NZ #4: Maori TV

By: | Post date: January 1, 2010 | Comments: 3 Comments
Posted in categories: Countries

Maori TV has not been created for the entertainment of Visiting Whitey. Maori TV is enmeshed in the problematic history of Maori–Pakeha relations, with decades of Pakeha drumming their fingers waiting for the Maori to die off and swindling their land, even as they were congratulating themselves for having the best race relations in the Empire. And Visiting Whitey is not the target audience for the Maori TV news—as I was reminded when a Maori journalist (I think) was being interviewed about her fact finding mission to the Pacific islands in the company of the Prime Minister, and noted her annoyance at feeling like a stranger there, because the rest of the PM’s entourage was Pakeha.

And because this is a painful history of a proud people of whom I know nothing (although I recognise the odd word of their language via Tok Pisin or Tetun), it is problematic and fraught for me to venture to say anything about it at all. What I’m about to say is even more problematic. But:

Herewith, you see depicted Amanda Ashton, co-host of the Maori youth program haa. Amanda Ashton is wearing a T-shirt that says “We [heart] Te Reo”—the (Maori) language.

Opoudjis [hearts] Amanda Ashton.

On what basis do I make such a deeply problematic claim? Is it because she is young and cute, and I am a sleaze and a reprobate? No doubt, no doubt; and I was dejected to find out she’s already got a kid, which is more than you needed to know about me, I doubt not. Is it because she speaks Maori a mile a minute? Well, yes, that too, although Maori TV is no more there for the edification of linguists than it is for the gratification of whiteys.

But in main, I [heart] Amanda Ashton, because she mugs for the camera. Adorably. I don’t know if she had me at kia ora, but she certainly had me by the time the co-host said something about driving down to Queenstown, and she mimed being behind the steering wheel. With a smirk. I surmise that kind of thing is commonplace among VJs, but I haven’t actually watched a VJ for well over a decade, so it remains novel to me.

I’m seriously surprised there aren’t, like, Facebook fan clubs for Amanda Ashton and all. Maybe it’s because that would transgress a cultural precept, and I’m about to be visited by some very angry kinsfolk. They’ll have to track me down first, but.

I’m in Maori TV withdrawal right now, because the hotel I’m currently at does not see fit to offer it. (It would get in the way of six-month old releases on the Movie Channel.) But it’s fascinating viewing for me, as a Visiting Clueless Whitey, because it’s showing me the bicultural tensions of the Maori today. At least, I think that’s what it’s showing me: most of it isn’t subtitled. (It’s Maori TV, btw, and not the all-Maori language Te Reo channel, which I haven’t spotted yet. Maori TV proper is still something like 70% in Te Reo.)

So on the one extreme, a Maori journalist interviews a Pakeha filmmaker with an American accent on his new film short, which has nothing to do with Maoritanga; all in familiar Government TV film show English—though she does consistently throw to break in Te Reo. Maori TV is already doing what the Ethnic broadcaster SBS does in Australia: it also hosts “alternative” but non-ethnic programming, which the commercial providers won’t support. SBS’s ethnic audience weren’t too happy about that back in the day…

I think the kids’ program was also in a familiar enough genre, although that depends on whether the presenter cackling with a green wig on was meant to be a witch, a sea monster, or a punk chick from Cuba St. Like I say, no subtitles.

The News program which I mentioned in comments in a previous post isn’t exactly the other extreme, but it did throw me: the intonation and cliches were cookiecutter familiar, but the tribal affiliations and proverbial wisdom were not.

The news content seemed to me to suffer from Smalltown news malaise; Cyprus news has the same problem, and if I can judge from the day before yesterday’s issue of the New Zealand Herald, Pakeha New Zealand does too. It’s the problem of every day being a slow news day, by BBC News standards. Local social occasions getting airtime; non-politicians being interviewed for longer than a soundbite; unconscious editorialising; no sense of the momentous.

(Bigtown news has its own malaise, of which the most prominent symptom is the soap opera treatment of politics. That’s Greece, and US National News, with divergent proportions of slickness to sprawl, and of torpor to hysteria. Australian commercial news is at an unhappy medium: no portentousness, and no groundedness.)

I think I’ve missed watching the programming that would really have surprised me as alien to me. Not the documentaries; even if the Maoris in the docos speak in their voice in their language, they’re the documentary’s objects, not the subjects, so that itself is not unfamiliar. I suspect it’d be the Hunting Aotearoa show that I’d have the hardest time understanding.

Even if it is in English.

Maori TV helpfully, and inevitably, has a Teach Yourself Maori show, Tōku Reo, which was the first show I caught while channel flicking (before Amanda Ashton changed my life). I thought testing for listening comprehension through Find The English Loanword was cheating—

Akarae Pokenoe Tariki kirikiti Oamaru whutuporo Tauranga Aotearoa TiiWii

—and there were one too many talking heads cutting up the pacing, and the setup was a bit clunky. But that’s a ten minute judgment from a linguist, and don’t take my word for it; I’d probably comment on the Pear Stories like an American high school kid too.

OK, now I’ve got to explain that allusion, don’t I. Around 1970, some American linguists made a silent film of a story with some kids stealing pears, showed it to speakers of various languages, and asked people to retell the story. The point was to see how various languages chain sentences together into coherent narratives. Greek was one of the languages surveyed; I think Deborah Tannen did the survey with students from a girls’ school.

[Link to Youtube of the video; embedding disabled, because YouTube user Haiweongwas says so…]

And throughout the world, the people shown the film would retell the story of the children who stole the pears, and the farmer who chased after them, each after their own language’s predilections. Except for the States. When you showed kids the film in the States, all they’d want to talk about afterwards was how shoddy the cinematography was.

The medium has become the message, and Pop has Eaten Itself, and we’re all caught up in style over substance. That “we” probably includes a lot of Maori watching Tōku Reo. The makers of Tōku Reo however are probably doing a much better job than I’d concluded after ten minutes.

They’ve got podcasts, after all…


  • John Cowan says:

    Wikipedia (in its messy way) implies that Paheka-hood is a prototype concept, with the widening meanings 'New Zealander of British or Irish descent', 'New Zealander of European descent' (the official government definition), ''white person', 'foreigner', and 'non-Maori'.

  • opoudjis says:

    Are Pakeha all white people, or just New Zealanders of European ancestry? Actually, I have no idea. Reasonably sure this guy had migrated to NZ; where that aligns him, and for that matter where it aligns African Americans against Maori, I may google at a later date…

    Tīwī: Sorry, that's the Maori for TV.

  • John Cowan says:

    Never go on a movie date with a cinematographer, for all (s)he will talk about is how lame the lighting was and how you could see the shadow of a boom in scene 37.

    I don't think that white people with American accents are Pakeha; they are just Americans, same as black people with American accents.

    Tiiwii. Hmm, so are they undergoing [t] > [k] shift out there?

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