PMs just wanna have fun …

Lord Acton - 'Power tends to corrupt ... ' even horsing around?

Lord Acton – ‘Power tends to corrupt … ‘ Even horsing around?

According to John Key it was all just innocent “horsing around“.

It wasn’t, of course – as John Armstrong in the New Zealand Herald understands.

And Key knew that too. All his protests to the contrary amount to him pulling our collective leg.

So what was it?

As I’ve commented before, Key presents himself as someone who just loves to ‘muck around’. He’s such a relaxed, ordinary guy with so few airs that he doesn’t mind having a joke, pulling a prank and having others on.

That, at any rate, is the euphemistic self-description he – and his defenders – routinely trot out.

But there’s much more to his behaviour than that. And what the ‘more’ is tells us a lot about not only John Key but also our world in general and the New Zealand political environment in particular.

The Prime Minister’s supposed love of ‘fun’ actually has many aspects – pulling hair, pulling pranks, pulling rank and ‘pulling power’. It’s also now about ‘pulling a swiftie’.

Pulling Hair

When the waitress at the centre of the events went public in a post at ‘The Daily Blog‘, she detailed a pattern of continued harassment of her by the Prime Minister. The ponytail pulling was the centre-piece of that claimed harassment.

The first point to highlight, though, is that the so-called hair pulling was as much the vehicle of the harassment as it was the harassment itself.

The general demeanour and responses of the Prime Minister – to the expressions, gestures and words of the waitress that were described in the post – paint a damning picture of an all too common predatory and aggressive attitude expressed under the guise of humour.

In fact, it’s so common that it seems some people think it’s therefore no big deal. Given that, it’s worth reminding ourselves of just what happened, according to the waitress’ account:

I stood with my back to him filling water glasses, and he pulled my hair before once again pointing the blame at Bronagh. I couldn’t believe it, he was still persisting and by now he had definitely got the message that I was not enjoying it – that seemed to be why he was enjoying it so damn much.

Despite my best efforts to avoid the situation, without literally running away, he just couldn’t help himself and still attempted, from directly in front of me, to reach around behind me in search of my hair, as he walked by.

As he approached me he thought it would be fitting to raise his hands high and make scary, suspense sound effects, like the music from the movie Jaws that we all know so well, and still gestured as if to reach behind me. As he towered overhead I slunk down, cringing, whilst Bronagh told him to “leave the poor girl alone”. I looked him in the eye and asked “is it self defence, with your security here, if I have to physically stop you from touching me?” and he countered, with a smile, “defence against what?”.

If this account is accurate it’s clear that John Key was well aware of the continuing discomfort he was creating for the waitress. The childish recourse to “scary, suspense sound effects“, for example, only makes sense – is only ‘funny’ (!?) – if he knows the level of discomfort he is inflicting.

What this account describes is not just ‘hair pulling’ but a process of toying with a person in a way that is known to be unwelcome and not remotely enjoyed by them. One telling phrase is “defence against what?” … delivered with a smile.

In other words, ‘I know perfectly well what it is a defence against – but defence is pointless because I can always say ‘I’m only joking!”.

The other telling phrase comes from his wife Bronagh Key: “leave the poor girl alone“. It’s a phrase you only use when you detect deliberate teasing and bullying. Did Bronagh – like the waitress – also not appreciate her husband’s harmless, ‘fun loving’ nature?

My guess is that, in saying that and in knowing her husband all too well, Bronagh Key was in a perfect position to appreciate just what her husband was doing in these continued interactions with the waitress – harassing her.

There is also a further disturbing aspect to Key’s behaviour that others have implied or alluded to.

Some have directly labeled his handling of the waitress’ hair and that of various young girls as a ‘fetish’ – e.g., John Armstrong states “It would also be a good idea to suggest to the Prime Minister that he gets his pigtail [sic]  fetish under control“.

[Others have now even inserted an entry – presumably mischievous – in the Wikipedia post on ‘Hair Fetishism’ that has a one-person list of ‘Famous Hair Fetishists‘ that features the Prime Minister – Edit: now deleted from the Wikipedia post, though the title still exists. Update: His name is back up on the site – here’s a screen shot


As that same post explains “A fetishist may enjoy seeing or touching hair, pulling on or cutting the hair of another person. Besides enjoyment they may become sexually aroused from such activities.”

