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How our people will laugh

The Southland Times
Last updated 05:00 30/09/2009

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OPINION: ''No no no no," exclaimed the Secretary of State for the tiny Pacific island of Columnia, writes Joe Bennett this week.

 ''Of course our president didn't write those lines himself. He's a president, not a comedian. The lines were supplied by the scriptwriters at TVNZ. And very funny they were, too. President Benito was so pleased with them that he's asked me, in my capacity as Columnian Minister of Literacy, to write them down so he can repeat them back home. Oh dear me, the Ten Best Things about Columnia. How our people will laugh."

When asked by the only journalist at the press conference whether it was demeaning to have the president of an independent nation speak lines written by a foreign gag-writer, the Secretary of State laughed.

"What planet are you from?" he asked, removing his straw boater and replacing it with a baseball cap. "Wearing my Minister of Propaganda hat, let me tell you that your television stations could have asked President Benito to do anything. Why, he'd be happy to dress up as a chicken if it got him five minutes of prime time. You see, we don't care if you laugh at us. What we want is exposure. Before this week, most Kiwis had never heard of Columnia. Now several of you have.'

"But what about that line 'our entire transport system runs on biofuel?"' asked the journalist. "And then flashing up a picture of water buffalo."

"Yes, the president thought that was the cleverest line of the lot."

"But there aren't any water buffalo in Columnia."

"So what's your point?" asked the Minister of Propaganda, exchanging his baseball cap for a panama decorated with bougainvillea. "As Minister of Tourism let me tell you that this diplomatic mission has been a marketing success unparalleled in the history of Columnia. Our telephone is overwhelmed with enquiries about package tours. Columnia has at last begun to learn the western art of sucking people in.'

"And the president's promise of a slave?"

"OK," said the official, "so the president won't actually be sending a personal slave to the airport to carry every tourist's bags to the hotel. We simply haven't got enough slaves. Or an airport."

"Or a hotel," said the journalist.

"We have so," said the Minister of Tourism. "We're just about to harvest the banana leaves for the roof."

"Overall, then," said the journalist, "your president's address wasn't just demeaning, it was plain dishonest."

"Exactly," said the Minister of Tourism, "and we couldn't be more proud. It means that we're learning. Why, when I walk down the street in this wonderful country of yours, or when I turn on the television in the wonderful hotel room you've given me, I am overwhelmed by the glorious dishonesty. Eat chocolate, buy a vacuum cleaner, borrow money, according to your ads all these things and a million others will make people happy. I can't tell you how impressed we are. It will take us Columnians a long time to catch up. But I'm delighted to say we are now on the way.

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"Recently, you see, thanks to the television that our president has installed in the middle of Benito City, we've discovered what life is like in superpower nations like New Zealand. And we want a bit of it. We want an advanced capitalist economy and the associated misery and crime figures. Don't you realise we haven't had a proper murder in Columnia in the whole of the 21st century? Both our policemen are getting fat. They do nothing but eat breadfruit and collect pig tax. We're backward, us. And here's our chance to go forward going forward (how am I doing on the jargon?)

"And look at our kids. Poor things, always smiling, grateful, compliant and spending all day messing about in the lagoon. What sort of a childhood is that? At present they've got no idea what they're missing out on. They just haven't learned envy. But we're going to put things right.

"As soon as you chubby Kiwis start arriving for holidays, we can give our kids menial jobs as underpaid servants. They'll soon work out that they'd prefer to be fat and gloomy westerners. Then we'll use our tourist revenues to build an airport so our children can emigrate to do menial jobs overseas and remit money home to the old people they've left behind in Columnia. Oh what an exciting future we've got mapped out for our dear little island. It almost makes me want to cry with excitement. We're going to join the big boys. And all thanks to your lovely dishonest gag-writers. It has been a great privilege. Long live progress. Long live Columnia."

The press conference was then interrupted by the appearance of President Benito of Columnia dressed as a chicken. "Great news," exclaimed the president, "I'm going to be on Campbell Live. Cluck cluck."

» Joe Bennett is an English-born travel writer and columnist who lives in New Zealand with dogs. His columns are syndicated in newspapers throughout New Zealand.

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