Like Richard Nixon, Robert Muldoon was an authoritarian & populist leader who faced the brunt of the Protest Generation switching from being hippies and stoners to pin-striped capitalists disgusted with the welfare state & the WWII Generation.
As a result of this, Muldoon (rarely referred to by his full name in the media) was to become one of the most publicly vilified political leaders in New Zealand’s media history.
Directors and journalists throughout the 1980’s, 1990’s and even early 2000’s have blamed Muldoon for New Zealand’s consistently poor economic performance (which predated his leadership, of course). Never before had so many one-bit documentaries been made with such an agenda!
The formula for any television content about Muldoon was pretty simple: write a script full of terrifying hyperbole, pseudo-Freudian ‘psychological analysis’, and talk of crises and disasters; gather his opponents would queue up to rip into him, but shroud it with a thin veil of political and economic analysis; use dramatic imagery and music; and finally, end with an apologetic tone implying that Muldoon’s entire life had been a tragedy.
Robert Muldoon: the Grim Face of Political Power was one of the most extreme examples of this formula. Replete with a comparison between Roman Emperor Nero and Muldoon, an orgy of neo-liberal/New Right figures speaking outright lies and pseudo-psychological analysis, and last but not least, pathos-inducing mood music played whenever the directors wanted to make Muldoon look tragic.
Could one ever imagine a mainstream, politically neutral documentary having phrases like: “For days, New Zealand felt like a Banana Republic..”? Even worse, that being followed immediately by one of the most influential poster boys of New Zealand’s New Right revolution - Roderick Deane? Bespectacled, suited and with an affected, academic style of speaking, it truly makes me wonder whether anti-intellectual New Zealand ever bought this propaganda.
Political Footnotes (for the pedants out there):
- For true trainspotters of New Zealand political history, watch from 3:15 and watch carefully as Lange mechnically & brutally ‘yanks’ the hand of his then-wife while trying to look Presidential. Imagine if the media had been more inquisitive at this point into his private life as they have been of other politicians…
- Former National Party President Sue Wood, who features prominently throughout the documentary and was most likely using it as an example to boost her profile and credibility amongst her party’s right-wing, failed twice at winning seats for the party in 1980 (Onehunga By-Election against Lange) & 1981 (Onehunga Seat for national election). She tried to make a come-back into electoral politics in 2002 (Mana Seat for national election) but lost to Labour’s Winnie Laban. To add insult to injury, her 19th place on National’s Party List - incredibly high for a non-sitting MP who had been in the political wilderness for a decade plus - resulted in no cigar due to her party’s electoral wipeout that election.
The 1 per cent speak I remember the extreme bias of Grim Face—New Zealand “documentary”-making at a low. And, naturally, made after Sir Robert’s death, so that his enemies could say what they wanted without fear of a sharp Muldoon comeback which the wimps knew they could never survive.