Formal diagnosis being what it is, it would be purely speculative to claim that John Key has such a condition. But irrespective of a formal diagnosis it certainly seems – at least from the waitress’ account – that John Key does gain pleasure from and, to that extent, has desires related to touching other people’s hair.

For example, he is said to have stated that the waitress’ ponytail was “tantalising” which is a clear reference to desirability. It also seems that he both mentally focuses upon and pays attention to women’s and girl’s hair.

The innocent explanation would be that such attention is based on aesthetic and perhaps sensuous pleasure. Hair – especially women’s hair – has been elevated to aesthetic and even erotic status in many cultures as fairy tales such as Rapunzel make clear. Modern-day advertisements for shampoo exploit just such a cultural tradition. The fetishisation and commodification of women’s hair, in that context, is just one more aspect of our particular culture’s treatment of women.

In and of itself, hair fetishism is not usually viewed as a concerning condition. And the point is not whether or not the Prime Minister has a mild paraphilia. But, as I’ll discuss below, the more serious aspect is when whatever interest he has in women’s hair overlaps with high status and power.

The hair-pulling, according to John Key, was just part of “horsing around” – a popular pastime at his local watering hole apparently – and his predisposition to be ‘casual’ and just to have ‘fun’.

In this interview on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report, Key’s own words – expressed some days after the initial blog post by the waitress – provides us with his ‘reflections’ on his own behaviour.

It was a place of “fun” and “hi jinks“, apparently, although it’s unclear just how much ‘fun’ and ‘hi jinks’ of this kind there would be without the presence of John Key – he may have been the one-man fun fair at the café. Absent John Key the place would presumably have been much the same – on the ‘fun and hi jinks’ scale as any other café

But let’s get back to his own words:

You know, it’s been one of my strengths that I’m pretty causal and laid back and good for a laugh a lot of times but, but that’s also led to a situation where I’ve been too casual, having too much fun, if you like, in the situation and playing along a little bit and that’s .. aah … very silly on my part.

This is quite a well-crafted ‘reflection’ (no doubt done without any advice from his PR advisors or the latest polling by David Farrar’s Curia polling agency). It positions John Key as the “good for a laugh” guy who was, perhaps, innocently “having too much fun” in the way that, as we are reminded, has (until now) “been one of [his] strengths“.

Yet, in a dour world that has no tolerance – it seems – for such lighthearted banter and horse-play John Key stands, contrite, having to publicly confess his ‘silliness’ like a witness at the McCarthy hearings or Stalinist show trials having to ‘confess’ their treasonous iniquity.

Or that at least is the clever inference that his spin on the events invites us to take.

In the misty hinterland of Key’s reflective musings it’s almost as if Don McLean’s song ‘Vincent’ (about the tormented and suffering Dutch artist) could have been written for our Prime Minister’s current plight …

“I could have told you [John] this [PC?] world was never meant for one as [fun-loving] as you …”

[Then, the plaintive final chorus!]

“Now I think I know, what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your [hilarity]
And how you tried to set them free
They [your critics] would not listen, they’re not listening still
Perhaps they never will …”


Yes, a very well-crafted ‘reflection’ on Key’s part.

Unfortunately, however, it does put all of Key’s explanatory eggs into the ‘light-hearted’, ‘fun’loving’, “horsing around” category – and that is not necessarily a safe place to store them.

Pulling Pranks – aka ‘horsing around’

The use of ‘humour’ to defend and deny offensive attitudes and behaviour is common-place – and we are all familiar with the strategy. The aggressive use of humour is all about power assertion and power hierarchies, as a 2009 German study found:

The research, which was published in the Journal of Pragmatics, suggest that the role of humour is not to make other people laugh as much as it is to make others know who is in charge.

Those ‘on top’ are freer to make others laugh. They are also freer to be more aggressive and a lot of what is funny is making jokes at someone else’s expense.

“Displaying humour means taking control of the situation from those higher up the hierarchy and this is risky for people of lower status, which before the 1960s meant women rarely made other people laugh – they couldn’t afford to.

“Comedy and satire are based on aggressiveness and not being nice,” she said. “Until the 1960s it was seen as unladylike to be funny. But even now women tend to prefer telling jokes at their own expense and men tend to prefer telling jokes at other people’s expense.”

