Monday 4 April 2022

The Sequel Is Never As Good.

Box Office Poison: The script for Labour’s sequel to Unite Against Covid-19 is turning out to be a disaster. Where are winning lines like “Go hard, go early” and “The Team of Five Million”? Compared to these, “I totally reject the premise of your argument!”, just doesn’t cut it. And how could anyone think that “traffic light system” would have the same impact as “elimination strategy”?

KEVIN GOETZ is hardly a household name, but his influence on popular culture is immense. He is the acknowledged master of movie audience research and very few big budget films make it to the screen without his input. Interviewed by RNZ’s Jim Mora on his Sunday Morning programme of 3 April 2022, Goetz’s observations about movie audiences produced a number of insights with distinctly political applications.

Take film festivals, for example, which, according to Goetz, have become almost exclusively the preserve of Baby Boomers.

Certainly, the excitement generated among young university students of the 1970s whenever the latest film festival programme appeared was palpable. Late night screenings sold out, matinees boasted full houses. And, after each screening, what then passed for cafes and coffee-houses were filled with earnest young people discussing the finer points of the latest movie by Bergman or Antonioni.

With Goetz assuring Mora that New Zealand audiences remain uncannily akin to American audiences, it’s safe to assume that the same film-festival-attending demographic profile holds true for this country. Likewise, his observations concerning millennials.

Whether it be film festivals or live television broadcasts – like the Oscars – the millennial generations no longer care enough about movies to attend or watch such events. Indeed, in the age of Netflix and its many imitators, it takes a blockbuster of jaw-dropping awesomeness to get millennial bums on cinemas seats.

Translating all this to politics is, of course, quite unscientific and speculative – but interesting nonetheless. Demographics (and their more sophisticated cousin, psychographics) have played a key role in political campaigning for decades. The reason for this is simple: demographic divisions are real.

Consider the latest findings from Research New Zealand. According to Managing Partner Emanuel Kalafatelis, 36 percent of New Zealanders aged 18+ were “happy” that vaccine mandates have, for the most part, been lifted. Those “unhappy” about their removal represent 27 percent. Break down the results demographically, however, and big gaps open up. Among those aged 18-34, only 20 percent are unhappy. But, among those aged 55+ the number declaring themselves unhappy with the move away from vaccine mandates rises to 36 percent.

One’s location on the generational time-line really does matter.

So, looking at the general election of 2020, what might Goetz have to say about the outcome? One of the first things the author of “Audience-ology” might note is the solid uptick in voter turnout. In 2017, itself a pretty interesting contest, the turnout was 79.8 percent. Three years later, however, that figure had climbed 2.7 percentage points to 82.5 percent – the highest turnout in 21 years.

Is there any serious doubt that the 2020 election result was the enthusiastic audience response to an electoral blockbuster called Unite Against Covid-19? There’s no disputing that, for the previous eight months, New Zealanders had been living through a sequence of historical events unparalleled since World War II. What’s more, they had won.

Compared to other countries, New Zealand had emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic practically unscathed. It had been a powerful drama, the star of which, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, had delivered an Oscar-winning performance. On the evening of 17 October 2020, Ardern’s outstanding talent was recognised when the “Academy” returned her Labour Party to office with an absolute majority.

But, as any Hollywood director knows, the only thing more difficult than creating one cinematic blockbuster, is coming up with two blockbusters back-to-back. And as all cinema-goers know, the sequel to a hit movie is (with the obvious exception of Godfather II) is never as good as the original.

Unite Against Covid-19 was a hit across all the demographics: young and old; rich and poor; left and right; black and white. Audiences loved it. Reading the results, Goetz would have understood immediately that he was in the presence of a political phenomenon. His next thought, however, would almost certainly have been: “How do Labour’s producers top that?”

The brutal answer would seem to be: they don’t. True to form, the sequel to Unite Against Covid-19 is turning out to be a flop. Researching audience reaction, Goetz would be hard put to present the film’s producers with a formula for matching their original box-office success.

For a start, the script is a disaster. Where are winning lines like “Go hard, go early” and “The Team of Five Million”? Compared to these, “I totally reject the premise of your argument!”, just doesn’t cut it.

And the plot: who the hell came up with such an obvious train wreck!

How could anyone think that “traffic light system” would have the same impact as “elimination strategy”? The same person, presumably, who decided to make the movie about the Coronavirus’s comeback? Did nobody think to tell him that there’s absolutely no feel-good factor in hundreds of thousands of Omicron infections and a steadily rising Covid death toll?

