Welcome to Part 2 of “We watched On P so you don’t have to”, in which Patrick Gower shows us how easy it is to be racist in Aotearoa New Zealand. If you were hoping for an improvement, we’re sorry, it’s just another litany of propaganda pretending to be the truth.
White people are great. Other people, not so much.
It wouldn’t be conservative media without a large dose of systemic racism, and On P doesn’t disappoint on that front.
White people don’t do crime, they just make mistakes, ok?
Gower interviews a lovely middle aged white woman who used to cook methamphetamine. She started cooking to feed her own habit as it was getting too expensive to buy from dealers. She was…er…noticed…by the local gang and was forced to cook for them.
She’s interviewed in a brightly lit, sunny RV in a car park by a park. The colours are so vibrant it’s almost saturated. She honestly looks like she’s on a beach holiday with her husband and has stopped for a chat with her mate Paddy. Contrast this with the dingy, dark environments where he interviews everyone else. You’d almost think it was deliberate..
She invites Gower in for a cuppa and they make jokes about the show Breaking Bad. She even says, with no small amount of pride, that she was ‘a bloody good’ meth cook. I guess it’s ok to be proud of making methamphetamine if you’re a nice white lady that’s not doing it any more?
Only brown people have negative impacts from meth
The one white person that is still taking methamphetamine at the time of filming has a ‘$400 to $600 per week’ habit, and brags about being able to take meth without having it negatively affect his life. We have a LOT of questions about this. Mainly around what the hell he’s doing for a living where he can spend more than what a lot of people pay in rent per week on methamphetamine.
The non-white people that are still taking methamphetamine are either criminals, or their lives are so unbelievably messed up they’re in crisis mode. The distributor Gower interviews describes his addiction as a ‘taniwha’ that lives within him. The brown people that have stopped taking methamphetamine are still recovering from what it’s done to their lives. Because heaven forbid we show anyone who’s both brown and successful.
The most disappointing thing here is that this was a prime chance for Gower to do some real journalism and look into the structural issues and systemic racism behind *why* white people with meth problems have an easier time than brown people with meth problems. That would have been some challenging and meaty television. Instead, he doesn’t even acknowledge it, just presents white people as salvageable and brown people as not, and we all wring our hands and go “Oh noes how terrible” and carry on with our lives, and nothing changes. Shame.
Only white people get to be smart
Gower’s first interviewee is a prisoner that got caught importing methamphetamine. He’s eloquent, well-presented, and quick-witted. He also got caught by police trying to outsmart Customs and hung out to dry by the cartel that he was importing for.
The interviewee seems to be a genuinely good person that just made some mistakes. Trying to be smart has clearly bitten him in the arse because he’s in prison. Gower takes a paternalistic, lecturing tone with him – even goes as far as to say that he doesn’t know if he should feel sorry for him or not. We note he doesn’t do that with the white guy who’s still using P to the tune of $400-$600 a week…
Both of the scientific experts interviewed by Gower are white. Props that they’re women, but they’re still white, so On P still doesn’t get its representation trophy.
The neuroscientist explains what happens to your brain when you take methamphetamine in a university lecture theatre, in case the viewer was in any doubt as to her credibility. There’s never any doubt that this white person definitely knows more than most people. We note that Gower doesn’t try to lecture her either.
It could be true that non-white neuroscientists were asked and they couldn’t commit to the documentary. There are over a thousand non-white people in the Aotearoa New Zealand neuroscience sphere that are academics, researchers, or practising clinicians. It could also be true that Gower knows his audience and what will get ratings.
We must respect white people’s authority
All except one of the cops, all of the neighbourhood watch, and the entire border guard are all white. The only brown person shown in a position of authority is Jessie’s uncle, who is a police officer. But even then, he’s shown as Jessie’s compassionate and loving family-member who’s scared for his niece, rather than in his role as a police officer – despite the fact that he’s in uniform.
The white police, the neighbourhood watch, and the border security guards are all filmed doing their jobs, with Gower as a cringey enthusiastic ride-along. It’s almost as if the doco wants to make sure everyone sees the white people working on this problem, and the brown people being the problem.
You can break police officers in On P down into two sub-genres:
Your parent or favourite uncle/aunty, but in a uniform
This cop genuinely cares about the people in their community. They’ll have a laugh with you, and you can definitely trust them to be firm, but fair with you if you’re honest with them. They won’t bust you over nothing. They also won’t get angry, they’ll just be very, VERY disappointed in you, which is WAY worse than them being angry.
