Thursday, 7 March 2013

Representation of Pacific Islanders in the New Zealand media

Dumb. Immature. Irresponsible. Unable to make wise decisions...

These are just a few of the ways that Pacific Islanders are being portrayed in the New Zealand media, and it’s resulting in a lot of negative stereotyping from Kiwis.  The labels being stuck onto Pacific Islanders are not only false, unkind and demeaning; they are also negatively influencing Kiwis and forming a racial divide within the country. This stereotyping is found throughout a range of New Zealand media sources, including television programmes, advertising, newspaper articles and movies and is as a result leading people to believe its bias stereotypes. 

The popular TV2 series ‘Police 10 7’ is an example of negative typecasting in the New Zealand media. The reality TV programme, which is broadcasted every Thursday at 7:30pm, is in its eighteenth season; and is still proving as popular as ever. While ‘Police 10 7’ is being labelled as ‘our home-grown crime-fighting series’ with ‘something relevant and interesting for all New Zealanders’, the show has been known to provide more entertainment then education; often focussing on humorous storylines and foolish criminals rather than serious crimes. And more often than not, the law breakers depicted are of Pacific Island descent, and are portrayed as dumb, risk takers, or criminals.

Take this video clip for example. In this ‘Police 10 7 ‘excerpt, a Samoan man is pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk. The police officer has a hard time explaining anything to the man, due to his intoxication and lack of English language skills. He has trouble taking the breathalyzer test, problems explaining the man’s rights, and struggles to try and enlighten the man that what he has done is wrong. Throughout the clip, the Pacific Islander man continues to find everything one big joke and seems to be delighted with the fact that he might be appearing on TV. He laughs about how he will be a hero in Samoa, jokes around speaking gobbledygook when asked to read out his rights, and even goes as far to say that his only option is to kill the police-officer so he doesn’t get put in jail. This clip is showing a negative representation of Pacific Islanders by portraying them as stupid and flippant law-breakers. This stereotype was created by ‘Police 10 7’ for the purpose of providing their viewers with entertainment by depicting foreigners breaking the law and getting themselves into trouble, as they realised a lot of people find humour in this. The fact that this man has language barriers, mightn’t have a clear understanding of NZ laws, and is clearly very intoxicated creates a storyline that a lot of people can laugh at; as they see the man as someone they can look down on and laugh at.  The way ‘Police 10 7’ portrays Pacific Islanders is unfair, and created purely from negative stereotypes for the purpose of entertainment. By only including a small amount of the most ‘humorous’ footage, ‘Police 10 7’ are creating a stereotypical and one-sided view on Pacific Islanders, and most probably omitting material that shows Pacific Islanders in a different light; such as the good citizen who called up and reported a crime, or the speeding driver who apologised and immediately got their act together, as those clips are just not ‘entertaining’ enough.

These search results make it obvious that people enjoy 'Police
10 7' for entertainment, not education, and that the clip
of the 'funny Samoan' is very popular.
This representation is negatively influencing Kiwis, as people are heavily influenced by what they see in the media. Frequent exposure to an idea, concept or opinion normalises it and results in people seeing it as acceptable. If Kiwis are constantly being presented with media depicting Pacific Islanders as trouble-making idiots, often that is the opinion that they themselves will form of that racial group. Even if people believe they are unprejudiced, a recurrent exposure to negative racial portrayal will result in a negative sub-conscious view of a particular group of people. Furthermore, the constant belittling and negative stereotyping of Pacific Islanders is creating a racial divide between New Zealanders.  If a young Caucasian New Zealander is always shown through the media that Pacific Islanders are trouble makers who struggle with the language barriers and are generally stupid, they will be led to believe this false accusation and this will impact on how they treat people of different ethnicities that they meet in their everyday lives. Additionally, international viewers of ‘Police 10 7 ‘ are being exposed to this representation, and are therefore building up an opinion on Pacific Islanders, but also how New Zealanders view and treat Pacific Islanders. This shows the wider significance of this media representation on New Zealanders and their culture and society, and how the global view of our country can be so easily influenced and swayed.

New Zealand advertisements are also stereotyping Pacific Islanders in negative ways, such as in this commercial released by the NZTA. ‘Legend’, better known as ‘Ghost Chips’, is set during a teenage party and shows George- a Pacific Islander- getting ready to leave and drive himself home; despite the fact that he is drunk. His friend- who is Maori- is concerned and ‘internalises a really complicated situation in [his] head’ over whether or not he should speak up. He is worried that he will look dumb in front of the girl he likes, but also imagines a life without his friend which includes ‘puzzle time’ with his friend’s family and ‘Ghost George’ haunting him. When he does decide to say something, his friend disagrees; believing that there is no problem with him driving while intoxicated. Eventually the Pacific Islander agrees not to drink and drive, and the Maori friend is labelled a ‘legend’. 

