The Golden Cap

John Hale
University of Otago
Department of English

Deep South v.2 n.3 (Spring, 1996)

Copyright (c) 1996 by John Hale, all rights reserved.

Imagine, if you will, a campus TV station. It links all the nation's universities. And tonight, this very night, introduces a great new competition. It is called



The Lecturer-of-the-Year Competition.

University lecturers compete for a magnificent trophy, donated by Colonial Breweries in association with the Committee of New Zealand Universities Chief Executive Officers (CoNZUCEO). The trophy looms up on a giant screen: it is a gold-plated academic cap.

And here, to explain the rules and present the contestants, is: --



'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. We are here tonight to find the Lecturer of the Year.

'The rules are:

(1)Each contestant starts with 40 points.

(2)They get more points for what they do well -- good voice-production, fluent vowel-movements, gestures, ideas, rapport with audience and so on. These things are judged electronically and shown on the Credit Menu. (The Credit Menu is a giant list, stage right. The cameras close in on it.)

(3)They get penalty deductions for what they do badly -- mumbling, sweating on camera, bad use of autocue, forgetting what to say next, lack of eye contact, you name it. These things are all set out on the Debit Menu. (Giant list, stage left.)

(4)Whenever a contestant goes below nought, he or she must stop lecturing.

(5)Each contestant lectures for up to five minutes.

(6)Anything judged offensive or irrelevant leads to automatic disqualification. We want the prime-time, family audience, right?


'Also, as an exciting innovation we have a panel of human experts, to judge the electronic judges so to speak.

'On my left, George Antrobus, Chief Toastmaster for the Southern Hemisphere! (George bends his head to the camera, his smooth white hair catching the spotlights. Nice one, George.)

'On his left, Maggy Butch, gynaecologist and TV personality. (Flash of white teeth.)

'To my right, Dr Charles Hives, formerly the Executive Director of Purex Tissues and now Vice-Chancellor of the new University of Thin Air. (Dignified gaze into middle distance, no smile.)

'And last but not least, Noeline Partlet, M.P. and Chairperson of the Campaign for a More Moral Media. (Wintery, vigilant smile.)

Just one more thing. A totally new idea on TV, this: while each lecture goes on, viewers can hear running commentaries on it, from Kent Quiff and Joan Dont, complete with action replays.'

'Right! Our first contestant is, Dr Wayne Bracken, of the University of Nelson. And his subject is:


It's all yours, Dr Bracken, starting -- (clicks fingers) NOW.'

The cameras swing to Bracken on his podium. Sweat is pouring off him because of the studio lights, just above his head.

He stares at the camera. 'Fossils are foscinating -- er -- no, fassils are fascinating. To us all --

(Quick camera shot of Debit Menu, registering minus 10 for a DOUBLE VERBAL FUMBLE.)

He gets his nose down into his script, lest worse befall.

'In fossils we see the forms of a life that once existed. And so we work out the conditions of that life. For example, in the later Chiastic Age fossils tell us how warm the sea was. Carboniverous scotopods proliferated because of the abundant protoalgae which --

(Debit Menu registers minus 5 points for JARGON. Voice of Kent Quiff is heard saying, 'He's losing points fast'.)

' -- teemed in the waters of the lagoon. But why was the sea so warm? According to the theory of Japanese bathyscaphologist Yamamoto Kibikawa --

The Debit Menu docks another 15 for JARGON, NAME-DROPPING and ELITISM. Bracken notices the audience staring in horror at the Menu, he looks at it himself, knocks over his free glass of water, and

Lights flash throughout the hall, and the voice of Joan Dont says:

'That's the end of him. This is Joan Dont, on the touchline; oh sorry, I forgot.'

The cameras move back onto Paul Gnomes, who gives them his best smile, and says:

'Thank you, Dr Wayne Bracken. [Small fanfare, the smallest yet.] Please accept this valuable gift voucher, redeemable at any Colonial Breweries outlet. Time to meet our next contestant, after this break.'


Five minutes of advertisements come on screen now: CB Lager, to name but a few. Then Gnomes comes back, to declare:

'Our second contestant in this new contest supported by Colonial Breweries (just when you thought the ads had stopped, ha ha), is:


of the Anthropology Department of the University of Napier! His subject: matriarchy in western societies!!!!!!!!

[FANFARES AS USUAL. Take them as read from now on.]

He is two metres tall, young and cadaverous, with a straw-coloured moustache and rimless glasses.

'Menny pipple asssume that ze male of ze species is ze dominant sex. Zis iss not so. I haf effidentz, that vimmin dominate our vestern society.'

