NZ’s environmental street cred

20/11/2012 § 2 Comments

The last post considered the fetish of hand-crafted goods. Pondering this more yesterday, I wondered how this idea mapped onto environmental values. New Zealand trades on and worries about its environmental ‘brand’, and there seems to be a conflict between pretty green hills and contaminated streams.

Then I saw the news reports about Dr Mike Joy from Massey University:

Just nine days before Wellington’s world premiere of The Hobbit film, an environmentalist has launched a scathing attack on a tourism campaign depicting New Zealand as ‘100% Pure’.

Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science at Massey University Mike Joy told The New York Times that New Zealand’s image as a clean, green nation is as “fantastical as dragons and wizards.”

“There are almost two worlds in New Zealand… there is the picture-postcard world, and then there is the reality,” Joy told America’s most well-read daily newspaper.

I can see how he has set this up. On the one had, we have reality — that which is really happening and we can show and demonstrate and measure. The rivers have X amount of nitrogen and Y faecal count. The greenhouse gas inventory is up to Z. On the other hand, we have the story we tell the world, the picture-postcards we send through blockbuster films and the post.

This description doesn’t account for the power of the New Zealand environmental brand. It doesn’t account for why we believe it. To do that, we have to understand how and why the brand functions. I really do think that the fetish provides a way to understand it.

We have imbued ‘100% Pure’ with both the utopia of our one-ness — a time before the fall, before language, when we could live at peace with the world. If only we could be 100% Pure, we would be living rightly. We have also imbued it with the power of the destroyer — Shiva, or Yahweh who brought the flood. If we are forced to be 100% Pure, the our economy will be ruined.

But at the same time as we do not actually live it — and know that we do not — we also act as if it contains an essential truth about New Zealand. The rest of the world does, too. This isn’t a New Zealand fetish; it is a global fetish. The whole world wants New Zealand to be 100% Pure, or should I say ‘100% Pure’. That fetish allows the industrialised world to recognise the power of industrialisation and mass production, while at the same time providing a place (an English-speaking place in a temperate climate) where we imagine it has not already happened.

As I am trying to describe this, it starts to sound like the logic of the feminine in Lacan’s Seminar XX/Encore: not all countries are subject to industrialisation, even while we know that there does not exist a country that is not subject to industrialisation.

‘100% Pure’ is thus a fetish that resolves an economic hysteria. We ask the question, are we an industrial nation or not? The fetish allows us to answer, we are both and neither.


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§ 2 Responses to NZ’s environmental street cred

  • Andrew says:

    Fetish sits on one side of a thin line with phobia, in fact psychoanalysts can tell us about patients who come in for treatment of a phobia and walk out with a fetish. This fetish/phobia is a particular type of neurosis, one that revolves around a grouping of signifiers – in the case above this is the master signifier ‘100% Pure’. For some it is a fetish, for others (perhaps Mike Joy) a phobia (he might say ‘100% not-Pure’). Both are versions of the same neurotic hysteria, and both are perhaps reactions against the more mundane violence of Real-ity: That NZ is not 100% anything.

    In Encore Lacan talks about the feminine structure recognising the existence of the ‘not-whole’, that is recognising that things exist outside of the Symbolic, some things are not able to be symbolised. The phallic nature of global capitalism by complete contrast is all encompassing, everything is within the Symbolic, there is no space outside.

    For me the interesting part of this entire argument, between ‘100% Pure’ and ‘100% not-Pure’, is a phallic argument, one wholly retained within the masculine structure. The feminine position is more about recognising that bit that exists outside, specifically your analysis above – from the position of the analyst you are pointing to the bit that isn’t symbolised, that Real-ity that NZ is not 100% anything.

    Thus I might argue that your final line could be written as:

    ’100% Pure’ and ‘100% not-Pure’ is thus a fetish/phobia that supports an economic hysteria. We ask the question, are we an industrial nation or not? The fetish/phobia allows us to answer, we are both, more to the point we are certainly not ‘not 100% anything’.

    Just a thought from an(Other) analyst…

    • Bill says:

      Interesting that you bring in phobias — it’s not something I know or understand. Thanks for that.
      The feminine logic includes two statements:
      – Not all x are under the phallic signifier
      – There does not exist an x that is not under the phallic signifer.
      The ‘not all’ gets the most play — in Encore and elsewhere. But, the two statements have to be brought together, and that’s the difficult part (because they are, on the surface, contradictory). And that’s why the ‘not all’ to me seems to be about potential or possibility, even though in the end it is all brought back to language/the symbolic order. Or, thinking about hand-crafted goods or the environment, it is still all about industrialisation even when we try to believe that it isn’t.

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