The GC suffers from an identity crisis. There’s a tension between recreating Jersey Shore and on the other hand presenting a realistic portrayal of Maori on the Gold Coast. These two ideas don’t sit well together. For ratings sake, the producers have to make the show entertaining and that involves relationship dramas, the boys on the prowl and so on – Jersey Shore stuff in other words. However, the rationale of the show was to present a realistic portrayal of Maori on the Gold Coast and the show was funded along those lines. Finding an acceptable balance is hard task and one the makers of the show don’t seem to have achieved. I’m sure Bailey Mackey, one of the producers, want’s to strike a balance and present Maori in a positive light. However, the format of the show isn’t conducive to doing so. The show is not billed nor designed as a documentary – it’s a reality drama series and comes across as such.
Failing to strike a balance has resulted in mixed reviews. On the one hand, commentators have praised the show as reflecting the aspirations and reality for young Maori. Unlikely commentators, most notably Fran O’Sullivan, have praised the show:
Instead of wallowing in some tribal backwater, they have skipped across the Tasman to build successful entrepreneurial futures alongside other Kiwis in Australia and enjoy the "sun, surf and sex" lifestyles.
Although O’Sullivan’s phrased her point poorly, its essence is true. The GC portrays what is becoming the best option for Maori – Australia. Although, as Paul Little says and I agree, the Gold Coast is a “cultural desert” it’s a desert with jobs, money and opportunity. The opportunity to cast off the cultural and political baggage that comes with being Maori in New Zealand.
Much of the negative criticism has claimed that the show does not realistically portra Maori on the Gold Coast. I tend to agree with this view. Few Maori, if any, would spend most of their time on the beach, on the town and mucking around in front of a mirror. How many property developer slash scaffolders do you know?
Much of the criticism is in this vein and, for the most part at least, is just middle class sneering. Wellington and Auckland intellectuals throwing stones from their sophisticated towers. Having said that, some of the criticism from those towers has been insightful. Paul Little makes the point that:
With their distorted values and priorities, Tame, Jade, Zane and their "neffs" (friends) could hardly be more representative of contemporary NZ culture and identity. Whether they intended to or not, the show's makers have created a subtle, devastating critique of NZ today.
To a certain extent, the cast of the GC represent New Zealand youth culture, more specifically Maori youth culture. The cast represent what the values many young Maori hold and their approach to life.
Of all my complaints, however, I don’t like the level the show is pitched at. There is no time given to how the cast deal with conflicting cultural values. How do the characters reconcile their lives in Australia with their upbringing and obligations back home? But, of course, the show isn’t designed to answer these questions and fair enough. If anything these aren’t questions for a prime time show, they’re questions for Maori. One's I don't really know the answers too.