Then there’s the lead character, herself, who has undergone a truly baffling transformation. No longer the resolute protectress of her team of five million, the sequel has Ardern giving in repeatedly to business lobbyists and bullying journalists. Not content with stripping the PM of her heroic virus-beating skills, the script has her failing at just about everything else she attempts. Fighting poverty, beating homelessness, grappling with climate change: she makes a complete hash of the lot.

Honestly, the sequel’s plot points to an entire shift of genre: from multiplex blockbuster, to dreary arthouse critique of neoliberal capitalism. In short, pure box-office poison.

Can it be rescued? Is there still time for a complete re-write? And, if so, into what?

Goetz would begin with the demographics. He’d point out that the audience for dreary arthouse movies is infinitesimal. The millennials – who Labour must draw out in unprecedented numbers to have the slightest hope of holding onto power – just don’t care about the bleak realities of neoliberal capitalism. They need something big and bold and existentially threatening to attract and hold their attention.


Like climate change and the right-wing political parties’ determined efforts to thwart all Jacinda’s attempts to fight it.


Or, making the next election a tooth-and-nail battle against those who would cast New Zealand into a devastating race war. Paint National and Act in the colours of Trump-like right-wing populism. Portray their leaders as crazies prepared to see the whole country set ablaze – just so long as they can watch it burn from the Ninth Floor of the Beehive. At the last possible moment, have the Prime Minister re-capture the indomitable spirit of Unite Against Covid-19 by pitching the best that is in New Zealand against the worst.

Helluva re-write! But Goetz, knowing how closely the psychographics of New Zealand audiences match those of the United States, would almost certainly advise Labour’s producers not to throw good money after bad.

From the perspective of the man who “gets inside the heads of movie watchers like nobody else”, back-to-back Labour blockbusters would just be too much to expect.

This essay was originally posted on the website of Monday, 4 April 2022.


Anonymous said...

The biggest jump in voter turnout based on age range between the 2017 and 2022 elections were 18-24 69% to 78% and 25 to 29 67% to 73%. Most of the other age ranges were pretty much the same between the two elections with a gap of about +/- 1%, (although 30-34 was 4%). In my view a big reason for this was nothing to do with Labour or their management of Covid. It was the fact the election had a referendum on making marijuana legal. This was what the high young voter turnout was driven by. If Labour wants to get millenials back to the polling booth they would need an issue that is likely to generate that much interest. They are not going to turn up based on climate change or claims the right is trying to start a race war.

greywarbler said...

Themes that come to mind. Brave smart, little woman, in family with baby, battling against a dirty world of pornography and texted penises and warped sexuality and hopeful but unknowing young peoplelooking for nirvana despite it all - she will show the way to an enjoyable, funky, meaningful existence.

The young people love NZ outdoors, the freshness, the openness, the music in the open air, the ability to join a tiny house movement, and use them eather like time shares so they van move round the country playing gigs, living near where the seasonal jobs are, sharing a lifestyle with like-minded young people who become friends - fitting in with that slogan - 'Strangers are just friends I haven't met yet,” said Will Rogers. Offer as a youngish person some hope and a group hug for the future and bloody do it not just promise. They will then pull together and work on climate change projects, get in behind with their combination of expertise on computers, music, and physical work, building ability in planning sessions for means to cope with bad climactic trends - a secular and self-respecting version of Glorioushomes.

Catch or create a zeitgeist that will draw positive or rather lost people like moths to a flame. The protesters in Wellington were looking for something like that, tap it, respect it, they have a feel that something big is needed for the young people to gather together and do for the future. Jacinda the enabler, would have to gather like-minded people in Labour of younger thinking, and roll the old boys down a nicely sloping ramp at the Beehive rather than just push them off the upper storeys.

David George said...

"Paint National and Act in the colours of Trump-like right-wing populism. Portray their leaders as crazies prepared to see the whole country set ablaze"

That is already happening to some extent, a seriously bad plan but it never pays to underestimate the stupidity of ideologues and the blind obsession of those on a quest for power. These will be testing times but, I trust my fellow Kiwis and believe that those with the courage to make their case honestly and without rancour will win the day; the racial separatists, the neo tribalists and their deluded supporters delivered a conclusive defeat.

Anonymous said...

The most unforgiveable aspect of all the covid control is the lack of advice about how to treat it when you are sick. What we have good information about is for several country-specific research trials that doctors have done with regard to treatment of covid illness. These doctors have found treatment regimes that involve anti-inflammatory and steroid drugs to be administered in a certain way. All research and findings have been either discredited or cancelled. Even Ivermectin and other drug trials have been ignored and/or discredited.
Then why are we are not surprised when voila! there are NEW and EXPENSIVE anti-viral drugs appearing before our very eyes, created by the obscenely profitable vaccine distributors. Safety profiles not that good either. Any thinking person becomes very very cynical about what our Young Global Leaders are up to.

