The New Zealand Home is a new docu-series which tells the story of New Zealand housing via a parade of gloating baby boomers.
“Two men, from wildly different words, join forces to explore the New Zealand home on a road trip – in a 1960s Jag!”
So intones the voiceover which announces The New Zealand Home, a seven part documentary series about housing which is equal parts good historical survey and opportunity for Boomers to skite about their amazing homes. The latter part would be bleak at any time – but is particularly grating for coming during a moment when The New Zealand Home, for increasing numbers of families, is also The New Zealand Car.
That’s far from the only problem. It’s worth breaking down that elevator pitch.
“Two men”: as my colleague Alex Casey noted recently, the idea of anything in New Zealand being hosted by two women is essentially science fiction, even in 2016. NZ on Air platinum-funded shows on our state broadcaster could at least try and move that needle.
“From wildly different worlds”: Goran Paladin is a successful white male Auckland-based broadcaster. Ken Crosson is a successful white male Auckland-based architect. The show’s main method of showing how wildly different their worlds are is in their choice of footwear:
“– in a 1960s Jag”: you couldn’t scream ‘target demo’ louder than the choice of transport. In fact, the Jag is actually one of the younger featured guests on the show: Paladin aside, most look well north of 50, and it takes over half an hour before we meet a non-Pākeha New Zealander.
By that point we’d traversed the country wandering into spectacular homes – to beachfront marvels in Christchurch and art and crafts piles in Auckland. The latter was owned by art collector Sir James Wallace, who grinned serenely from an enormous surrealist couch.
When asked “what attracted you to this house?” he replied “It was big.”
Wallace’s house is big. The hallway is about the size of a two bedroom apartment. And it is fascinating to wander around his home and all the others, both in a pervy Paladin-likes-overstuffed-couches kind of way, and because there are genuine historical revelations contained within. Crosson is fantastic talent: a fountain of knowledge, weaving social and political context into a potted history of our own architecture and its relationship with the world.
Paladin is there to function as an archetypal ordinary kiwi joker, which feels both authentic to his character and weirdly patronising to the viewer. It basically works fine as a device in the end, drawing out of Crosson and the show’s subjects the narrative of an uptight colony developing its own character.
And to their credit the makers run a parallel line of Māori housing, helping raise the point that the path to modernity and urbanisation was not without cultural challenges. There’s also admiring talk of past governments which, when faced with rampant overcrowding and inadequate housing stock undertook ambitious building programmes. It almost implies that our current government could, if they wished, help alleviate the current crisis with a building programme of their own. But if they could they would have done so by now, so clearly it’s impossible.
So there really is plenty of good in The New Zealand Home. And the makers couldn’t have foreseen what a cesspit of despair housing would become 18 months on from commissioning. But the optics of the thing remain vicious in this climate: a show full of history born into a housing crisis, featuring those who collectively made it happen gloating obliviously from their beautiful and unobtainable homes.
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