She said humour, including teasing, was a mix of ‘bonding and biting‘ … both sexes use comedy as a means of controlling others.

She said: “For example, doctors sometimes use humour to comfort patients but also to silence them if, for example, the patient displays too much knowledge of a medical condition.

“Nurses and midwives tend to tell jokes about patients but not when the doctor is present. And when someone initiates a joke they tend to be ignored if they are in the presence of someone of a higher status.”

As this very interesting chapter on ‘Humor as Aggressive Communication‘ makes clear – it really is worth a read if you want to understand the variety of functions of humour – the capacity for humour to be a tool of aggression and control has long been recognised:

Distinguishing between innocent and tendentious jokes, Freud (1960) characterized hostile humor as “disguised aggressiveness” (p. 129). He asserted that by using hostile jokes, one is able to evade the demonstration of overt aggression against another person.

This uncontroversial point about the interpersonal use of humour puts John Key’s  defence of his behaviour as being simply “fun and games” and “horsing around” in a very different light from the one he presumably intends.

The question, that is, isn’t whether or not Key likes to characterise himself as a ‘joker’. Instead, it’s what he uses his ‘joking’ for?

If the waitress’ account is anything to go by, it seems his ‘banter’ had the effect on the waitress of dominating, demeaning and cowing her while, simultaneously, asserting his power in the situation.

As the research on humour makes clear, far from being entirely ‘innocent’ and ‘naive’ such “horsing around” may function primarily to aggress against and control others.

So, which was it?

If, in this case, the humorous intent was to serve one of the more positive functions of humour – “the expression of affection and the use of humor to identify and connect with others” and “[t]o help others relax and feel comfortable” – then it clearly failed.

At best, that is, Key is an utterly inept innocent ‘joker’ with absolutely no sense of the effects of his ‘pranks’ on others.

But that’s being too generous to the Prime Minister.

Given the evidence for John Key’s enjoyment of the continuing harassment expressed through “horsing around” with the waitress’ hair it could only have served the more negative functions of humour – “the use of humor to demean and belittle others as a form of entertainment” and “[t]o control others“.

In other words, Key’s humour was – and, in fact, often is when you observe it closely – an exercise in power. It either serves to belittle others (e.g., the ‘gay shirt’ ‘humour’) or enhance his status and ensure he remains at the centre of attention.

Pulling rank – and ‘pulling power’

As many commentators have pointed out, as Prime Minister, John Key has a high social status and considerable power. Such status and power in almost every human society in history (prehistory being something of a different case) confers considerable rights (e.g., to determine the lives of others) and, correspondingly, generates considerable deference and subordinate behaviour amongst the broader population.

As Brent Edwards, political editor at Radio New Zealand National notes under ‘Questions about of Power’:

Questions about power

As Prime Minister, Mr Key carries a lot of power. He is, as he was to the cafe, always accompanied by diplomatic protection squad officers.

It is unlikely serving staff at a cafe would feel confident about challenging him.

Indeed, according to the café owners, John Key is a frequent guest at the place where the waitress worked and the staff do not appear to be in the kind of social and emotional space that might suggest the Prime Minister would ever be challenged:

“The Prime Minister is a regular at Rosie and he’s well loved amongst the staff. He always comes in with his wife Bronagh and his security detail, and the staff are always happy to accommodate them.”

Obviously there was a least one staff member who was an exception to this general adulatory attitude towards John Key but it seems that he certainly has ‘won friends and influenced people’ in that particular environment – which is just the result you would expect for high status individuals in public settings.

High status tends to lead to positive assessment by those of lower status as this interesting article by Anderson et al. (2012) – on why some people choose lower status – makes clear in its introduction:

High social status comes with a wealth of social, material, and psychological benefits. Individuals with higher status enjoy more prestige and respect in the eyes of others (Sherif, White, & Harvey, 1955), more autonomy and control (Berger, Rosenholtz, & Zelditch, 1980), greater access to scarce resources (Savin- Williams, 1979), elevated self-esteem (Barkow, 1975) and better mental and physical health (N. Adler, Epel, Castellazzo, & Ickovics, 2000; Marmot, 2004).

