Steve Elers, Phoeb Elers

Myth, Maori and two cartoons: A semiotic analysis

In May 2013, two cartoons depicting Maori people were published in two newspapers in Aotearoa New Zealand. Maori politicians condemned the cartoons as perpetuating racism, while the Race Relations Commissioner said the cartoons were offensive but not racist. The purpose of this paper is to critique those two cultural artefacts. We draw upon Barthesian criticism to conduct a semiotic analysis as an oppositional response to challenge the dominant colonial social order. By default, this essay is a form of ideological demystification - a tool to deconstruct what is taken for granted as natural and normal - in this instance: the representation of Maori.

Keywords: Maori, racism, stereotyping, representation, semiotics, cartoons


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Note on the contributor

Dr Steve Elers is a member of the following iwi (Maori tribes): Ngati Kauwhata, Ngati Haua, Ngati Maniapoto, Ngati Raukawa, Ngati Kahungunu ki Wairarapa, Rangitane, Ngai Tahu, and Ngati Hikairo. He is a lecturer in the School of Communication, Journalism and Marketing at Massey University. His recent doctoral thesis (2016) at Auckland University of Technology's School of Communication Studies examined Maori perspectives of public information advertisements targeted at Maori. He has published in Te Kaharoa, Intercultural Communication Studies and Grounded Theory Review, and has recently been accepted for publication by China Media Research and Postcolonial Text.
Phoebe Elers is a researcher at Massey University's School of Management. She recently submitted her doctoral thesis at Auckland University of Technology's School of Communication Studies which examined a digital communication medium that connects patients to their healthcare providers. Her primary research interests include discourse analysis and semiotics, Maori health, and the use of information and communication technologies for healthcare purposes. She received a Master's degree from Queensland University of Technology in 2014.