyce in the face was the funniest thing ever, played endlessly in slow motion. John Key generally was a gift to Oliver and his writers – "a gigantic clown", Oliver said. Can Bill English be as funny? The bigger question is whether, with the Trump victory and all, the liberal-bubble late-night comedy of Oliver, Stephen Colbert and the rest really makes that much of a difference.
REBRANDING OF THE YEAR
Even a marketing guru like Kevin Roberts couldn't have pulled this one off. Remember fascists? Neo-Nazis? These days we have to call them the "alt-right". Which sounds like a hipster lifestyle choice or a keyboard shortcut. The word "alternative" has been ruined forever.
NOSTALGIA TRIP OF THE YEAR
By the end of 2016, Hunt for the Wilderpeople was the biggest grossing New Zealand film at the local box office, pulling in more than $12 million. Over $1m of that was on its opening weekend. It felt like a throwback to the best of 1980s Kiwi cinema – Smash Palace, Goodbye Pork Pie, Came a Hot Friday – but with contemporary values and mass appeal. Overseas critics got it: Empire magazine made Wilderpeople its film of the year. By pure coincidence, one of the best local documentaries mined similar nostalgia. Tearepa Kahi's Poi E: The Story of Our Song explained the making of our unofficial national anthem, with help from Wilderpeople creator Taika Waititi.
CRISIS OF THE YEAR
Families were squeezed into garages and cars during a cold, wet New Zealand winter. The homelessness crisis got away from the Government in 2016, culminating in the cruel absurdity of the Ministry of Social Development putting families into motels and then billing them for their stay. Even post-truth politics made an appearance. Former Prime Minister John Key told New Zealand that the ministry was working with the Salvation Army, but the Salvation Army explained that this was a fiction and it wanted nothing to do with the ministry's "flying squads". The minister at the time was Paula Bennett, more recently seen as Deputy Prime Minister.
BARGAIN OF THE YEAR
Average houses in Auckland and Queenstown cost more than $1m by the end of 2016 but New Zealand picked up a bargain when we had a national whip-round and crowdfunded $2.8m to buy a beach in the Abel Tasman National Park. It was the brainchild of Christchurch men Adam Gard'ner and Duane Major. The picturesque and remote stretch of sand that used to be privately-owned now belongs to all New Zealanders, although the underfunded Department of Conservation are the lucky ones who get to look after it.
HISTORIAN OF THE YEAR
True story. A group called Choose Clean Water presented a petition of 12,000 signatures calling for a commitment to higher freshwater standards. Opposition parties supported them in their aim to lift the basic requirement from "wadeable" to "swimmable". Reporters then sought comment from Environment Minister Nick Smith who said that it is not "realistic to require that every water body in New Zealand be swimmable. That wasn't even true prior to human settlement of New Zealand." Then Dr Smith hopped back into his time machine.
BAGGAGE HANDLER OF THE YEAR
It is hard not to feel a little sorry for National list MP Nuk Korako from the Christchurch electorate of Port Hills. Until August 2016, Korako's two years in Parliament had passed quietly and uneventfully. And then the "lost luggage bill" happened. The proper title of the bill drafted by Korako and drawn from the ballot was the Airport Authorities (Publicising Lost Property Sales) Amendment Bill. It would allow airports to auction lost property without advertising in newspapers. Korako was roundly mocked by the opposition and media for wasting Parliament's time and the bill was quietly dropped in November. But the association of Korako with lost suitcases and abandoned umbrellas has stuck in the public mind.
NON-EVENT OF THE YEAR
It didn't seem fair. Other centres had more exciting local body elections – and yes, you can put "exciting" and "local body elections" in the same sentence. Wellington had a cast of thousands, including Labour defector Nick Leggett. Auckland had the triumph of Phil Goff. But Christchurch had the foregone conclusion of a second term for Lianne Dalziel, who barely campaigned. From the posters around the city, you might have thought that veteran activist John Minto was challenging populist candidate Bruce Springsteen. Minto should be applauded for making it a competition and putting some issues before the public.
PUTDOWN OF THE YEAR
Real Housewives of Auckland was the reality series that generated 1000 think pieces. Is it racist to call someone a "boat n-----"? The answer is yes. Should you write a book called Being Real if you are not a philosopher? The answer is no. Was Angela Stone's French PA for real? Apparently. But the greatest moment, the one that set the tone for the series' best feud, came when socialite and author Gilda Kirkpatrick delivered this zinger to Stone. "Do you know what I heard about you?" Pause. "Not a f---ing thing."
KIWI POET OF THE YEAR
Despite a strong challenge from poet Hera Lindsay Bird, this title must go to former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig who went to court to argue that the Whale Oil website should pay him $3000 a month to run a short love poem about his former press secretary Rachel MacGregor. The judge called the claim "vexatious" and threw it out. Had Craig won, he would have been the best-paid Kiwi poet in history. Of course this came only months after Craig lost a defamation lawsuit to Taxpayers Union founder Jordan Williams, who is now owed $1.27m by the former politician and poet. Craig would have to publish poems at his preferred rate for 423 months to raise the money.
SPORTSPERSON OF THE YEAR
Sophie Pascoe became New Zealand's most successful Paralympian ever in Rio de Janeiro in September when she took her total medal haul across three Games to 15, including nine gold medals. One of her silvers was New Zealand's 200th medal in the Paralympics. In a year in which well-paid rugby players disgraced themselves, Pascoe and other Paralympians, including "blade runner" and comedian Liam Malone and swimmer Mary Fisher, were actual role models.