This advert is negatively portraying Pacific Islanders by putting them across as stupid, unreliable and unable to make their own decisions. The Kiwis in this advert are shown as smarter than their Pacific Islander friends, and able to make wise decisions. The stereotypical view of Pacific Islanders shown in this advert was constructed by the New Zealand Transport Agency for the purpose of trying to make their adverts relatable to their target audience of young Polynesian males. The NZTA national media manager Andy Knackstedt says that the advert was designed to be relatable and says that the dialogue ‘rings true’ and the humour involved is very authentic. This commercial has proved very popular, with almost 2.5 million hits on YouTube, and results from a recent New Zealand Herald survey show that 90% of New Zealanders remember the advert; compared to other NZTA adverts such as ‘Mantrol’ and ‘Donna Time’ which are scarcely remembered and described as ‘hated’, ‘average’, ‘irrelevant’ and ‘boring’. Although these figures show the undisputable fact that the commercial is popular and entertaining, it is also outputting a negative view of Pacific Islanders which is influencing both Pacific Islanders and people of other nationalities.  The overwhelming popularity of this advert means that Kiwis are being heavily exposed to the negative labelling that it contains, and are therefore more likely to be influenced by its stereotypical view of Pacific Islanders; even if it’s just on a subconscious level. A Kiwi who views this advert is given the image that Pacific Islanders are dumb, like to drink, and rely on people of other nationalities to make their decisions for them, but the portrayals shown in this advert are very one-sided. This may result in racism, and a divide between people of different ethnicities who are living in New Zealand. A lot has been omitted from the representations of the two ethnic groups, such as those Maori people who do drink and drive, and the Pacific Islanders who are constantly looking out for and after their friends, which has created a slanted opinion of Pacific Islanders. As a result of this misleading representation, New Zealanders are more likely to believe these stereotypes and adopt a false and bias point-of-view of this ethnic group. Furthermore, ‘Ghost Chips’ has gained popularity in the social networking world and has been viewed worldwide through Facebook, YouTube and various other websites. 
From this you can see that the NZTA 'Legend' video has had almost 2.5
million views since it was posted a year ago.
This shows the wider significance and impact of the representations shown in the advert, and influences how New Zealand is viewed on a global scale. A constant media portrayal of Kiwis drinking and partying and being stupid influences how people in other countries view this country as the media is the sole representation of New Zealanders that they are exposed to on a regular basis.

Sione’s Wedding’ is another example of negative representations of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand media. The film follows the storyline of four raucous Samoan men who, in order to attend their ‘best boy’s’ wedding, must find girlfriends to bring as dates. Michael, Albert, Stanley and Sefa are immature troublemakers who are constantly getting drunk, pursuing women and acting stupid. They have a reputation for misbehaving and creating chaos, and are portrayed as needing to be looked after as they’re not able to make decisions for themselves. This stereotypical representation is negatively portraying Pacific Islanders, and therefore influencing people to see people of this ethnicity a certain way. 

Take this video clip for example. In this scene, Stanley is seen dancing at an Irish pub, and exclaims that he feels like 'an Irishman, trapped in a Samoan body'. When advanced by his female friend who asks where his friends are, he replies that they're outside 'having a fight. Over you'. The woman leaves, and Stanley continues to dance; his moves become more and more wild, forcing the other pub-goers to move out of his way. In the end, after a particularly vulgar move, Stanley is escorted out by two security guards who tell him to 'get lost' and 'find his own bar'. In this clip, Stanley is shown as immature, childish and unable to understand boundaries. His comments have a racist tinge to them, and he obviously causes others at the bar to feel uncomfortable. He is shown as being unable to fit in at another culture's event. This representation is negative and could encourage people to treat Pacific Islanders badly, and not accept them the way Stanley was not accepted by the Irishmen in this clip. 

'Samoan Wedding' is the alternate title for 'Sione's
Wedding' when it is being marketed outside of NZ
In the film Sefa, a Pacific Islander man, is depicted as being an alcoholic who turns to alcohol to erase his problems, and is often found at the pub. It is also stated that he sells stolen goods out of the back of his van, and his general appearance is unkempt and dirty. Portraying him as unclean, an alcoholic, a troublemaker and a criminal is negatively influencing on how people who watch this film view Pacific Islanders in general. Although ‘Sione’s Wedding’ is a New Zealand film, it has been marketed worldwide, dubbed ‘Samoan Wedding’. This alternate title means that international viewers of the film are under the impression that this movie is displaying a typical Samoan wedding, and all Pacific Islanders are stupid, felonious alcoholics who are incapable of taking care of themselves. And if these film-viewers are not exposed to positive representations of Pacific Islanders as well- either through the media or through life experiences- then they are even more likely to believe that the negative labels stuck on the characters of ‘Samoan Wedding’ are true of all Pacific Islanders. This shows that the representations of Pacific Islanders in the media are more powerful than you might initially think, because they do have the potential to spread their negative typecasting globally.  

These three sources of media (television show, advertising and film) are examples of negative representation of Pacific Islanders in the media, and these stereotypes are effecting both how Kiwis view Pacific Islanders, and also the opinion that the world has of New Zealanders. The Pacific Islanders in these visual texts are portrayed as wild, dumb, irresponsible and unclean. Often they are shown as alcoholics or criminals, or as being incapable of looking after themselves. These labels are resulting in a racial divide, and a distorted, one-sided view of Pacific Islanders in New Zealand. The exposure that Kiwis have to media such as 'Police 10 7', 'Legend' and 'Sione's Wedding' is frequent, and a result they are more likely to take into account ,and believe, the stereotypes they see. Furthermore, media is distributed globally and therefore negative stereotyping in the media can result in a false view of New Zealand and its people.