In one sense Key’s power is of course institutional – he is the Prime Minister, travels around with a ‘security detail’ of physically imposing men and, as his government has repeatedly shown, has the power to dispense favours to those he favours.

But whatever the basis of power – institutional and structural or personal and interpersonal – the point is that it enables one person either to get others to do what they might otherwise not do or to prevent others doing what they otherwise would do. That power is enhanced in the ambiguous setting that supposed humour provides.

And Key also has other forms of power than institutional power.

Most obvious is his ‘celebrity status’ in our national ‘celebrity culture’. And celebrity culture is a very modern invention:

The proliferation of celebrities in our culture is relatively recent. In the past, writers and actors sometimes became celebrated, well-known, even famous, but it was seldom something they aspired to. A by-product of exceptional achievement, usually, fame was often awkward for the person thrust into the limelight.

But the media’s voracious appetite for content is, no doubt, the major driver of celebrity culture today.

And it doesn’t take any particular skill, just a good publicist, determination, and the knack of being in front of the cameras. It’s a career.

This celebrity status tends to be more a function of some careful PR management rather than any personal qualities or attributes. It is remarkably easy to get a significant proportion of people to revere – or at least pay special attention to – celebrities merely by repeatedly stating that such persons are celebrities.

Celebrities serve various social and psychological functions – few of them of any intrinsic value. In a world of autonomous fulfilled individuals celebrities would gain little purchase – indeed, hunter-gatherer societies went out of their way to ensure no-one started to think of themselves as a ‘celebrity’.

In essence, celebrity is a technique used to exploit various psychological predispositions – e.g., for spectacle, gossip, deference, social comparison, etc. – in order to achieve economic or political gain.

Leveraging off that celebrity status, however, is the peculiarly political aspect of Key’s fame – his political popularity; his continued high poll ratings; simply, his pulling power.

This is his real power. What has preserved his ‘preferred Prime Minister’ ratings, and a good slice of the voting preferences for National, has been the pulling power of ‘brand Key’.

As Matthew Hooton has pointed out:

There is growing dissatisfaction among the business community and elements of the National Party caucus and cabinet about Mr Key’s lack of policy ambition. His prime ministership is kept alive by his personal popularity and the emotional return he draws from it. If either fades, Mr Key will want to throw in the towel.

And, under those circumstances, many on the political right will be pleased to see him go.

If Hooton’s analysis is correct, then it is only Key’s ‘pulling power’ (aka his ‘personal popularity’) that provides him with sufficient power to counter his ‘enemies’ within the National Party caucus and the business community. Without their backing, of course, he has no power to remain Prime Minister.

So John Key’s ‘power’ ultimately resides in the power granted to him by those in the public who support him, approve of him and vote for him.

Lord Acton famously wrote that “”Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”

A little less famously, he also wrote – a sentence or two before his famous comment – that:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases.

Given that Lord Acton was discussing the power of Pope’s (and the suggestion that they be designated ‘infallible’) he presumably was speaking of the corruption of individuals by the power they are allowed to acquire.

But there’s another way in which power corrupts and it relates directly to Key’s power to pull voters. Power – all power – doesn’t just corrupt those who directly possess it (or are granted it by others); far more importantly, it also tends to corrupt those around about.

Pulling a swiftie

The recent development that involves the waitress’ accusation that an interview between her and Rachel Glucina of the New Zealand Herald (in this article already linked to) was carried out under subterfuge is one of several ‘push backs’ against the waitress’ account of the repeated episodes of hair pulling by John Key.

Here’s another particularly egregious one from Mike Hoskings. As well as reference to “the angry undergrounders on social media” he had this to say about the waitress’ motivation:

To quote the waitress concerned today, “I felt New Zealand should know”. What a puffed up, self-involved pile of political bollocks.

Apparently, the ‘real victims’ were the café owners (who own many cafés beyond the café in question).

Why are they the victims? Well, because the waitress’ claimed “selfishness” in “hanging the Prime Minister out to dry” apparently caused “needless upset and attention to a couple who have done nothing but go about their business“.

The “needless upset and attention” the Prime Minister visited upon the waitress for some reason does not appear to rank quite so highly for Hoskings. Perhaps now that Rachel Glucina – with the involvement, wittingly or otherwise, of the cafe owners – has done her bit to “hang the [waitress] out to dry” Mike Hoskings’ indignation will abate?

