Week in review: the cult, the King and the spaghetti incident

Women dress as "handmaids" from The Handmaid's Tale in Austin, Texas, in March. New Zealand's Gloriavale inspired the look.

Women dress as "handmaids" from The Handmaid's Tale in Austin, Texas, in March. New Zealand's Gloriavale inspired the look.


Philip Matthews reviews another strange news week. 

Maiden New Zealand

Many readers will think that broadcaster John Oliver's furious outburst at Prime Minister Bill English was the best example of New Zealand being put on the global map or punching above its weight. For Oliver, New Zealand is a joke country, like North Korea or Kazakhstan, and a pizza that comes with tinned spaghetti and pineapple is "a hate crime". We will leave that to the foodies. But this might be a better instance of Kiwi culture influencing the world: when a US costume designer looked for inspiration for the new series of The Handmaid's Tale, based on Margaret Atwood's novel about a dystopian, misogynistic religious society, she found it on the West Coast of the South Island. "There's this very interesting New Zealand cult – they probably call it a religious group – the Gloriavale Christian Community," costume designer Ane Crabtree​ said. "They have a very old-world culture ... where women are baking bread and children are dressed quite close to the women of the group." Fame at last for Hopeful Christian and the rest.

King of comedy

Leading comedian turned mental health advocate Mike King bravely brought a difficult and needlessly secretive world to light when he quit the advisory group that is working on a suicide prevention strategy that he dubbed wishy-washy and flawed. Like John Kirwan, King strikes New Zealanders as an honest and relatable figure, which is what this issue needs. Who was not shocked to see the figures? While 500 New Zealanders commit suicide every year, another 150,000 think about it, 50,000 plan it and 20,000 attempt it. Calling it a mental health crisis almost seems too mild. 

News of the weird 

How to keep up with news of President Donald Trump? He fired FBI director James Comey. OK. Comey turned out to have kept memos of meetings and has Trump possibly obstructing the course of justice. Sure. Trump invites two Russians into the Oval Office, with only Russian media in attendance, and reveals sensitive intelligence. Of course. It emerges that Republican leader of the house, Kevin McCarthy, said in 2016 that Russian President Vladimir Putin pays Trump. Which is denied until the Washington Post says it has a tape. So the story changes again and McCarthy was "joking". Right. The next series of House of Cards will have to be as far-fetched as Dune to come close to matching reality. 

Schemes and daydreams

Everyone else's politics seems tame by comparison, including ours. But little-known National MP Alfred Ngaro briefly achieved prominence when he implied that the Government could stop funding organisations that criticise it. When the comments went public, he swiftly back-tracked, much like when Kevin McCarthy was caught "joking". Christchurch Central MP Nicky Wagner emerged as the most optimistic person in all of New Zealand when she claimed that her hometown is already in better shape than it was before the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. "August 2010 wasn't that great," she said. How many agree? Wagner is now in charge of the city's regeneration after Gerry Brownlee's promotion to Foreign Affairs. 

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