I watched the second half of New Zealand’s answer to Jersey Shore, The GC last night, knowing I need to be up with the play on all things pop-culture in my line of work but also not wanting to lose too much IQ in the process. If you’re not a Kiwi, The GC has become the most controversial New Zealand TV show of the decade as it follows a group of young Maori making their way in Australia’s Gold Coast.
Returning to the storm that is “I can’t believe the tax-payer helped fund a show about Maori culture in Australia that’s really about drinking and sleeping around,” I now feel kind of sorry for the cast. I never had a problem with the show being made, just that New Zealand On Air gave it nearly half a million bucks. But reading through all the “if you don’t like it don’t watch it,” bluster that clearly misses the point, some intelligent and provocative pieces have been written about The GC and more-so, the public reaction to it.
Have a read of the blog KiwiPolitico where the writer argues much of the fuss is due to implicit racism. Is middle New Zealand so used to seeing Maori portrayed in a negative light that when presented with a group of successful Maori living it up (and doing so not in New Zealand) that they can’t handle it? There could be some truth to that, though it overlooks the two worst and most dominant things about The GC: it’s boring and phony. Beyond some artificial angst, almost nothing happens. Not even much of the debauchery we’re meant to be so upset about.
That said, some of the themes KiwiPolitico discusses are bang on. The cast of The GC are all employed and with a couple of them property investors with sizeable portfolios, wealthy by anyone’s standards. Maori get criticized for having a hand-out, grievance mentality in New Zealand but what do they get when they leave the country and get jobs? More criticism and this time from all sides, including the burden of being told you’ve abandoned your culture. The point was made that a successful Maori businessman gets attacked for not sharing the wealth with his people, while the Maori businessman who squanders the money in bad deals is seen as reverting to type.
Aside from race, another underlying reason for the extent of the backlash could be New Zealand sensitivities to the exodus to Australia. Despite being told the election before last that it was Labour’s fault so many Kiwis were jumping ship, the numbers leaving have increased under National – more than 50,000 left in 2011 alone. This cuts right to the heart of our vulnerable national psyche and it’s why so many New Zealanders are sensitive to any criticism of the country. If a tourist or migrant comes here and dares admit to not loving everything about it, they invariably get hit with a tsunami of abuse so strong to send them right back where they came from.
We know the economy is perennially glacial (even in good times), salaries are mediocre, the cities aren’t as exciting as Australia’s, anything built in the 90s leaks, the ground shakes and the weather can be iffy. So if we aren’t the most beautiful country on the planet, what do we have? Of course we have plenty and plenty is overlooked, but scratch the surface and sometimes it feels like everyone has at least considered moving to Australia. So you get a national dichotomy of thinking of leaving and resenting those who have. And in the mean time, missing out on the joys of living in New Zealand.
So why feel sorry for the cast? Well, 15 minutes of episode three of The GC combined with an interview some of the cast gave to TV3 made it plainly obvious so much of this “reality” show is scripted (and poorly so). Interviewed on TV and they seemed like shy, modest Kiwis. They were natural, if nervous, and likable. They explained they thought they were part of a documentary and that they aren’t being paid.
Like I said in my earlier blog on The GC, bad TV has existed since the start of TV. But even bad actors should get paid.