If the accusations against Glucina and the Herald are true, it represents a blatant pulling of a ‘swiftie’ – essentially playing a confidence trick on the waitress and, ultimately, on the Herald’s readers.

If it was carried out under subterfuge then it is also a gross violation of journalistic ethics (the allegation was denied by the Herald – the editor’s statement is included at the end of the link above).

But what I want to emphasise is that, given Glucina’s relationship as a committed friend of John Key, if true, the allegation suggests a corruption of the ethical procedures that supposedly underpin mainstream journalism in order to serve the interests of the current Prime Minister.

Power tends to corrupt … and it tends to corrupt everyone associated with it.

By ‘corrupt’ I mean that it distorts and disfigures the way things should be – the way we should interact interpersonally, the way we should make judgments about each other, the way we should treat each other.

And if we, as a society, ever needed evidence of the corrupting influence of the ‘pulling power’ of John Key – and the need continually to maintain that power – then we simply need to look back on the revelations in Nicky Hager’s book ‘Dirty Politics‘.

The ‘two track’ approach explained there is the almost inevitable result of the corrupting influence of the levels of popularity Key and his supporters try to cultivate and have almost entirely come to depend upon. The sole purpose of having ‘two tracks’ is to ensure the ‘power base’ (i.e., the popularity) continues by maintaining a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around the Prime Minister’s public reputation.

The real crime of the waitress has been to ‘shift the points’ so that the two tracks converged bringing the previously parallel trains crashing together.

Or, better, like a burst appendix, the ‘cordon sanitaire’ has been breached and the toxic fluids are now flowing in the open, in public sight, around the body politic. And the cordon was breached by the only person really capable of breaching it – the Prime Minister himself.

The waitress’ feelings were right – this is something that “New Zealand should know“.

The tendency to ‘corrupt’ our politics flows from Key’s popularity – the basis of his power. That tendency goes much further than Key himself. It even goes beyond those who most intimately associate themselves with him and whose interests are tied up with that power.

I suspect that it also tends to corrupt the judgment of that proportion of the population who have invested heavily (psychologically) in the popularity, the ‘Kiwiness’ and the ‘ordinariness’ of John Key.

Aligning oneself with the powerful, identifying – vicariously – with their power involves paying a price. That price is the withering of one’s independent moral faculty.

More simply, it involves continuing to support the powerful when they do wrong, when they have abused their power. It involves finding any excuse to attack those who reveal the truth about the powerful person to whose star you have psychologically hitched your wagon.

When Cyndi Lauper sang her pop hit ‘Girls just wanna have fun‘ it referenced a group in society (women – revealingly called ‘girls’ in the song) which has (relatively) little power.

Here’s a reminder of the positive vitality of ‘girls just wanting to have fun’:

By contrast, when powerful people are ‘having fun’ the most likely motives are to assert their power, maintain and enhance their status over others and indulge their desires, irrespective of the upset it may cause.

When powerful people like the Prime Minister ‘just wanna have fun’, when they are up to some ‘hi jinks’ and generally “horsing around” in public there’s one thing you can almost guarantee: Those who are without power in the midst of the hilarity – such  as the waitress at Rosie’s – won’t be having much fun.

All in all, if the Prime Minister were any more ‘lighthearted’ he’d have no heart left at all.

This entry was posted in Democracy, Human Nature, National Identity, New Zealand Politics, Political Polls, Political Psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to PMs just wanna have fun …

  1. Excellent and chilling post.
    Key’s well crafted “reflection” struck me that way as well. One of the tricky questions in job interviews, for example, is around strength or weakness; the techniques of turning talking about your weakness into a strength are well documented – Key’s comments were textbook classic, he was well coached.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi A Brainy Deal,

      Thanks for the compliment. I always really appreciate the feedback (good or bad).

      Obviously it’s impossible for us to know how much ‘advice’ he received that went into his reflections on the events but, irrespective of its origins, it was a clever piece of discourse. The one thing about it that jars for me, though, is his saying that it ‘always worked well for him’ – that almost admits that it’s a deliberate tactic rather than a spontaneous and authentic manner for him. He’s said that before – earlier last year. I wrote a post on that comment too – ‘What you see is what you get?’.