[Close-up of the two women experts glaring at him; a rare moment of agreement between them. The cat is out of the bag.]

'Furrst, zey gontrol ze flow of money. Vimmin spend 71.5 per cent of all money spent on consumer goods.

'Second: zey are ze center of our society's rituals. Veddings! Christmas dinner!! Mother's Day!!!

While the voice of Feuermacher grinds on in the background, Kent Quiff tells us all that 'he's made a bright start. 20 plus for PROVOCATION, 10 for good EYE CONTACT, 10 for very strong VOWEL MOVEMENTS, and no less than 45 for crisp PARAGRAPHING'. Sight of lights coming up all over the Credit Menu.

' -- So! It iss clear, ve vorship ze muzzer, at zese menny menny festifals.

'But! It iss time to go deeper. Vot iss it ve vorship? Ja. It iss her fertility.

'Look at zis. (First slide, pliss.)

Up comes a statue of an ancient goddess, Diana of the Ephesians. Her face is indistinct, but her breasts are not. They are many, neatly stacked like grapefruit in a supermarket. Gnomes comments, 'I've always felt sorry for fertility goddesses'.

' -- Now look at zis,' says the voice of Feuermacher. Next up is a Playboy centre-fold: only two breasts, but for grapefruit read melons.

Kent and Joan agree he is holding his audience's attention, yes, very well. But the method is, yes, 'controversial'. The Credit Menu gives him 35 for STIMULUS, and 10 for TOPIC SENTENCE CONTROL.

'What's more', says Joan, 'if he makes a joke now at the two-minute mark, his score could go well above 100. He'd be hard to catch then, don't you agree, Kent Quiff?'

'I do. But he's becoming controversial, yes, controversial. That could undo him . . .'

It does. Lights flash to stop the viewers seeing the two slides, beepers beep, and the lights blaze up then go out on the Debit Menu. It reads only,


Oh dear; not even a CB voucher for this contestant. Never mind: here's the voice of Gnomes, saying

'Let's just hear what our panel of experts are thinking so far. The remaining contestants are not able to hear, being inside a padded booth till it comes their turn.' (Swings in his swivel chair, towards Hives and the silver-haired Antrobus)

'He made his point very clearly -- ' said Hives

'I'll never forget it', agreed Antrobus

'Nor will I,' said Partlet. 'That man is never going to be on the air again. My movement, the Campaign for a More Moral Media, will see to it!'

Gnomes swivelled back to the cameras, and said, 'That raises interesting issues we can't go into now. We'll have the next contestant, after this break.'


This time the ads are for


Shots are shown of a leafy campus, with suntanned students everywhere. All are smiling. Nobody is doing a thing.

Then Professor Hives appears, to say, 'And if you have no campus within reach, remember the University of Thin Air. Its campus is as near as your TV set!'

Uplifting music follows, while a logo representing intellectual effort by a smooth silver arrow moves upward, ever upward on the screen . . .

The voice of Gnomes is heard saying, 'Hallo again, viewers, our third contestant is, Dr, no, Professor?, no, Ms Laura Lang, from the English Department of the University of Thin Air. Her subject is,


She is tall and slender, with red pouting lips. The male chauvinist pigs behind the cameras make the most of her terrific legs.

'Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds . . .'

'Shakespeare in this sonnet nearly ties himself in knots to express this perfect love'. She breathes out the word 'perfect' perfectly. Lights flutter on the Credit Menu.

'Nearly but not quite. The fact is, we know nothing about perfection, from experience.' She has a great way of leaning on the key word. More lights flash.

'So Shakespeare must stretch and strain, to give us even a glimpse of his perfect love'. The camera shows intense concentration from the men in the audience, women too; but wait, what's this, the cameras in tracking back to her legs have picked up something new. She is nervous after all. She is clutching the lectern so tight, to stop her hands shaking, that her legs are moving instead. Clever use of split screen shows lips chanting immortal words, hands clutching rigidly, feet doing a samba round the base of her lectern, and -- here's the high drama, the sheer emotional tug of it all, viewers -- MINUS 20 on the Debit Menu.

Tension, then terror, on Laura's face; she knows from the audience's gaze that something is wrong, but she knows not what. She battles on:

'It makes no difference here, whether the lover is male or female. Nor whether the passion is heterosexual or homosexual, I mean homoerotic. It may for all anyone knows be a sublime buggery --

Lights flash, buzzers. Voice of Quiff, 'This won't suit the family-viewing ratings'.

He's right. Close-up of irate members of the moral majority, and Debit score of MINUS 600. No CBs for her, nor CBEs either.


