The New Zealand Identity Crisis

What is a New Zealander?

Warning SheepAccording to the television, it’s a tough, stubby-wearing, beer-swilling, rugby-mad sheep farmer with the emotional capacity of a teaspoon, (except in the event of All Black victory/defeat,) that subsists on Weet-Bix, Wattie’s, pies and Pineapple Lumps.

New Zealand television is scary. I don’t know about other countries – not even England, as I was ten years old when I left – but, in New Zealand, a great deal of advertising seems to be along the lines of ‘you’re not a true Kiwi if you don’t consume this product’.

The news is no better. We’re constantly being told what we should be, as though there’s a national identity paranoia. You’re unpatriotic if you’re not passionate about rugby. If you’re a girl, you have to play netball.

mountain-310155_640Certain enforced stereotypes do hold true. Lots of Kiwis are, for example, friendly and laidback. Kiwis love the great outdoors because, let’s be honest, the great outdoors is the best thing New Zealand’s got going for it. As for the rest, it’s hard to find someone who actually fits this supposed ideal.

It’s scary that such an ‘unintellectual’ image is constantly put forward as the paragon to aspire to. It makes people afraid of standing out. Fourteen years of living here has made me fearful, in certain situations, of enunciating words properly! (There’s a danger of people thinking that you think you’re better them. This danger is made more dangerous by having an English accent.)

new-zealand-654980_640Why am I rambling about this now? The flag, of course! The bloody farce that is the ongoing saga of New Zealand’s new flag vote. Debates on the nature of the New Zealand identity are raging, and what’s become clear is that the rugby-mad sheep farmer is no longer in vogue, except for comedy purposes.

Yet a completely democratic panel, from the thousands of flag designs submitted, came up with a final four that included three silver ferns, (two exactly the same except for a different colour in one of the panels,) and a koru that, instead of looking like the Maori symbol of new life that it’s supposed to be, resembles a sinister, hypnotic spiral. Kiwi actor Sam Neill, (the main guy from Jurassic Park,) tweeted, “New NZ flag designs? Three look like logos for a new sportswear franchise. And one – a tidal wave of despair. Let’s just forget it now…”

Pretty much sums up my entire Facebook wall.

I’m not actually against a flag change. But not like this. Not like this.

kiwi-309620_640Kiwis are about more than just rugby, something that the media and the Prime Minister apparently fail to grasp. I mean yes, when I first moved to New Zealand I was shocked at just how much of a national obsession rugby is, but just because someone loves a sport, that doesn’t have to be their defining characteristic.

The New Zealand character is diverse. We have Maori, Pakeha, Pacific Island, British, Indian, Chinese, South African – people and cultures from all over the world. We aren’t just sheep farmers, we’re dairy farmers too!

big-wave-helloBut seriously.

I think my point is that we shouldn’t let the media, or John Key, tell us who we should be. We should be who we want to be and – who knows? – maybe New Zealand will forge new symbols of collective identity.


One thought on “The New Zealand Identity Crisis

  1. […] New Zealand news about how great New Zealand is. You get lots of adverts that rely on stroking the Kiwi ego to sell you stuff. Whenever there’s an interview with, say, a big American actor, there’ll be […]


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