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June 24th 2014 print

James Allan

Kiwis Throw Curves at the PC Wowsers

Air New Zealand's latest video safety message incites our correspondent's passion to learn more of emergency exits and seatbelts. It also has him thinking that any company prepared to ruffle the dour enemies of fun, humour and human nature deserves support

air nzLast month I was in New Zealand for a week promoting my new book.  I was the guest of the New Zealand Initiative, a wonderful lobby group over there for small government and sane policy-making.  Anyway, they flew me over and around the country on Air New Zealand.

Now I lived for 11 years in New Zealand and used to fly the airline regularly.  But truth be told, since moving to Australian in 2005 I have not flown Air New Zealand in quite a while.  You know what?  They were great.  And mostly they were terrific because the airline displayed what is known as ‘a sense of humour’.  They made it fun to fly in a way you just cannot imagine Qantas doing.

Here’s what I mean:  I got on the flight here in Brisbane and, as is normal with anyone who flies more than once a year, I settled intomy seat intent on paying no attention whatsoever to the safety video.  Normally for me all the bumpf about seatbelts and emergency exits enters my brain in much the same way as having someone stand up and utter ‘blah, blah, blah’ for a few minutes would do.

But then the video monitors came on and, suddenly, the passengers were being told about how this is the 50th anniversary of the Sports Illustrated swimwear issue and that this year’s shoot was in the lovely Cook Islands.  Better yet, some of the world’s top supermodels would be delivering the safety message.

Needless to say I felt a sudden and inexplicable interest in learning how precisely to buckle and unbuckle my seatbelt, not to mention a newfound interest in where my nearest emergency exit might be.  Maybe that’s because stunningly good–looking women in bikinis have an innate understanding of the metaphysical realities of these topics.  Or perhaps you never really know how to inflate your flotation device until you’ve seen it done by a blonde bombshell.

Who really knows for sure?  More to the point, who could believe the lack of political correctness and the wonderful sense of humour exhibited by Air New Zealand in running these videos? Can you imagine any airline in Canada or the US doing this?  Well, to ask the question is to know the answer.  Okay, what about Qantas? Not a chance. Virgin?  Maybe, though I suspect probably not.

It gets better because these top models were in fact making fun of themselves.  You couldn’t get past the fact that it was immensely funny presentation of what, at core, is really boring information that has a one-in-a-million chance of being relevant to anyone.  Yet there I was, for some reason or other I can’t quite put my finger on, watching the safety video with great enthusiasm  on every leg of the many flights I took that week.

Of course, if your underlying worldview involves a thorough need to deny human nature and ensure humour is stamped out as far as possible, Air New Zealand’s approach will bother you immensely.  No doubt some will be throwing around derogatory terms in my direction about now.  Lots of words that end in ‘ism’, I reckon.  Go ahead.  I don’t care.

By the way, when I asked my Kiwi hosts about this they told me that, a while back, Air New Zealand had safety videos done by some of the All Blacks.  (So if your goal in life is to shout ‘sexism’ at every opportunity, at least Air New Zealand shovels it up both ways.)  And after that they used Bear Grylls, the man who has made a TV career out of squeezing drinking water from elephant poo.  That one is funny too.

I suppose you might take this as a plug for Air New Zealand.  Well, it is that in a way.  This lack of political correctness deserves our support.  That said, the other thing I learned is that my long-standing claim about Australia being less PC than Canada and New Zealand may be wrong as far as the second of those two countries is concerned.

I’m now thinking that maybe Australia is going the wrong way on these matters and New Zealand the right way.

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland. His new book, Democracy in Decline, is available from Connor Court Press