The Dim-Post

March 30, 2011

The power of negative thinking

Filed under: psuedopolitics — danylmc @ 9:30 am

One of the (many) things that National do better than Labour is to invent or recycle slogans and neologisms to attack their opponents. Helengrad. The Nanny State. Catchy little phrases that have an emotional impact that supersedes rational debate. Last week the term ‘New York branch of the Labour Party‘ popped up on NBR and all the right-wing blogs, more-or-less simultaneously, and so yesterday TV3’s political editor Duncan Garner faithfully regurgitated the talking point:

Judith Tizard, told the country Goff was effectively a crap leader and could never win. If that wasn’t a message to the caucus from New York – then I don’t know what is.

Actually there’s an abiding enmity between Tizard and Goff, but Garner is far more gullible to this sort of manipulation than most journalists. Anyway, this is how these terms filter out into the public sphere, and they can play a powerful role in politics and election campaigns, especially because they’re based on wit and emotion, and can’t be rationally refuted.

Labour has used this sort of technique in the past – if they didn’t coin the term ‘Ruthinasia’ they certainly hammered it repeatedly during the nineties. What do they have today? They refer to John Key as ‘smile and wave’ which is not a term setting the country afire with its esprit and deft insight. They have no term for English’s economic agenda. (I coined the term ‘the English disease’, as in ‘the economy suffers from’ as I was writing this sentence. That sort of thing.)

Sure, they also need policy, and for their criticism of the government to be substantive – but we live in an age of marketing and sound-bytes. A good slogan can be worth just as much as a credible economic platform.


  1. Fairly sure it was Cactus he came up with ” smile and wave ” subsequently regurgitated by Mallard in parliament. Certainly her blog was where I first encountered it.

    Comment by ihstewart — March 30, 2011 @ 9:46 am

  2. “She”

    Comment by ihstewart — March 30, 2011 @ 9:47 am

  3. Helengrad was pretty good, but Nanny State is simply a cheap second hand import, deserving not a lick of praise.

    Comment by taranaki — March 30, 2011 @ 9:55 am

  4. I’m not sure whether Garner is a gullible victim of manipulation or a deliberate manipulator. I think he might be the latter.

    As for catchy insults I can’t think of any. I’ve seen Standardistas use “Double Dipton” and “DonKey”, which are both pretty lame. Has John Key done something as horrible as signing a painting or sitting in the back seat of a speeding car yet? Anything we can add the suffix ~gate to?

    Comment by Questioneer — March 30, 2011 @ 10:00 am

  5. “but Nanny State is simply a cheap second hand import”

    they sure got some good miles out of it though…

    Comment by nommopilot — March 30, 2011 @ 10:02 am

  6. They refer to John Key as ‘smile and wave’ which is not a term setting the country afire with its esprit and deft insight.

    ‘Smile and wave’ is a derivation of a line from Skipper the Penguin out of the movie Madagascar: ‘Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave’

    Cutting. Key must hurt.

    Comment by will — March 30, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  7. Labour should campaign with “What, me worry?”

    Comment by Fielding Norris — March 30, 2011 @ 10:30 am

  8. I’m pretty sure Lindsay Perigo invented ‘Helengrad’, and I would give him credit for popularising ‘Nanny State’ (in this country), too. (might be wrong? I’m thinking Politically Incorrect on Radio Pacific days)
    It’s actually a bit sad to think that while most of academia is on the left, we haven’t come up with anyone capable of matching Perigo’s articulate zingers. Maybe he can become a non-partisan insult-consultant until Libertarianz storms the beehive.

    I think ‘Rogernomics’ is cleverer than ‘Ruthinasia’, but I guess the fact that it’s directed at a former Labour govt probably doesn’t help the case 😉


    Comment by kim — March 30, 2011 @ 10:32 am

  9. IHS is right, ‘smile and wave’ was an invention of the far-right to drive Key further to the right, adopted by a misguided Labour party who didn’t realise it would do them more harm than good.

