Academic journal article Post Script

Global Pressure and the Political State: New Zealand's Cinema of Crisis

Academic journal article Post Script

Global Pressure and the Political State: New Zealand's Cinema of Crisis

Article excerpt

In an age of new global terrorism and heightened international political tension, New Zealand has been unable to remain detached from the troubles of the wider world, despite its geographical distance from the regions of conflict. During this time, New Zealand appears to have become increasingly concerned with the strength of its most dominant national myths, where as an imagined pastoral paradise on the world's perimeter it has historically been perceived as a refuge and an idyllic retreat. Such myths have been extended with the release of the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), but whilst political allegories have been found within the productions, they also arguably disguise the post 9/11 global realities. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, part one of the trilogy, was released just three months after the World Trade Centre was struck. Since then New Zealand has been focusing on the harnessing of tourism on the back of The Lord of the Rings' screen promotion of the spectacular local landscape, whilst simultaneously seeking to deflect criticism from its big neighbors--Australia and the US--for degrading its military capabilities (see Patman 55-58). These nations, in particular, have also judged New Zealand to be "not doing enough in the war against terrorism" (Patman 58).

Yet, if New Zealand's popular fictions are in any way a reflection of the imagined state then the country would appear to have been in crisis since the late 1970s. In films such as Sleeping Dogs (1977), Nutcase (1980), Shaker Run (1985), Should I Be Good? (1985), Dangerous Orphans (1986), Never Say Die (1988), Chill Factor (1988), The Grasscutter (1988), Zilch! (1989), Undercover (1991), Typhon's People (1993), Crooked Earth (2001), The Vector File (2001), The Shirt (2001), and Spooked (2004), New Zealand has been shown secretly wanting to manufacture biological weapons, to have attracted and harbored a worryingly high number of international terrorists, hired killers, weapons specialists, drug dealers and master criminals, and to be a country with frequent instances of espionage and both corporate and government corruption. (1) I have argued elsewhere that New Zealand is in a constant state of mild anarchy, a moderated disdain for authority which may allow for the entertainment of such wild fantasies (see Conrich, "Kiwi Gothic" 114-115), but the socio-cultural factors run deeper, and can be traced to periods of political urgency in which the nation is seen to evolve. This article will reflect on contemporary New Zealand history, and it will argue, in relation to a series of key films, that the local cinema has been repeatedly articulating issues of national identity under pressure from global forces.

A TROUBLED PARADISE?

There are, of course, many perspectives that can be adopted in considering the state of a nation. A particular perspective is through representations in the media, where arguably the popular press is one of the most potent forces in the circulation and maintenance of cultural myths and the formation of national identities. A good example is the weekly newspaper New Zealand News UK; available both free at designated London drops, and by paid subscription, it is designed predominantly for the UK based New Zealand community. It has a circulation of 65,000 readers, and its weekly summary of New Zealand related news provides both a revealing snapshot of a country with a fiercely proud identity and an overseas view of an imagined nation. New Zealand News UK is continually positive and celebratory in its coverage, but just a sample of some of the recent headlines depicts also a frequent instability within the national image. "Islam appeals to Maori inmates" was the bottom front-page headline for 20 October 2004. It quoted Maori Muslim leader Te Amorangi Kireka-Whaanga, who said that membership of the militant Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association "had shot up since September 11 2001, as global media focused on radical Islam," and that new members join as they "admire Osama Bin Laden . …

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