It has been a popular TV programme in Fiji since the mid-1990s. But what values and ideas do Fijians and Indo-Fijians take from Shortland Street?
Dr Charu Uppal, a visitor to New Zealand, has talked with a group of academics and students about her findings on how Fiji citizens view this popular series which is broadcast several times a week during prime time television.
Dr Uppal is a former lecturer from the University of the South Pacific regional journalism programme. On joining the university in 2005 she was fascinated to hear her students and friends talk about how much they enjoyed and learned from watching the New Zealand soap opera.
She quickly found out that then Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase, now deposed by the army, did not like Shortland Street. He had attacked the show saying:
The rise of promiscuity, sexually transmitted diseases and accidental teenage pregnancies is directly linked to the influence of media.Ledua Leqaieciopia, a student at USP and a regular viewer of Shortland Street noted:
The show is filled with adult themes – adultery, infidelity, cyberspace pornography and others.Unable to resolve her curiosity, Dr Uppal gathered together a group of people of different ages, occupations and ethnic groups for a research project to talk with them about their Shortland Street viewing.
When the group met, Dr Uppal told them that she wanted to find out their perceptions of the New Zealand series on themselves and on other people they knew. She was also interested to find out, if she could, about the implications for local culture on viewing Shortland Street.
Kirti, an avid viewer, and the youngest person in the group, said she admired the clothes the actors wore.
“I loved their dressing and its something that I cannot wear myself because of the community that I have grown up in, and stuff, you know?”
Josie, a woman from a conservative family said that viewing Shortland Street helped her learn about homosexuality. She then accepted the different lifestyle of her daughters.
“Shortland Street was blamed for my girls…umm…my husband used to blame me. I was watching Shortland Street, that’s why girls turned out to be lesbians. But it’s their freedom. I am not going to stop them.”
For Jay, part of the attraction of viewing the soap opera was that he felt closer to his relatives who lived in New Zealand.
“They mention Fiji almost, like, every month…every two months… I mean my family, have migrated over there … a soap opera from New Zealand …means more to you.”
Katie and some of her friends often text each other during the broadcast to comment on the story.
“I think it acts like a catharsis for me…so there’d be all sorts of nonsense going on in my own life and I enjoy watching people that have the same/similar problems. The social reason is that I can talk about it with people. I have some close friends, some colleagues who are actually here, who I can share with. We actually text during the show…”
Jay watches the show mainly because he thinks many of the women characters are attractive, and that the show serves as an appetiser to the 9 pm shows, which are mainly from American television.
An overall response from the group was that Shortland Street is used to relax and relieve stress. But it is also used to initiate serious discussions on themes and issues arising from the TV stories that might otherwise take years before they are openly discussed within the local culture.
Shortland Street is not available on DVD although many fans visit the website. The Fiji Television broadcast of Shortland Street in Fiji is three weeks behind that in NZ.
The website helps those who are curious learn about the show ahead of its broadcast time.
Picture: Dr Charu Uppal, formerly of the University of the South Pacific.