      What I really find fascinating about Key is not so much him, personally, but the political construction of ‘John Key’. The way that construction has been established and maintained says a lot about how politics is now done and about the political ‘sweet spots’ on the ‘body public’ in New Zealand (i.e., what symbols and messages ‘seduce’ New Zealand voters).

      But beyond the fascination – and more important to me – is to what political uses that ‘construction’ is being put to and what its presence does to our society and culture.

      Thanks again for stopping by!


  2. BruceTheMoose says:

    Yes, John Key does like to have fun – in a twisted sadistic way. And on the tax payer’s backs

    Nearly two years later and Key and Co are still having fun with this. Conveniently paid by us.

    • Puddleglum says:

      HI BruceTheMoose,

      Thanks for the reminder about that comment the PM made to red zoners: “Thanks very much, it’s been a lot of fun. If you don’t want to take the offer, that’s where it’s at“.It was ill-judged but, as it turned out, quite revealing of John Key’s sense of ‘humour’.

      That reminds me, I should look again at how things are going in the Central City – it all seems very confused and ad hoc so far as I can tell. The ‘Plan’ must now have so many scrawled corrections and changes on it that you can barely read the original wording 🙂

      Thanks again for the comment.


  3. Corokia says:

    “I suspect that it also tends to corrupt the judgment of that proportion of the population who have invested heavily (psychologically) in the popularity, the ‘Kiwiness’ and the ‘ordinariness’ of John Key.”
    Well said Puddleglum.
    There has been huge ‘investment’ in PR (propaganda really) to present Key to the electorate as “ordinary”.
    Corporate funded/ driven media have an agenda to link ‘ordinariness’ and selfish, right-wing, neo-liberal policies. With so much money behind them, I guess it’s not surprising that they have been so successful.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Corokia,

      Agree completely on the huge ‘investment’ in PR around John Key. I remember a North and South (?) article before he was even leader of the opposition. It was such a smooth piece of PR that presented him in all the characteristic terms that we are now so familiar with (relaxed, amiable, ambitious but grinningly coy about his specific plans to get where he wants to go, etc.).

      That is, the construction of the political myth around him has been quite consistently carried out right from the start – very well planned and, clearly, well-disciplined and controlled. As you say, a textbook case of ‘manufacturing consent’ around his leadership. The tension – even contradiction – between the image of Key as a relaxed and casual ordinary guy and his clear, laser-like focus on his personal goals stood out right from the first time I heard about him.

      I’m astonished at how successfully, until now, he and his ‘advisors’ have been able to hold those contradictory messages together in the public discourse about him. They’ve effectively been allowed – by the public – to have their PR cake and eat it too.

      By the way, I wouldn’t be coy about calling it ‘propaganda’. The term, as I understand it, was used quite openly (and innocently) up until WWII. There was even a position in the Catholic Church that had the title that included the word ‘propaganda’. After all, it comes from the same route as ‘propagate’ and just referred to spreading the ‘good news’ 🙂

      Thanks again for the comment.


  4. Travellerev says:


    Thank you for writing this. Now I know what happened and why he was so persistent. There is only one reason why a (malignant narcissist) guy like John Key would continue to do what he was doing after she told him to stop. It had nothing to do with horsing around or just having fun.

    She must have touched upon his toxic shame earlier when she pointed out to him that she didn’t appreciate his attention.

    Maybe she said something and his security detail or Bronagh overheard it and he felt humiliated every time he saw her after that moment, compelling him to bully her whenever he saw her. If so I hope she can find a job elsewhere were she doesn’t have to ever be in his presence again because he will not be able to walk away from this unless she does.

    Much like a stalker or a jilted lover!

  5. Pingback: “you’ll never guess to who you’re talkin’”: the PM, power, & those who serve | Evening Report

  6. mick says:

    Hubris is a word that is missing from your excellent summary of Key’s condition.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Mick,

      And it’s a word that should probably be there.

      Thank you for your comment and insight.


  7. Jasmin says:

    Great work! Thank you.

    It’s really clear that so much goes into the maintenance of illusion Key. I have to admit that I’m glad these series of harassments/assaults/bullying have come to light and I hope it will lead to more people being able to see through his illusion, although I’m also aware that collective cognitive dissonance will likely come into play.

