[Cross-posted] Fellow Voxer Bridget’s post on Sir Edmund Hillary’s passing expresses what many New Zealanders are feeling today.
Not only has a great man left us, but the idea of a living hero has died with him. Our role models are far and few between, she argues, and she is right.
I cheekily suggested that the only person who comes close to being a patriot is Peter Jackson, the ﬁlmmaker, for his resistance to relocate to Hollywood and his insistence on making his movies here.
He is deserving of the title of a role model, though because of the time-frame of his success, he might not be regarded in quite the same heights as Sir Edmund—yet.
Jackson is a paradigm-shifter in so far as he proved that New Zealand is capable of multiple Oscar winners that ﬁnd mainstream audiences globally, but he is not one who proved that New Zealanders could make ﬁlms. Earlier directors who did depart for Anglo–American shores did that.
One could say that Sir Edmund Hillary was not the ﬁrst man who proved that Kiwis could climb mountains, but it may be right for us to view his accomplishment with eyes opened more widely.
In 2000 it would have been within the realm of imagination for a ﬁlmmaker to start something domestically. Maybe our imaginations would not have said anything at the level of a trilogy of Tolkien adaptations that would wind up doing a clean sweep at the Oscars, but we would have said it was possible to start mainstream ﬁlm-making. Martin Campbell, for instance, was thinking of making Vertical Limit here.
In the 1950s, with plenty of loss of life in other attempts, Edmund Hillary and his expedition proved what was considered impossible up to that point.
The prior loss of life is what adds to the heroic image of Sir Edmund Hillary, succeeding where human endeavour could not before him.
So without Sir Edmund and if Peter Jackson does not qualify as a hero (though still someone to be hugely admired and respected), to whom do we turn today?
As Bridget points out, the tall-poppy syndrome is alive and well, and Sir Edmund might have been an exception in New Zealand as someone who could be considered a national treasure in his lifetime. Even if the syndrome is extinguished, Sir Edmund lived through years when it was rife. You literally had to do something as grand as climb Everest to get past it. And since 1953, we haven’t lauded anyone for their accomplishments to the same degree. We didn’t send a man to the moon, and we didn’t invent the internet. The slacker quiet-man mentality of the boys from Flight of the Conchords is disturbingly close to the national psyche on numerous levels.
Hillary and Tenzing Norkay’s sons might have scaled Everest in tribute to their fathers, and that is no small feat, but just like the Fantasy Island TV remake, no matter how much better you do it, people remember the original more.
I suppose, too, with the advances we have made in the last 50 years, there are fewer things we are calling ‘impossible’ unless we begin to think in greater mental leaps—maybe solving how UFOs supposedly get across light years in limited times, ending the dominance of the internal combustion engine as our way of getting around short distances on Earth or curing HIV and Aids.
Institutionalization and politicization may have seen to our inability to really drive forward humanity, even if some geniuses out there may have worked out most of these problems.
Sir Edmund Hillary reminds us that we can dream of the impossible and steadily work to achieve our goals.
He may have scaled Everest in 1953 but he ﬁrst became interested in mountain climbing before World War II, in the mid-1930s as a teenager. We are talking a 20-year dream that he steadily accomplished.
There are no quick ﬁxes. Bridget’s words: ‘In this age of google, paparazzi and cellphone cameras, sometimes it feels like there aren’t many heroes left: our sports stars peddle drugs and hook up with girls whose artiﬁcial breast size is greater than their IQ, our politicians lecture earnestly on the perils of violence then resort to ﬁsticuffs if their moral highground proves shaky, that is when they’re not defrauding immigrants or getting let off from speeding tickets. Church ministers get a television audience and suddenly it’s Harley Davidsons and overseas travel.’
All of these people she talks about are short-termers, people who are quite happy with ﬂash-in-the-pan moments in the mainstream media, praised as though they were latter-day Hillarys deserving of our attention.
In reality, no parent in their right mind would want their kids admiring any of these idiots.
The paradigm-busters are there, bubbling under. New Zealand is an inspirational place so it is hard not to come up with a dream and to accomplish it. However, whether these people have a chance to surface given government policy or institutionalization or the tall-poppy syndrome or the foreign-owned media is another matter. They might even bugger off overseas as so many have done before them.
We need to encourage them to come forward as individuals and know they will not be laughed at or ridiculed for having a dream.
God knows that vacuum exists now more than ever.
And we already know this. In fact, the National Government told us so in 1999, just before the General Election. The document, Bright Future, makes interesting reading in 2008 as we are reminded of lost opportunities. Of course, it was regarded as politicking back then and the programme was cancelled. On Google’s ﬁrst results’ page, one PDF hosted by the UN is the only remnant of the brochure, whereas in 1999 it was stored domestically as well.
In essence, Bright Future spoke of the need to foster innovation and to champion individuals. The tall-poppy syndrome, it argued, should die.
Anyone who knows me know that I would not campaign for National—at least not the National in its present form—so please don’t read this as a National Party campaign advertisement.
It needn’t have mattered if Bright Future came out of the Legalize Marijuana movement.
It begs the question, regardless of the source: who is ready to shift paradigms? Or, who is prepared to make a Hillary Shift, one that shifts paradigms from ‘impossible’ to ‘possible’? Posted by Jack Yan, 02:47
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