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Terrible tedium channelling the Chris clash

Reportedly, 1.14 million viewers tuned into Tuesday night’s leaders ‘debate’ on TVNZ 1.

That’s an aggregate figure, mind you, of all those who checked into the first head-to-head between Labour’s Chris Hipkins and National’s Christopher Luxon at some point during the 90-minute programme.

Based on the fact that the average viewership at any point during the showdown [emphasis on “show”] was around 750,000, a fair few of the total obviously didn’t stick around for the duration.

It’s hard to fault those who did decide to change the channel, and easy to imagine that many of those who didn’t were simply too enervated by the event to click their remote and so just zoned out instead.

Because let’s face it, those who did stay the course and watch the whole thing are unlikely to have learned anything new – well, other than which Chris they feel performed best in getting out their highly rehearsed, pre-canned lines during an oddly formatted television programme staged within a highly artificial studio environment.

Not that this determination will have in any way represented an objective reflection of reality [instead merely confirming pre-existing if unacknowledged preferences], and nor is what actually unfolded likely to have changed many, if any, minds about whether they’ll cast their vote for Team Red or Team Blue come October 14.

Instead, the vast majority of viewers will have been watching in the hope of “their guy” giving the other bloke a [mostly metaphorical] thumping and, if they didn’t, taking the opportunity for some post-match pontificating about what they need to do next time – much like many All Blacks fans.

Such election set-pieces appear at this point to have devolved into an empty performative ritual aimed at convincing all those involved – politicians, media, and voters alike – that they’re somehow ‘doing democracy’, instead of taking part in a tedious taxpayer-funded marketing campaign that had already been ‘focus grouped’ beyond an inch of its life well before the carefully primped participants were parked in front of the cameras.

No doubt by this point there’ll be readers protesting that this is an overly cynical view of this part of the election process, and perhaps it is. Then again, the fact that the opening salvo of the ‘debate’ [if a format in which the ‘moderator’ spoke for a quarter of the time can be described in such a way] involved the two leaders of the main parliamentary parties describe their “vision for New Zealand” in 30 seconds is hardly likely to inspire much in the way of bright-eyed idealism, is it?

It’s also well established that what most audiences take from such an event is not what is said, but how it’s said, so style over substance is baked into the format; it’s not a bug but a feature of the format.

Anyone who has seriously yet to make a choice about who to vote for – and takes that choice seriously – is best advised to skip the remainder of the debates and instead dive into the detail of parties’ policies. It may not save you that much time, but it will spare you a great deal of aggravation.

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