Len Lye Lessons

Insights Newsletter
12 October, 2018

This week, a beloved piece of public art was destroyed.

On a warm spring day in Wellington (yes Aucklanders, you read that right), a young man decided to climb the expensive Len Lye sculpture on the waterfront until it snapped.

No doubt this is a terrible waste of taxpayers’ money. But the young man’s excuse for vandalising the sculpture is even more infuriating.

In interviews later, he admitted he was showing off and wanted to perform for the crowd. Worse, he tried to shift the blame, claiming there was no sign telling people not to climb the sculpture.

Even so, there are valuable lessons from this experience. And it is not that Wellington doesn’t deserve nice things.

First, the public outrage at the needless waste of taxpayers’ money needs to be capitalised. In the grand scheme of things, a broken sculpture is chump change when it comes to government waste. Every ineffective or unnecessary public spending can now by expressed in terms the public understands: funding policy x is the equivalent of breaking, say, five Len Lye sculptures.

Second, the public are not fans of regulations to protect the stupid common-sense deprived. Even the Wellington mayor described the vandalism as a “display of stupidity” rather than a reminder to strengthen health and safety regulations. We do not need bigger warning signs telling people not to do what they obviously should not, or more fences and barriers to deter people who do not think like normal human beings.

Where there is a will to act stupidly, there is normally a way.

And third, New Zealanders react badly to show-boating. In fact, rumour has it that exhibiting self-deprecation is the bonus value in NZ First’s immigration test, resulting in automatic citizenship. 
To add insult to injury, the young man was show-boating his newly acquired gymnastics skills. This is a huge mistake in a country where rugby, cricket and netball are the only recognised sports.

If one must show-boat in New Zealand, they must do it the Kiwi way. Consider Shamubeel Eaqub, who recently described himself in a radio interview as a D-grade celebrity economist. This was actually a clever way of setting himself apart from normal economists, who are notoriously arrogant.

Then again, it is entirely possible this dare-devil was doing exactly that: appearing stupid common-sense deprived in his follow-up interviews in a misguided attempt to earn the nation’s respect.

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