    DonKey is lazy. ShonKey is mildly racist, though in their defence most folk don’t know the term was a slur against Jews. Some of the photos they use over at The Standard are pretty good — markedly better than the verbal material they come up with. “Murray? Present.” is one such; the pic of Key with the sneer and the middle finger out is also pretty sharp.

    Chopper Tolley, Crusher Collins and Basher Bennett are lexically clever, but — like ‘smile and wave’ all serve to strengthen, rather than undermine, the government’s preferred narrative about those ministers: tough, uncompromising, no bullshit. These ministers’ purpose to piss off the lefties, and inasmuch as the left are bestowing such epithets upon them they’re succeeding.

    Double Dipton and Blinglish are pretty good, but somewhat limited in scope.

    But none of these have the currency of Helengrad, or Winston First, or enduring images like Clark Vader.


    Comment by Lew — March 30, 2011 @ 10:36 am

  10. Kim, in fact, Helengrad was coined by a caller to Perigo’s show, not by Perigo himself (though Perigo is certainly responsible for publicising it — and on the basis of that publicity the term was used in Parliament more than once, whence it entered the public lexicon for good.)


    Comment by Lew — March 30, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  11. Doesn’t “the English disease” mean syphilis?

    Comment by Kate — March 30, 2011 @ 10:52 am

  12. Helengrad might have had something to do with Clark not getting a 4th term, I’m not convinced. I doubt similar childishness from Labour will stop Key from getting a 2nd term.

    Comment by NeilM — March 30, 2011 @ 10:55 am

  13. I coined the term ‘the English disease’, as in ‘the economy suffers from’ as I was writing this sentence.

    Danyl do you have tenure where you are? I can imagine them trying to have you sacked for treason like this. Seriously. The fact you’ve already been enjoined in an injunction suggests you’re a wee bit in the spotlight.

    The Nanny State.

    My understanding is this term was coined in the Spectator in the mid-1960s. It was popularised during Maggie Thatcher’s regime.

    Comment by poneke — March 30, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  14. how hard can it be? I came up with “the meanies define the end” just as I read this page…

    Comment by Jono — March 30, 2011 @ 12:00 pm

  15. This blog must send Labour spinmeisters and strategists straight to the anti-depressants bottle.

    Comment by will — March 30, 2011 @ 1:07 pm

  16. A good slogan can be worth just as much as is worth more than a credible economic platform.

    Fixed it for you.

    Comment by George D — March 30, 2011 @ 1:50 pm

  17. Damnit, give me my tags back WordPress!

    Comment by George D — March 30, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  18. Key did pretty well just stealing the old Merrill Lynch “Bullish on America” slogan and tweaking it to the now-forgotten “Ambitious for NZ”.

    If the Labour front bench had any business experience, they could do the same 😀

    Comment by gazzaj — March 30, 2011 @ 3:53 pm

  19. And who can forget the magic of “The Knowledge Wave” that was to transform the economic engine of New Zealand or perhaps it was just supposed to hide lots of long term unemployed in the student stats.

    Comment by will — March 30, 2011 @ 4:40 pm

  20. “Selling the family silver” is a phrase that still seems to flumox the Right.

    Comment by uke — March 30, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  21. uke, flumox is a word that stills seems to flummox the Left.

    But back to the thread of Danyl’s post: even calling the Right, “the Right” is a bit of a win for the Right. And “Left” just doesn’t sound right.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 30, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

  22. Lew @ 9 “ShonKey is mildly racist, though in their defence most folk don’t know the term was a slur against Jews.”
    Are you sure about that? My local google and wikipedia don’t seem to be able to find it.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 30, 2011 @ 6:21 pm

  23. and if those authoritative sources don’t have it…

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 30, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

  24. I think ShonKey is racist in the same way that gay means happy.

    Comment by Dizzy — March 30, 2011 @ 10:02 pm

  25. I’m thinking that with a little sarcastic intonation, Bill “Master Plan” English could have legs.

    Comment by Stephen Judd — March 30, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  26. I asked Google – here’s something. Can’t promise accuracy/authoritativeness

