3.3 Investigation: Pakeha – Kiwi families in New Zealand TV drama and advertisement

Main sources used: Shortland Street, Go Girls and Meet the Colemans.                        

                                                 Go Girls


The purpose of this research is to examine the representation of Pakeha-Kiwi families and its impact on society in a variety of media texts. I will discuss, using one TV advertisement series and two drama TV shows as examples, how the New Zealand media helps build the identity of kiwi families.

Question 1: How are kiwi families represented in New Zealand TV drama?

Kiwi families are represented as being non-nuclear and usually with family problems. In TV shows such as Shortland Street and Go Girls, many couples are divorced and there are cases of single parents.

In Shortland Street, the teenager Hunter is a drug addict whose father Callum is a single parent. Hunter is represented as reckless and rebellious, and Callum’s disapproval is evident. There is also evident jealousy and cases of cheating between married couples, which tells us that Kiwi families are normally unhappy. Shortland Street uses dim lights on romantic scenes and bright lights in settings such as the hospital and the characters wear simple clothing. The show presents a big focus on dialogue, which is not accompanied by music. There is also a dramatic emphasis on character’s faces after conversations. Shortland Street Episode 4901 Season 21

While Shortland Street tends to be very dramatic, Go Girls presents a more comic approach to the characters’ lives. In the show families are still represented as not united and complex. For example, husband Kevin leaves his wife Amanda over the phone and not personally. Then, it is later revealed that Kevin is actually the father of his friend Britta’s baby, which shows the viewer a very complicated family situation. The characters of Go Girls are assumed to be of medium-high class: the women wear fancy, pretty clothes and their houses are very big and nicely decorated. Go Girls is fast-paced, to show how the characters’ lives are busy, and uses only New Zealand music, a big part of the Kiwi culture. There are also a lot of typical Kiwi slangs in the show, such as ‘ay’, ‘bugger’ and ‘yeh’, which are mostly said by Kevin, completing the image of the stereotypical Kiwi man who drinks beer and likes fancy cars. Go Girls Promo

Question 2: In what ways is the Pakeha- NZ culture advertised on TV?

Unlike the representations of families in drama TV shows, advertisements show happy families, something that is more pleasant to the viewer. For example, Meet the Colemans, a “prime time television soap opera”1 is aired during ONE News, which means their target audience is families. The programme was made to show how Countdown products are functional for the average kiwi family. “The adventures of the Coleman family represents classic reflective advertising- which is ideal of Countdown – a brand that is part of the fabric of New Zealanders’ lives”1

The members of the Coleman family somehow form a stereotype of ‘normality’:

–          The husband, Rob, drinks beer while watching sports on TV, likes snacks instead of healthy food and “has been preparing barbecues for donkey’s years” (episode: Fresh)

–          The wife, Nikki, is charismatic, kind and usually cooks for the family in the evenings.

–          The daughter, Jess, is an average girl going through the phases of adolescence: in the Lazy Wills episode, she tries on heavy make-up, something that a lot of teens do.

–          The son, Wills, is a lazy and clumsy young adult and relates to the stereotype of teenage boys: he plays computer games, eats a lot and appears sleepy.

Meet The Colemans – “Sister”

Meet The Colemans – “Starving”

Meet The Colemans – “Lazy Wills”

Question 3: How are the representations of kiwi families different from other cultures’?

There are remarkably less members of other cultures (EG. Asians; Maoris) in New Zealand TV drama. There were only four Asian doctors in the cast of Shortland Street in 14 years.2 In Shortland Street there were also previous controversies (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10721983) regarding Maoris: “A storyline aired in April 2011 which featured the Cooper Family try to go to the beach, but they get confronted by a group of Maori who demand money. This sparked criticism with some saying it was discrimination against Maori people.”3 These facts show us that the representations of other cultures in New Zealand media tend to be stereotypical and not emphasized enough.

Question 4: How and why has that representation changed over the years?

The representation of Paheka- Kiwi families in NZ media has changed significantly over the years. This can be seen when the Shortland Street character Hunter ingests drugs mixed with alcohol, something that would probably not have been seen in a TV programme ten years ago. Also, there were not as many single parents and teenage pregnancies on the first seasons of Shortland Street. The reason why the representation has undergone such changes is because the viewers today are all different, as it is more common for a couple to get divorced these days than a couple of years ago. The representation of families reflects the target audience, who can therefore identify with the shows.