The Barron said...

Late January this year when the Government was weighing the response to Omicron, a group of 'prominent paediatricians, doctors and public health physicians' wrote an open paper led by the University of Auckland's Dr Jin Russell. This paper suggested that closing schools, even for a few weeks, would have more of an adverse effect on children than if they were to catch Omicron. This mainly seemed to be an opinion piece regarding the mental health of children, that did not seem to have a great deal of critical analysis. Concerning 'Long Covid', they told the Government that -

'Emerging evidence suggests long COVID symptoms are consistently less common among children than adults, but it is uncertain what proportion of children experience long COVID symptoms following an infection. The majority of studies find that persisting symptoms in children resolve by 8 to 12 weeks. Further research is required as the small evidence base on long-COVID symptoms in children is limited by a large number of studies containing significant methodological flaws.'

Most now, and most then, accepted the relationship between Long Covid and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (CFS / ME). If Dr Russell, or any of this group, had any knowledge of CFS / ME they would be able to draw the conclusion that Long Covid (as CFS / ME) will be difficult to prognose in pediatrics, but that the numbers go up with each age group. That CFS / ME is without treatment or cure, and 95% will have life long problems. In Britain and Australia, it is responsible for the most hours absence from schooling, two-thirds will be female (as per Long Covid) and 25% home or bed bound, too disabled for work or study. In regard to mental health, they should have noted that -

'Among both moderately and severely ill ME/CFS patients, 39–57.25% have contemplated suicide, compared to 4% of the general US population.'

Most agree that this is one of the highest risk factors for suicide. Yet we rightly concentrate on Maori, Pasfika, and Youth suicide and mental health without factoring CFS / ME in. The correlation in NZ has simply been ignored.

So, the Government follows the advice and schools do not close. Omicron spread rapidly through school and pre-schools and into multi-generational Maori and Pasifika families. The level of Long Covid can be guessed at between 20% - 30%. As Michael Baker suggested (and I have for sometime the biggest global peace time disabling event.

To have closed the schools for even two weeks while getting the school age vaccination up could have saved thousands from being disabled. The 18-12 year olds had little chance by the beginning of the school year to get the second dose, and the 12-5 year olds had little time to get momentum, and the Government was allowing groups like the authors of the paper to go unchallenged as to the possible long-term effects for children.

I use this as an example of the type of advice the Government is now receiving. It is no longer taking caution on behalf of the vulnerable, but looking for any advice that can give justification populist measures.

I am a little sick and tired of TV or Radio doing a vox-pop of people saying their 'over it' when it comes to Covid19. This is lazy broadcasting and does not factor in those with Long Covid, who may never be 'over it'.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Paint them as Trump like crazies? Have you seen/heard any of MTG and the Boebert woman? Much though I dislike conservatives – not necessarily on a personal level – I don't think we've got any politicians quite as crazy as these. Perhaps one of two of the greens – I do remember possum peppering. And of course the nutty libertarian right. But no one with the sheer crazy vitriol of those two. And I'm pretty sure that Cancun Ted Cruz would never be re-elected in this country – but I think he's going to be re-elected in Texas. Some people will do pretty much anything to own the libs. (Up to and including refusing to be vaccinated and dying of it – but that's another story.)

The Barron said...

Just to add to the doom forecasts, Papua New Guinea has only 2.9% fully vaccinated. It is a diverse population, but densely populated along the main road system. This becomes a high risk for Covid19 variation development. If this occurs, there is no doubt that Australia will be affected within a very short period of time. New Zealand has taken down all defenses from Australia. There is no way NZ could keep out such an outbreak.

While Government policy should not be reliant on 'what ifs', we are still within a global pandemic and risk mitigation should be a priority. To be vulnerable to events that we may not be able to rapidly respond to may be negligent.

Odysseus said...

The only party promoting racial division and potential conflict as a result is Labour under Ardern. Your matinee idol has turned into a malevolent Lily Munster.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"This is lazy broadcasting and does not factor in those with Long Covid, who may never be 'over it'."
There's not a lot of non-lazy broadcasting these days to be honest. And I must confess I feel a little betrayed as the government has caved, and abandoned the vulnerable people – which includes me to some extent simply as a matter of age, but my wife even more so because of her medical condition. Yet another reason to vote for the Maori Party. :)

"The only party promoting racial division and potential conflict as a result is Labour under Ardern."
A somewhat boring old refrain – whenever Maori get something that might be considered some little compensation for having all their land taken away from them it's "divisive". Whereas ignoring them completely isn't of course.