What We’re Really Thinking

Several years ago, I was telling a friend about an Australian comedy called All Aussie Adventures. I liked one particular gag, and here’s basically how I explained it to her. “Every time he meets someone, he shakes their hand, and it shows stock footage of his hand shaking an Aborigine’s hand. Then one time he meets an Aboriginal guy, shakes his hand and they show stock footage of his hand shaking a normal hand.”

That was almost a decade ago. Don’t go quitting your gadgets slot on my show or anything.

But I didn’t even realise I’d done it. I was called on it, and was suitably embarrassed, and kind of surprised at how transparent my language was to myself. “Normal.”

It’s this transparent nature of the mindset and language that makes the whole Paul Henry affair disconcerting. It wasn’t that he saw nothing wrong with hassling the ethnicity of Anand Satyanand. Rather, it was how obviously “New Zealander” is synonymous in Henry’s mind with “white New Zealander”.

Then there was John Key’s reaction, or lack thereof. But perhaps that can be forgiven. I know I have a tendency to nervously laugh off such comments at the best of times, let alone on national TV while in conversation with the head of my cheerleading squad.

Next came TVNZ’s spokesperson Andi Brotherston, with the fucking most bizarre message ever.

The audience tell us over and over again that one of the things they love about Paul Henry is that he’s prepared to say the things we quietly think but are scared to say out loud.

I’m not sure what’s more worrying – that the national broadcaster would so blatantly insult New Zealanders in an official statement, or that she might be right.

The impression I get is one of perplexity. Paul Henry apologises not for what he said, but if what he said caused any offence. He possibly still doesn’t understand what it is he did. TVNZ’s statement amounted to, “Yeah, he shouldn’t have said it, but come on, lads, we were all thinking it.” Paul Henry has supporters saying similar things.

All in all, you get the feeling that a significant portion of New Zealand is kind of frowning in confusion at the reaction of the others. They get that people are upset, but they don’t quite see why. All Henry did was say what they were thinking, after all.

Makes me think of this.

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