Say what you like about the influence of television but there’s little doubt it helped shape the people we are today.
If anyone disagrees with that they clearly didn’t catch last week’s One News special, 50 Years of TV News, when, quite apart from the history of the small screen, we witnessed the emergence of a nation’s free and independent thinking.
The two-hour show was probably too long and was certainly too late, given Prime’s excellent work the previous week, but it was surprisingly instructional, particularly in terms of showing how much we’ve grown as a people.
Being forced to watch again the events of the 1960s, when a gormless and ill-informed Kiwi public were being given the run-around by folk who embraced exclusion over inclusion, and had no idea of consultation, was a sobering if not embarrassing viewing experience.
From the masses who turned out to blindly support heads of states such as American president Lyndon Johnson and Queen Elizabeth, to those who backed the pomposity of National prime minister Keith Holyoake, or the utter obscenity that was Piggy Muldoon, the wonder is that we’ve been able to make any progress at all.
One of the most important things that 50 Years reminded us was that, only a short time ago, we had a fawning attitude towards those in office, a dangerously sycophantic deference to those in authority and a lemming-like acceptance of male hierarchal rule.
And television had a lot to do with changing that. Muldoon would have doubtless preferred we were all kept in the dark, as in the old days, so he could use his privileged position to intimidate and bully. That’s what he knew best, after all.
But the advent of television news and current affairs, and the ability of viewers to become informed on local and current issues no matter what their vocation, quickly helped develop our sense of inquiry. The wool was not so easily pulled over our eyes.
As 50 Years demonstrated, the result was increasingly strident Vietnam war protests, demonstrations against nuclear power, violent opposition to the 1981 Springbok tour, the occupation of Bastion Point, and an understandable reduction in our trust of the police.
Television also helped expose people for what they were, and there was no better example of that than the archival footage of a heavily drunk Muldoon calling a snap election for 1984, following a horribly divisive nine year term. On that occasion the public threw him out because they finally knew who he was.
The 50 Years production was also a timely reminder that the concept of respect in Muldoon’s day was really just a smoke-screen for fear and intimidation. We didn’t respect the cops; we feared them. Same with teachers, most of our parents, nuns, priests, sports coaches, piano instructors – you name it.
At a time when you hear people prattling on about the good ol’ days; the times when folk called a spade a spade, when everyone had a fair go, and there wasn’t any “problem” with the “Maoris”; it was good to be reminded of the reality.