Desperately seeking a national identity : an examination of narrative in the Heartland television series and its influence in defining New Zealanders
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Television permeates our daily lives. Ninety seven per cent of New Zealand households have a television set and the average watching time is estimated at 20 hours per week (Grimes and Tyndall, 1999). This exposure to television has been recognised as an important factor in the way we see and identify ourselves as a nation - how we seek to find signs and symbols that construct a shared identity and culture that make us New Zealanders and distinguish us from other nations.Using narrative theory combined with critical discourse analysis this thesis aims to show that, even in factual programmes, stories can be constructed that convey messages of nationhood and belonging, creating and recreating a national identity that present New Zealanders in a positive way and seek to bind them as a nation.Three episodes of the television series Heartland, a popular documentary in the mid-1990s that explored the people and lifestyles in different locations around New Zealand, were selected for analysis focusing on narrative structure, the social actors and the role of the narrator. Critical discourse analysis was employed to look at the connection between language, image and text, and discursive practices as well as the relationship the text has in a socio-cultural context.The analysis found that the programmes followed a similar narrative structure to that of a fictional story involving changes in states of equilibrium that created a sense of concern or anxiety associated with what it means to be a New Zealander. However the subsequent resolution of these anxieties combined with the entertaining role of the programme presenter Gary McCormick and the involvement of social actors, resulted in a version of New Zealand's national identity being represented as a reality through a positive discourse of the population working towards a socially and culturally harmonious society.