'100% pure New Zealand'

De­signer David Trubridge ex­plores New Zealand’s com­pli­cated l ove/ hate re­la­tion­ship with how we pro­mote our­selves to the world.

Idealog - - FRONT PAGE -

David Trubridge on how

we should pro­mote our­selves to the world Longer

What makes Ger­man dif­fer­ent from French? What sets Gertrude apart from Fran­cois? Why are Ger­mans renowned more for metic­u­lous en­gi­neer­ing and the French more for high fash­ion? How is na­tional iden­tity formed? Is it some­thing that ac­tu­ally mat­ters?

It is gen­er­ally ac­cepted to­day that we are equally a prod­uct of our na­ture and our nur­ture, of our genes and our cul­ture. So, the dif­fer­ent genes of the Goths and the Gauls start Gertrude and Fran­cois off on their vary­ing tracks. But then their en­vi­ron­ment has an equal ef­fect on them as they grow up. Their so­ci­ety will have been partly formed by those dif­fer­ent genes, but it will also be af­fected by things such as the cli­mate, the land­scape and po­lit­i­cal his­tory. The Ger­man land­scape used to be dom­i­nated by dark forests, reach­ing only as far south as the north­ern Alps. France was lighter de­cid­u­ous for­est, merg­ing into the drier, sunny Mediter­ranean cli­mate in the south, where their lan­guage also came from.

But the cru­cial point is that these dif­fer­ences are only ob­served from out­side. Within a cul­ture ev­ery­thing is seen as the norm. "I don’t have an ac­cent, ev­ery­one else does." "This is the way things are here, they do it dif­fer­ently over there." You only ap­pre­ci­ate the nu­ances when you go there: the smells, the air, the food, the shops, the sound of voices. So we can’t pin­point our own cul­ture, some­one else has to, some­one with a suf­fi­ciently ob­jec­tive view. In our need to com­pre­hend and grasp the enor­mous com­plex­i­ties of the world around us, we nat­u­rally sim­plify. We like to put things into neat lit­tle boxes, so the breezy French­man wears a beret, speaks nasally and drinks wine, while the dour Ger­man speaks gut­turally and drinks beer. We know that these are gross stereo­types, but they act as su­per­fi­cial sig­ni­fiers to cre­ate or­der in our minds.

But then the ad­ver­tis­ing me­dia ex­ploit the stereo­types fur­ther to sell tourism or re­gional prod­ucts. The prob­lem is that they have to do this be­cause this is what we ex­pect: if they sold a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story we would not be­lieve it be­cause it would not fit our ex­pec­ta­tions and our prej­u­dices, so, the dumb­ing down in­ten­si­fies.

A key as­pect of ad­ver­tis­ing is brand­ing and this is some­thing with which I have se­ri­ous is­sues. I see brand­ing as a clev­erly con­structed fa­cade that shows you only what it wants you to see, while hid­ing all the rest. It is like the street frontage of a Wild West town that bears no re­sem­blance to the shoddy shacks hid­den be­hind (and the Wild West anal­ogy seems un­com­fort­ably ap­pro­pri­ate to me). At best, it pro­motes only the most at­trac­tive as­pects of what it is sell­ing, but at its worst it is per­fectly ca­pa­ble of in­vent­ing them. Our most shame­ful lie was "100% Pure New Zealand". It worked be­cause ev­ery­one – here but par­tic­u­larly over­seas – wanted to be­lieve it. And so we all be­come will­ingly com­plicit in the de­cep­tion.

And now the "hid­den per­suaders" are let loose on the brand­ing of coun­tries. It re­ally scares me that the over­seas im­age of who I am can be con­trolled by a mar­ket­ing agency. I ac­cept that to­day's 'cre­atives' are far more so­phis­ti­cated and sub­tle than those of the last cen­tury who would have sold the Gaulois­esmok­ing onion seller from France. But that also makes them more dan­ger­ous. When does mar­ket­ing be­come pro­pa­ganda and whom can we trust to de­cide? This is not some­thing that should have any­thing to do with the 'mar­ket', where all is jus­ti­fied in the abil­ity to make a profit (for a few).

So what does it have to do with? In a word: cul­ture. On the small scale, I be­lieve in a com­mu­ni­ca­tions strat­egy that al­lows the in­nate in­tegrity of a com­pany to shine through with com­plete hon­esty, which means openly show­ing ev­ery­thing. On the na­tional scale, it means an un­self­con­scious ex­pres­sion of who we are, warts, beauty spots and all. 'Ex­pres­sion' is one key word be­cause it is artists who do this, not ma­nip­u­la­tors from the com­mer­cial world. And the other key word is 'un­self­con­scious' be­cause as soon as it be­comes self­con­scious it be­comes con­trived, a know­ingly forced ruse to achieve a goal. I like to com­pare the process of artis­tic ex­pres­sion in this con­text with that of mak­ing wine. A Sauvi­gnon grape grown in France will pro­duce a Bordeaux wine with a dis­tinct and iden­ti­fi­able flavour. The same vine grown here pro­duces a quite dif­fer­ent wine. This is be­cause our ter­roir – our cli­mate, soil, sun­shine – change the way the grape ma­tures, and be­cause our vint­ners make dif­fer­ent choices cul­tur­ally. If all those fac­tors are al­lowed to have an in­flu­ence, the wine will, by de­fault, be dif­fer­ent. So too the work of the artist who im­bibes all that is around him or her: the land­scape, the cli­mate, the his­tory, the cul­tural mix, etc. Their work will also, by de­fault, ex­ude the cul­tural aroma of their land. But they will not be aware of this, they will not see their own dif­fer­ences from within their cul­ture; what they are do­ing is sim­ply nat­u­ral and un­self­con­scious. That is how our iden­tity is ex­pressed. It takes some­one from out­side to hear the ac­cent.

So I strongly be­lieve that this cul­tural iden­tity is not some­thing that we should worry about, or even think about. As soon as we do, it be­comes self con­scious and con­trived. What artists and cre­ative people do need to do is stop look­ing north, stop try­ing to fol­low trends and think that we need to fit in with them, that we are only fol­low­ers (Key's worst put-down). We must sim­ply speak our own lan­guage, with our own ac­cent; tell our own sto­ries – our own mix of Poly­ne­sian, Euro­pean, Asian; be proud of who we are in ev­ery as­pect, but not pushy or ar­ro­gant with it; let our amaz­ing and unique land and people live through our words, images and sounds; then stand back and let oth­ers ar­tic­u­late what makes a Kiwi, which they will now do with re­spect. In that way we will be to­tally unique and orig­i­nal and not need the man­u­fac­tured spin of brand­ing.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.