On to the fourth and last contestant: 'Welcome philosophy lecturer Jeremy Woodruffe, also from the University of Thin Air. His subject:


Voice of Quiff saying to Dont: 'This man will have to work hard. His subject is not exactly visual.' 'Too right, Quiff. But I like his leather elbow-patches.' Both laugh at their delicate irony.

'Logic is the study of reasoning. Whilst never advocating particular principles of belief or conduct, it establishes the basis for sound principles. When it exposes false reasoning, then -- in its modest way -- it serves the cause of civilised values.'

Quiff observes: 'Oh. This is controversial. The Credit Menu has become active. 10 for USE OF HANDS, 5 for KEEPING FEET STILL.' Joan Dont contradicts him: 'Nothing for his VISUALS.' But Quiff retorts: 'Wait, yes, now he gets 5 for PUNCTUATION. Well, I must say, his VOWEL MOVEMENTS are first class, they get 25.'

Dont breaks in, 'Kent, do you realise, he's got 65. He's the outright leader at this stage.'

Back to Woodruff, though. He has much to say, and is going a little quicker because of that:

'Take, for example, God. Does God exist, you may ask? Or not? But logic asks the prior question, the all-important one: is "God" a name? How does it denote? If "God" is a name it may denote an individual being. But only as all names do. Yet if "God" is not a name but a description, then there may be better descriptions! You see how logic clarifies the issues!'

By now his eyes are flashing through his pebbly glasses, his voice is rising in excitement. The scoreboards are getting excited too. On he rolls.

'Or take the problem of personal identity. In ordinary language we often say, "If I were you . . ." But can I be you? Does it satisfy the truth-conditions of meaningful utterance?

'We must concede at once that we cannot imagine me being you. For me to be you, my mind would have to have all your memories. For which, it would have to have your body. Which it doesn't. And can't!' he shouted triumphantly.

'And what is more, if I did have all your memory and body, then there would be nothing left of you to be you. It would all have been taken over by me!

'But then, where would I be? or who?

'You see, now, how logic clarifies the human situation!'

But the studio situation is anything but clarified. Both scoreboards have gone berserk. The producer is wildly buzzing the compere. But he, Gnomes, is in a trance -- not sure whether he he is himself or not. The camera spares his blushes (the first ever), and tracks to the panel of experts. They, however, are all dozing off.

So we see the scoreboard. On the Credit side, PRESENCE 50, BODY LANGUAGE 50, CONVICTION 80, HANDS 20, FEET, 20. On the Debit side, INCOMPREHENSIBILITY 100 , BOREDOM 70, IRRELEVANCE 100, SPOILING UNIVERSITY IMAGE 600. The scoreboard suffers meltdown. But the good news is, Gnomes has regained his poise.

'Thank you, Jeremy. You've lost all your points, and then some. But you do of course receive this valuable CB lager voucher. See you all again, after the break.'

The break shows a glass of lager, whose image gets stuck. Everything, by now, is a little disarrayed. But the break allows Gnomes to awaken the panel, and get them in to give their expert opinions. Will they agree, though? Will they agree with the electronic judgment, if or when that comes through from the fused scoreboards? 'Our technical experts are working hard, and I mean HARD, to get the scoreboard operational again.'

Swivels to Panel: 'Which of these lecturers would you employ?' No rush to answer. 'Dr Hives, you go first: would you, ha-ha, employ any of them?'

'I already do. Otherwise, no comment.'

'I wouldn't employ any of them,' says George Antrobus.

The women agreed they would employ only the woman, although (says the moral M.P.) she would need re-educating first.


Who cares? Gnomes is back, with the Managing Director of Colonial Breweries, carrying the result in a sealed envelope. The moment we have all been longing for. 'This is it. folks. Mr Trevor Tinnie will read out the RESULT!!!!!!


'The scoring was difficult. Two of the four contestants disqualified themselves. Both the other two got nought. But one had fewer penalty marks than the other. The winner is therefore,



I have one more thing to say at once. This Bracken was the most boring, and I hereby withdraw all sponsorship from this farcical show!'

Gnomes is not fazed, of course.

'Well, viewers, this is the most controversial thing yet.'

Kent Quiff appears in split screen murmuring the word 'controversial' several times. A chorus is heard crooning, 'Controversy Controversy, it wins the ratings game.'

Bracken is given his gold-plated academic cap. Rapturous canned applause, continuing as he puts the cap on. Whoops, it is too big, his face disappears inside it. Firemen who have come to hose down the melted scoreboard stay to extricate Bracken. He screams from inside: like many university lecturers, he is allergic to gold.

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