In 11 days I will have been living outside of New Zealand for three years.
This is a while. But I'm proud about how much I've kept up. I read New Zealand news compulsively. I am in constant contact with family and close friends. In certain ways, I feel like I haven't lost a step.
But a lot has happened in three years. Not just to me, but to New Zealand also. And recently, I've surrendered myself to the idea that I can only be so well versed on it. Things have happened and stories have broken while I have been away. I can be caught up on most of them but still strangely out of sync.
From outside the fishbowl, things can seem confusing. It's forced me to reconcile with the idea that there's a side of New Zealand, the part of the group brain that holds water cooler conversation, that I've just lost touched with.
I think Kim Dotcom best represents this disconnect. I was actually in New Zealand when he was arrested in January 2012 and flew back out to America the next day. I used Megaupload from time to time largely to stream TV shows in a manner that some people might classify "illegal". This was all anybody I knew used the site for. Like many torrent clients, Dotcom claimed that it was a site that had the set purpose of allowing lawful file transfers, but was being misused. This, in my humble opinion, is bollocks.
I have stayed up with the procedural strife and ensuing palaver that has derailed the case (e.g. the GCSB controversy, what right the United States has to extradite a German-born New Zealand resident).
But what I can't really work out is how enchanted New Zealanders appear with Dotcom. The ice-cream-wielding, music-video-making internet pirate is being treated as though he is the cashed-up son of John Candy and Robin Hood, or something. To me Dotcom seems like a joke who has manipulated New Zealand's need for attention to turn himself into a folk hero.
Public sentiment seems undeniably pro-Dotcom and I'm not sure why. Authorities might have tripped over their shoelaces trying to get him, but he's not just an innocent guy, persecuted at random. All because John Key is wrong, Kim Dotcom isn't necessarily right.
But not rubbing shoulders with the people on the street, soaking up that undefined feeling in the air, how can I be certain in that claim?
Another good example of a thing that I've missed is David Shearer. I saw Shearer speak to a small crowd once upon a time when I still lived in Wellington. He was a pretty well spoken guy, had a great CV and seemed to be a suave dude, which is always a plus in politics. I wasn't surprised when he ascended to the Labour leadership, because it seemed inevitable. People want to vote for someone that they think they'd like in real life.
Shearer seems to have had a rocky time of it. I've seen multiple coups predicted and fail to eventuate, he's had a surge in the polls and now, it seems, a slump. The people in my social media feeds who I would expect to be sympathetic to Shearer are, and those who I would expect to find him distasteful do. New Zealand works on a three-term political cycle. It is hard to up-end a government in two. So he always has had his work cut out for him, right?
Politics is a sport of gut reactions. I'm not watching Shearer on the news each night, slowly coming to adore or despise him. He's just this guy to me that I read about.
I'm short an opinion.
There's a ton of smaller talking points that go over my head. Like how the All Blacks squad was named yesterday and even giving myself some slack, I still only recognised half of the names in it. I watched us win the Rugby World Cup from New York in 2011 and felt euphoric having been there through all of the four-yearly heartache for two-plus decades. But now, what's the narrative behind the team? How much do people really care?
It seems New Zealand's iteration of the X-Factor (with the stellar judging panel of an Australian Idol winner, a member of All Saints, Daniel Bedingfield and some girl I'd never heard of) was pretty big. That hype definitely escapes me. But it did communicate to me that launching our own X-Factor means we must have forgotten the embarrassment of New Zealand Idol. It was nice, tthough, to see that Dominic Bowden was still employable (and employed) all these years later.
Three years out of the country and I can only ever be so in the loop. I'm accepting more and more that some things you just have to be there for.
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