    I am disturbed (and mortified) to think of the precedent that will be set by his actions, our women’s affairs minister’s whitewash and our own apathetic shirking, if these cases of serious misconduct are somehow smoothed/distracted over.

  8. Morag Lorigan says:

    Why do you think even in areas such as Christchurch where they have been treated so badly they still vote National?

  9. Terence says:

    Thanks Puddlegum, very insightful . . .
    Another observation about Key’s supporters – cognitive dissonance is surely very apparent.

  10. kerfuffler says:

    I had recently moved to NZ from the USA when Key was elected in 2008. I was shocked at how the same kiwis who sneered at George W Bush (and the US population who elected him) were willing to vote for their own version: a dorky rich guy with little intellectual capacity and a talent for ridiculing others. Since 2008 his assiduously PR-crafted “nice guy, friendly bloke” with whom you’d want to throw a few snags on the barbie while you’re downing a beer” has been lifted straight out of the Bush playbook. Such was W’s so-called appeal, too. Until it wasn’t.
    May Key go the same way and I only hope those in NZ who have blindly voted for this sham will have the good grace not to blame his successor for the mess he’ll leave behind.

  11. LatsNZ says:

    Hi Puddleglum,

    Really interesting take on Ponygate, I think you have summed up the situation very well. The thing which most astonishes me is the number of people who seem unable or unwilling to see through the camouflage net of PR spin surrounding Key. Case in point, one of my workmates said to me over a beer during after-work drinks a few months back that Key could “shag anyone and everyone in his office” and it wouldn’t make any difference to him, he’d still vote for him. This comment elicited in me feelings of pity towards my workmate, and disbelief in his unwavering loyalty towards someone who seems to me to be so obviously lacking any genuine empathy.

    The cult of personality surrounding Key is quite remarkable, and Travellerev hits the nail on the head when (s)he describes Key as a malignant narcissist. His repeated abuse of the poor woman in spite of her protests paints a picture of someone who is borderline psychopathic.

    It will be very interesting to see what happens with Graham McCready’s private prosecution. McCready clearly is obsessed with the behaviour of public servants, but I applaud his attempts to keep them honest, even if he does risk being seen as a vexatious litigant.

  12. Incognito says:

    Thanks Puddleglum for sharing your views and insights.

    The most intriguing part, for me, is the later part of you post in which you address power, corruption, and popularity and the (NZ) population.

    I think that John key not just symbolises but epitomises the Kiwi equivalent (or perhaps “import”) of the “American Dream”. Given the historical similarities between these two relatively young nations this may not be too surprising.

    The problem with “dreams” is that they either refer to aspiration or to illusion; how can you tell the difference?

    I don’t have the time (nor is this my blog) to get into how the American Dream is often depicted as an individualistic pursuit of ‘progress’, usually understood to be materialistic gains.

    Other fundamental features of the American Dream are that all men are equal and so-called “social mobility” of the upward kind, of course. If social mobility could not be achieved in this lifetime at least one’s children would be able to make the upward move through sound education and upbringing (read: having instilled the right social values).

    All this would be achieved through, but also guarantee independence. Ironically, education is becoming less affordable (i.e. less accessible) and is therefore in danger of becoming more elitist but also a financial straightjacket for future generations that are thus driven (conditioned, if not brainwashed) into the grasp of the financial corporate system for a life-long ‘relationship’ (paraphrasing Chomsky). A double irony is that education is supposed to foster independent and critical thinking, which is an anathema to conditioning and (fiscal) obedience.

    This pull of a better future is very powerful and persuasive. Migrants flock to NZ as if it is Paradise (Godzone); international students pay big bucks to get a NZ degree. For those who are living in NZ the future is bright, so the PR spin goes. However, you have to be blind to see it.

    I don’t think John Key derives his (personal) popularity from his pulling power but rather from the (pulling) power of this dream. I think this is a more substantive explanation for his popularity – he undeniably is popular. I also think that attacking or criticising this dream in the way that the left tends to do is doomed to backfire unless they can replace it with something equally powerful and persuasive; so far they have failed and not just in NZ.

    So far, the dream has been ignoring collectivist ideals such as empathy and altruism, which are necessary ingredients for a cohesive society of happy individuals who live a ‘rich’ and meaningful life. That is my kind of dream.

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