The tough guy
He’s hard on crime, and harder on criminals. He keeps a mental tally of how many people he’s busted and for what crimes. He’s the sort of cop that does a little Oooh Yeah dance every time he arrests someone. Or he would, if the stick up his arse didn’t have a stick up its arse. But he’s out on the mean streets keeping everyone safe, and everyone should be very thankful that he’s there.
This doco portrays the police as universally good, battling for the wellbeing of our nation, either through being a friendly supportive community constable helping people daily, or through tough on crime enforcement that keeps the Bad Meth Dealers [™] out of our communities (except, you know, it doesn’t)
The thing that’s confusing about the portrayal of the police in this is that the interviewees that have gone to the police for help tell stories that directly oppose the Good Cop image.
For example, the nice mum-type former meth cook straight-out says that she went to the police for help and they didn’t care about her in the least. She was pressured into making meth for organised criminals, so she went to the cops. The police were only interested in arresting her and the people that were forcing her to cook for them.
No help for someone in a frightening situation with a problematic relationship with substances, just prison. Other interviewees have similar stories, and we’re meant to swallow the copaganda?
Basically, On P is some excessive bullshit
According to the Herald, On P was watched by 486,442 people, and just over half of those were aged between 25-54. Just under half a million people are turning to documentaries like this for information and being fed transparently racist, victim-blaming propaganda. On P is basically yellow journalism. Worst of all is that it’s not even original. It’s more of the same tired moralistic bullshit that we got about heroin and cocaine in the 80s, weed in the 50s, and booze in the 20s. It’s an hour and a bit from the Scare Tactics Playbook.
The sad thing is that this type of stigmatised portrayal of methamphetamine is making it harder for people that need help to come forward and get it.
When someone says that they’ve taken methamphetamine, they’re crushed under the weight of these grotesque stereotypes. If they’re brown, they’re automatically “an addict” with no future except crime. If they’re white, they’re an addict that might be able to turn their life around, but will probably wind up doing crime anyway. Only bad people take meth, so they’re bad people because they take meth, so why should good people choose to help them?
On P doesn’t serve as any kind of informative watching. It only feeds into stereotypes that should have died at the beginning of last century.
While KnowYourStuffNZ accepts that you’re all adults and will do as you see fit, we’ve run this through our bullshit-seeking spectrometer and can confirm the presence of utter bullshit. We advise you don’t watch it. Don’t reward shitty journalism with clicks.
On P isn’t the only piece of propaganda that the media will try and slip past you, so we’ve put together a couple of things that you can keep in mind to help keep your life bullshit-free.
KnowYourStuffNZ’s handy guide to spotting bullshit in the media
Who can you see, and what are they doing?
If what you’re watching, reading, or listening to is bullshit, the stereotypes will be everywhere. They might be subtle, or as in the case with this documentary, they’ll be set to maximum cringe.
White men will be in positions of authority. Brown men will commit crime. Not-white people will be less intelligent than the white people around them. Women will be victims, or mothers/sisters/aunties/cousins of victims, or caregivers. Anybody not cis won’t exist. Y’all get the picture.
Think about who you’re seeing, and what you’re seeing them do, and ask yourself if it’s realistic, if stereotypes are being reinforced or challenged, and what intention may be behind showing you this.
What are the words being used?
In On P, Gower talks about people ‘going to the Dark Side’ and uses the phrase ‘I had to dig deeper’ like he’s some kind of detective. He talks about Aotearoa New Zealand being ‘helpless’ and ‘powerless’ to stop the influx of methamphetamine from overseas. He refers to methamphetamine as ‘evil’.
These words are designed to make you feel specific emotions that will override your objective knowledge (for example, that methamphetamine is just a molecule with no inherent moral value).
When you hear exaggerated, hyperbolic, emotive language, ask yourself “Is this really true? Whose values are being pushed on me along with these words?”
Is it even true?
On P portrays methamphetamine as a massive problem that is growing and destroying communities. The truth is that only around 1% of the population uses P and that number has been stable for the last decade. The amount of methamphetamine being used actually dropped between 2019 and 2020.
So one of the most important questions to ask about documentaries that are clearly propaganda like On P is “Who benefits from me believing this?”
It could be that reinforcing views that certain types of people deserve their own misfortune is useful to help justify continuing with policies that lead to inequality and some pretty shocking outcomes for some citizens of our country. Or it could just be that pearl clutching gets ratings.
How much of this you buy into is up to you.