    Comment by Bea — March 30, 2011 @ 10:51 pm

  27. As for names – how’s KeyNesian Mystic? A few elements at play there.

    Comment by Bea — March 30, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

  28. Chopper Tolley, Crusher Collins and Basher Bennett are lexically clever, but…

    Contain the nasty whiff of sniggering adolescent misogyny that, strangely enough, people don’t seem to like that much. You know, like “Hullen Klark and the Liar-bore dykeocracy” — which may trip off the tongue, but leaves that shitty after taste.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — March 31, 2011 @ 6:13 am

  29. CF and Dizzy, was pulled up on this by a PolSci lecturer when writing about (among other things) the Holocaust, similar explanation to this one for the noun ‘shonk’:

    [Shortened form of SHONICKER.]
    An offensive name for a Jew. Hence {sm}shonky a.1 (see quot. 1951).
    1938 W. MATTHEWS Cockney Past & Present v. 153, I diffidently suggest the following words as the most familiar slang terms rarely used except by cockneys..shonk, nose, Jew. 1940 R. POSTGATE Verdict of Twelve I. v. 75 Let’s have a bit of fun with the shonks. 1951 PARTRIDGE Dict. Slang (ed. 4) Add. 1168/1 Shonky, adj., mean; money-grubbing: late C. 19-20. 1981 ‘W. HAGGARD’ Money Men xv. 174 ‘Brighton?.. It’s full of shonks.’.. ‘Which means there are hotels with night clerks.’

    Certainly true that ‘shonky’ carries almost none of that connotation in modern usage, especially in NZ and Australia where it seems more widely used as an adjective, and has become pretty generic. But still probably less than ideal. If nothing else it’ll give idiots a pretext to claim that the left hate John Key because he’s Jewish.

    Craig, yeah, I figured that went without saying. But you know what, I’m pretty sure the misogynist homophobic caricatures of Helen Clark went over pretty well — so well they’re still a commonplace in a certain segment of society.


    Comment by Lew — March 31, 2011 @ 7:56 am

  30. I also found Farrars list of “Things the Green Party want to ban” to be a fairly good propaganda exercise. It seemed to take off as an email FWD, reaching many who are unacustomed to the “take with a grain of salt” nature of election time sloganeering.

    Comment by Michael — March 31, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  31. I don’t think Labour really need dumb slogans, to be honest. I think they just need to slap up on a billboard what Key says and what he does and let people work out the difference themselves.

    Comment by Dizzy — March 31, 2011 @ 5:11 pm

  32. I will say that I am impressed on the smoking ban being imposed in New Zealand prisons. Apart from that, National doesn’t deliver. Rark up the prisoners by making them give up smoking, but have they set aside any additional funds to ensure they don’t all murder each other? I’m not just talking about the men here. Female prisoners, especially the staunch middle-aged Maori ones in for four years or six years, can be very vicious without a pouch of tobacco. Even the skinny maori women use their fingernails when they start going through withdrawal. Let’s all say a silent prayer for the white women in there for white collar crimes …

    Comment by Betty — March 31, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

  33. I call Poe.

    Comment by Dizzy — March 31, 2011 @ 8:06 pm

  34. The English disease is either hooliganism or rickets, depending on which century you are referring to. Syphilis is the French disease.

    Comment by Adrian — March 31, 2011 @ 8:40 pm

  35. According to Wikipedia it was known as ‘The French disease’ in Italy, but became widely known as ‘The English disease’ as it was spread by their sailors. Anyway, if I were in opposition it’s s term I’d throw at the Finance Minister to see if it stuck.

    Comment by danylmc — April 1, 2011 @ 5:49 am

  36. if I were in opposition it’s s term I’d throw at the Finance Minister to see if it stuck.

    It’s a risky call, and has the potential to backfire. You’re trying to pin a sexually-loaded nickname on someone with half a dozen kids. If I were running interference for the Nat’s, I’d try to spin it as yet more proof Labour MP’s are anti-family.

    Comment by Phil — April 1, 2011 @ 1:55 pm

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