tatjna (tatjna) wrote,

In which cruelty becomes amusement

It seems that commercial radio in New Zealand just plunged to new depths. For those that can't be bothered clicking, Kiwi men who listen to this station are being offered the opportunity to compete for a 12-day trip to the Ukraine, the purpose of which is to choose a Ukrainian bride from an agency called 'Endless Love'. Apparently the radio station's responsibility ends there, so even if the winner does find endless love, he has to pay to bring his bride home.

"If you're interested in holy matrimony with a potentially hot foreign chick.." it says.


I'm sure I don't have to spell out what's wrong with this idea. In fact, I'm kind of lost for words. But what really bothers me is that this radio station has the highest number of male listeners in the country. It plays a fairly generic selection of mainstream rock music, the kind of music that's good to listen to while doing physical work. A lot of people like this sort of music (hell, I do in that context). But along with the music, people are getting fed a shock jock type of presentation that feeds into the really icky underbelly of New Zealand culture. Seriously, Paul Henry would not look out of place working for these guys. They think they are being edgy, and it disturbs me that so many people find their kind of thing funny.

Well, one of the more popular shows is called Wind Up Your Wife Wednesday. Now to be fair, it's not just women who are victims of this show, but the title makes it fairly obvious how the idea started.

So the radio guy, in cahoots with a listener, calls up someone of the listener's choice, and basically winds them up. Examples of pranks that've been played include:
    A 22 year old man being told he's fathered a child he didn't know about.
    A mother being told her 18-month old had been swapped with another at birth and she had to give it back. This one had racial overtones since the fictional other family was Polynesian.
    Telling a recent immigrant that she had been discovered to have a disease and that she would be deported.
    Telling a celebrity that the woman he was seeing was married, and producing a fake husband to talk to him.
    Telling a woman that her engagement ring was stolen and she'd have to give it back.
    A man being told that the child he was sponsoring had starved to death due to him stopping payments.

You get the idea.

So these people get told lies that are designed to make them upset and angry, and then when they get angry/upset it's broadcast publicly. Then when they get told they've been lied to, they are supposed to be so relieved that they forgive everyone involved, everyone has a good laugh and it's all entertaining, right?

The problem with this is that, well, it's cruel and manipulative. It victimises people and forces them to accept the victimisation because it was 'all just a joke', and because they are in public, not going along with the joke is othering themselves among the group to which they are exposed.

I don't know how often these sorts of tactics are used in the kind of mindgames that cause people to be powerless and marginalised, but I can say from personal experience that one of the most damaging things that has happened to me in my life was being in a relationship with someone who did this. He would niggle at me, put me down, deliberately annoy me - wind me up - and then when I finally got angry he'd be all "What? It was just a joke! Don't take it so personally! You've got no sense of humour! What's wrong with you?" So in order to not be considered defective in some way I had to go along with the joke and allow him to treat me in ways that I knew were wrong. The result of that was cognitive dissonance - I knew he was hurting me but to admit that it hurt proved I was flawed, therefore I came to not trust my own judgement, thus opening me up for further and more serious abuse. Awesome.

And this radio station is doing this to people in the name of entertainment. And people are lapping it up, they think it's funny.

So underneath our facade of social democracy, our pretense of inclusion, our 'mates stick together' ethic, we're actually a nation of people who find it amusing to be mean to other people and to mess with their heads, and this radio station has picked up on that and is exploiting it, creating a vicious cycle where people are encouraged to be like that even more.

Weirdly, most people who listen to that station, if you ask them, say they listen for the music. So they could ostensibly get just as large a listenership through scrapping the nasty stuff and just playing good music. Some of the most popular radio stations (for example Pirate and Hauraki back in the day) have become popular through playing more, and more varied, music - along with less 'other crap'.

I've heard people say that that kind of show is 'groundbreaking'. I don't think it's breaking new ground - being a bully isn't a new activity. Breaking new ground would be being genuinely funny and not resorting to below-the-belt mindgames in the name of entertainment. Maybe this station should try it.

Oh, and just so this isn't all SRS BSNS, have a link: sci-fi and fantasy book covers with commentary suggesting what the art directors might have been thinking. ;-)
Tags: *headdesk*, nz you embarrass me sometimes
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