Crass materialism leapt brazenly out of the closet in New Zealand the 80s. Money-making was elevated to high social status beyond public service. An American import, the dominance of the mighty dollar had already taken root in other countries. Business finally reached the pinnacle of prestige. Business books proliferated: business management, business leadership, how to succeed in business and, of course, business-speak.The flood of words about how to make more money came like a Billy Graham crusade. But unlike the call to Godliness, which failed, the call to Mammon was and continues to be a roaring success. It changed beliefs and attitudes, or perhaps permitted latent beliefs and attitudes that had previously been publicly frowned on.
Crucially, it changed the meaning of words. Hospitality for, instance, once understood as welcoming a guest and seeing to their needs, became inseparable from the word ‘industry.’ Hospitality had become a commercial service.
When cruise ships visit Dunedin the Otago Daily Times couples the impending visit with a rubbing-of-hands comment on the visitor’s financial worth to the city. There is nothing wrong with business people anticipating the pleasure of making a few extra dollars from a shipful of spenders, and nothing wrong with actually making a few extra dollars. But for a respected newspaper to assume this is all that visitors have to offer and for its readers to take this as normal, suggests the exchange of hospitality for relentless materialism has become the norm.
As with crowds of tourist spenders, so with famous individuals. Obama is a prime example. There is much that could be said of ex-president Obama. Though largely ineffectively, he tried to create a more caring America and is still probably that country’s finest statesmen.
By general consent he is a decent man, a model husband and father, an intelligent, sensitive man with an endearing sense of humour. But the commentary on our national television was simply about how much the region would gain financially from Obama’s visit.
It will surprise no one that our national broadcaster reflects popular culture by supporting crass commercialism. Fortunately, however, the telly is not all that popular with our youngest generation and from my observation of high school students I believe I see the emergence of a more enlightened view of the world.