On Saturday morning London time, a rag-tag bunch of left-wing weirdos will descend on my flat to huddle around the glow of livestreams, making panic pikelets and schadenfreude pie, and wishing it was evening here so we could justify sinking piss with the rest of you.
This has been my third election as an overseas voter. Nothing makes me miss New Zealand like election time. From out here this vote has become sacred to me, not as a symbolic ritual of connectedness to nationhood and citizenship but – duh – as the actual, literal connection to nationhood and citizenship.
However, once you send in your vote from overseas (early of course), then what?
Where is the rest of the connection?
WAIR IZ MAI LIVESTREEM???
When the seal of crazy was broken over a month ago with the release of Dirty Politics, I was jolted by memories of the first New Zealand election when political blogs became A Thing. It was 2005, my (and Keith’s!) first year blogging on Public Address. No-one on PA had a TV show; politicians referred to blogs as ‘blogspots’, Whale Oil was just one of many fringe voices not to be taken seriously, and Russell told me to check out a technically ‘Asian’ female blogger called Cactus Kate out of – why not? – solidarity.
It was a little heartbreaking to think of how innocent and scrappy political blogs seemed then, and how corrupt and institutionalised things got after just one more election cycle. I left New Zealand in 2007, and while I was away the Scooby Gang morphed into Game of Thrones.
But let’s face it: Game of Thrones is awesome viewing. And after nine years, New Zealand finally gave us expats an election to actually pay attention to. Aotearoa is having a world news moment! For being world-class awful. Weirdly, this is less embarrassing than the norm. The spectacle of citizenship is perverse; as if to be taken seriously it needs blood sacrifice, a Joffrey, some animal mutilation, the full smorgasbord of Cray. Not only did overseas voters want to watch the ever-peaking crustacean, we finally had the technology.
Take 2008. It was a boring, depressing election for the left. On election morning in my flat in Geneva no-one could find a functioning non-geoblocked TV livestream, and we were reduced to flipping between digital radio streams of bFM (was it Wallace? Whoever it was, they were hammered) and NatRad, eating Swiss Surrender Cheese and waiting for the inevitable. Once it was over, I ignored everything for three years.
In 2011, the outcome was so predictable (earthquake; rugby), I’m amazed I remember anything about the election. Outside the country, we were vaguely aware of a last-minute journo-frenzy around some accidental tape-recording that people on the ground were taking Very Seriously. Seemingly because there was nothing else for journalists to do during that campaign. But at least we had an open livestream for the count. Small mercies. Very small. I needed a stiff drink, but was pregnant and had to settle for Blueberry Pancakes of Bitterness.
Flash forward to mid-August 2014, six weeks out from the election: My toddler demands to know what I’m looking at on my computer as I shove his breakfast paratha into his face with one hand, and scroll with the other. “Erm… Mummy’s working,” I say. I feel Dirty. Nicky Hager has made me lie to my child. I am stuck to my New Zealand twitter feed, because SCANDAL. People I know are in a book! Not in a good way! And it doesn’t stop. It does not. Ever. Stop.
For the first time in seven years I had the means and the motive to follow all the debates, all the journalists, the ever-mounting peaks of cray. It’s been like catching up with old friends. How times have changed since 2005. When did Sean Plunkett get so old? When did the Press Gallery get so young? Jesus, how long have I been gone??
We’ve gone beyond every journalist having a blog. Now it seems every blogger has a column or two, a radio slot or three, and a TV show. TV and radio are tweeting out print stories. Newspapers are tweeting out video stories and half-hour long interview panel shows, and the Herald and ZB are now some double-headed conjoined twin, but which is the evil one? There are TV debate shows based on tweeting out comments about other TV debate shows happening on the other channel.
While the UK media retains a degree of format specialism because it can afford to (also stratified neatly along the lines of the class system and the left/right divide), from the online-facing content it seems like the scrappy, survivalist New Zealand media has become a massive multi-platform clusterfuck. If Fairfax buys APN, this may not result in anyone’s… well… satisfaction. But right now, I can’t be mad. Every expat knows the embarrassment of going back with a foreign partner to New Zealand to visit, and turning on the news. Or handing them a copy of the Herald. This election, the knives came out and everyone sharpened up. New Zealand journalism became much less embarrassing, because there was something to cover.
I’ve been privileged to follow this election campaign live online with the rest of you. I cried along with other tweeters while watching people around the country talk to Native Affairs about giving up and going overseas. I leapt to my feet in my pyjamas in London and whooped out loud with the Auckland Town Hall, when Snowden’s wan face blinked up on my livestream. From my time zone, I saw who on New Zealand Twitter was getting up the earliest, and who was going to bed the latest. Sometimes this was the same person (you know who you are). I pondered idly, at 6am while a child battered my face with a wooden train, whether these guys were getting enough sleep.
This election has been the first that has made me so ashamed and proud of New Zealand at the same time; and has been the one to make me miss New Zealand the most while simultaneously, making me feel like I’m right there with you. Ah, fuck it. This time there will be Saturday morning drinking.