A few days ago I was unfortunate enough to catch a few minutes of Shortland Street. I tend to avoid soap operas wherever possible - especially Shortland Street. I always think of Shortland Street as a
retarded mix of the Young and the Restless and Home and Away – two of the most unpleasant shows around. Now a few days back SS ran a storyline where a bunch of stereotypical Maori attempted to charge a nice middle class family for access to some shitty beach in West Auckland.
The nice middle class family was Pakeha, obviously, and the damn Maoris were dressed in rugged trackies and leather jackets. The latter is a thinly veiled suggestion that the Maoris were gang affiliated. The Maoris spoke as if they had a mouthful of kumara and were made to stand jake the muss like while the Pakeha family asserted their god given right to access kiwi beaches free of charge. This is a rednecks wet dream and was, and I hate to admit this, quite funny. However, my initial amusement quickly turned to embarrassment and disgust. Stupid little storylines like this serve no purpose. It was in no way a reasoned or profound comment on society. It was nothing more than a cavernous statement reinforcing mainstream stereotypes of Maori.
SS often attempts to pass comment on contentious issues, for example a number of lesbian characters were introduced to the show when the civil union bill was causing a stir. However, the writers often fail when attempting to address serious issues. The writers routinely display less perception, subtlety and skill than a 4th form drama student. Ultimately, the entire storyline was nothing more than scaremongering. The MCA act is still a contentious issue and SS has managed to create further hostility and tension. The issue requires long term resolution – not lame antagonism.
The shows Maori advisor has come out attempting to defend the story arc:
Mr Raerino, the current cultural adviser, said he had not been sure about the storyline when he first saw it.
But he was comfortable when he followed it through to its conclusion - it turns out the camping ground's owner was sending sewage into the sea and the Maori group was aiming to hit the owner in the pocket to force her to change her ways.
It is too late. The show clearly places the viewer on the side of the family wanting to access the beach for free. The good guy/bad guy dichotomy is established in unequivocal terms. The problem is that the viewer is conditioned, not only by the show, but by society to take the side of the family attempting to access the beach. New Zealanders are assaulted with images and messages of Maori as parasitic creatures. Think about the rhetoric surrounding treaty issues – it’s hardly flattering stuff. Think about the imagery many New Zealanders hold of Maori – poor, often criminal and always less educated. Most people are prone to imagining Maori in unpositive terms. Maori are expected to be staunch, unreasonable and now there is a commonly held expectation that Maori will block access to beaches.
Although the storyline resolves itself in favour of Maori (theoretically speaking – I tend to think otherwise). It doesn’t matter because the reflex action to criminalise Maori is so ingrained. And the initial direction of the story arc reinforces that. It is almost impossible to see Maori in a different light considering the fact that many viewers are conditioned to see Maori in such a stereotypical light. Whether the Maori charging access were morally right and arguably pretty savy is inconsequential. The viewer will see what they want to see and what they are programmed to see and writers reinforced the negative message very, very powerfully.
This is why I never watch SS. The show is a joke. Stick to dry love stories and pedantic everyday dramas. Don’t try and be The Wire. Your writers aren’t Jon Stewart. I don’t think I can put it any better than this facebook commentator:
"Maori are just low-hanging fruit for these uncreative ignorant hacks."