Another point to be looked at is the influence of American media over the years all over the world. In the late 1970s, when there was a feeling of social discomfort, many programmes were not designed for entretainment: they commented on the war and political affairs instead. In the 70s, the 


audience did not want to see the ugly reality of unemployement: “In the 70s you have the bellwether show ‘The Bionic Woman’ that rocketed into the top-10 in 1973, followed by the ‘Six Million-Dollar Man’ and ‘Charlie’s Angels.'” [4] When we get to the 80s and 90s, TV shows such as Friends – with the comic adventures of 6 middle class adults – became enormously successful. That is because the average audience at the time started enjoy a 

break from their own lives and problems, where they 

could laugh and be entretained by the everyday dillemas of those characters. Although not a worldwide influence like the US, the New Zealand media well went along with these changes over the years, bringing more and more modern themes into their TV programmes.

Question 5: What are the social and cultural consequences of these representations in New Zealand?

Firstly, the representations shown in advertisements and TV drama are very different. Therefore, different messages are sent across. In Meet The Colemans, the Coleman family is happy, united, uncomplicated and slightly unrealistic. The TV commercial’s intentions are not to shock, but to please their audience. That is the reason why the characters are such strong characterisations of New Zealanders: because the advertisement is supposed to make the viewers smile. Also, the “typical” and “normal” kiwi family is a false stereotype, because not all Kiwis are white: 30% of the population are of either Maori, Asian or Polynesian descent. In a country that is proud of its many descendants of other cultures, the predominance of white families in advertisements is somehow strange. Meet The Colemans also makes the audience think that the “perfect” family is made of a middle-aged couple with two or three teenage children; they live in a nice house and eat meals together; the wife cooks for the family while the husband drinks beer and watches sports on TV. However, 40% of children in New Zealand today live with single or re-married parents, proving that there are other kinds of happy families.

The representations of families in TV drama shows are slightly more realistic: they show single parents, couples cheating on one another and teenage pregnancies, and many of these are not completely happy. Many New Zealanders can identify with this kind of programme when they relate to the situations the characters go through, and that gives them a perception that they are not the only ones going through the problems they are. The audience can also get a feeling that their issues are not that bad when compared to the characters’, and that is a positive consequence because it makes them feel better. Furthermore, there is a broader cultural range in TV shows than in advertisements, with which cultures other than Pakeha can identify.

When it comes to the advertisers in New Zealand, it is logical to think that they would not want to cause a negative effect upon their target audience. A fantasy of the ‘perfect family’ is created to particulary attract the average kiwi family. The advertisers would not want any bad influences that could be associated with their product, therefore in TV advertisements Kiwi families are represented as being happy and united. If a problematic family was shown in the Meet The Colemans Countdown ad, the psychological effect in audience would be thinking that there are better supermarkets which can provide them a better life. The advertisers want to get across the message that Kiwi families who shop in Countdown can get everything they need there and are therefore satisfied with their lives. By watching Meet the Colemans, the average kiwi would want to have the same kind of happiness in their homes, and that would possibly cause them to unconsciously choose to go to Countdown instead of other supermarkets more often. The Meet the Colemans TV ad also resembles the Hypodermic Needle Model, which “suggests that audiences passively receive the information transmitted via a media text, without any attempt on their part to process or challenge the data” [5] There is no need for the audience to question the fairly normal lives of the Coleman family and that allows them to focus only on the product, the Countdown supermarkets.

While advertisers have to be very careful with the characters they present, TV drama producers have a certain freedom to make Kiwi families look as unhappy as they want, because there is not a positive message they need to get across. TV producers are interested in providing entertainment. A TV show about a perfect family would not get audience, therefore every family in Shortland Street and Go Girls has at least one issue, which keeps the show interesting. As opposed to TV ads, a TV show episode would be more likely to be discussed by the audience – two friends, for example. This relates to the two-step flow theory [6], which suggests that the audience’s opinions relate to other people’s – the so-called “opinion leaders”

This naturally makes TV shows such as Shortland Street and Go Girls more influential – as they are packed with drama -on the New Zealand population than unrealistic advertisements. The suggestions of teenage pregnancy in Shortland Street, for example, might be talked about at a family’s dinner time, and the representation of the subject on the show might affect all of their opinions.
Reference for the shows: (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Go_Girls); (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortland_Street); (http://www.throng.co.nz/meet-the-colemans/countdown-launches-new-soap-opera-commercials-during-one-news)

Image Credits:  http://tribeheaven.co.uk/cast/2009/06/05/2009-shortland-street-cast-photo-finally-here/







Foot notes: (1) http://www.throng.co.nz/2010/10/countdown-launches-new-soap-opera-commercials-during-one-news/

(2)  http://tzemingmok.com/sstselectedcolumns/shortlandst.htm

(3) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shortland_Street

(4) Lauren+Zalanick+-TV+and+social+conscience


(6) signs+and+audience+theories

Other references:




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1 Response to 3.3 Investigation: Pakeha – Kiwi families in New Zealand TV drama and advertisement

  1. Miss T says:

    Fantastic effort, Laura. Very well done.

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