Riding at the Margins: International Media and the Construction of a Generic Outlaw Biker Identity in the South Island of New Zealand, circa 1950 - 1975.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Abstract New Zealand has had a visible recreational motorcycle culture since the 1920s, although the forerunners of the later 'outlaw' motorcycle clubs really only started to emerge as loose-knit biker cliques in the 1950s. The first recognised New Zealand 'outlaw club', the Auckland chapter of the Californian Hell's Angels M.C., was established on July 1961 (Veno 2003: 31). This was the Angels' first international chapter, and only their fifth chapter overall at that time. Further outlaw clubs emerged throughout both the North and the South Island of New Zealand from the early 1960s, and were firmly established in both islands by the end of 1975. Outlaw clubs continue to flourish to this day. The basic question that motivated this thesis was how (the extent to which) international film, literature, media reports and photographic images (circa 1950 - 1975) have influenced the generic identity adopted by 'outlaw' motorcycle clubs in New Zealand, with particular reference to the South Island clubs. The focus of the research was on how a number of South Island New Zealand outlaw bikers interpreted international mass media representations of 'outlaw' biker culture between 1950 - 1975. This time span was carefully chosen after considerable research, consultation and reflection. It encompasses a period when New Zealand experienced rapid development of a global mass media, where cultural images were routinely communicated internationally in (relatively) real time. Drawing on the work of Okely and Cohen, I argue that 'outlaw' motorcycle clubs, like many other subcultures, construct their communities symbolically, and that some of the rituals and symbolism seen in New Zealand outlaw biker clubs today are substantially similar to those observed in 'outlaw' clubs in other parts of the world (Thompson 1966, Okely 1983, Cohen 1985, Veno 2003). My fieldwork clearly established that representations of outlaw motorcycle clubs were being actively consumed by South Island bikers via the international mass media from the early - mid 1960s. However, my research also revealed that, whilst the globalisation of the mass media was integral to the evolution of the generic New Zealand 'outlaw' biker social identity, it was not their only influence. South Island outlaw bikers, like any other consumer of mass media, accepted and at times appropriated some of the international and regional representations of their subculture, whilst clearly rejecting others. I also established that like any other international subculture, there were regional differences that were often determined by factors contingent to the locality, and that the South Island outlaw clubs from that period that still exist today were also influenced by conflict with significant others, including the police, during their formative stages. This supports Lavigne's and Veno's contention that warfare is good for clubs during their formative stage, as violent conflict weeds out the weak, whilst bonding surviving members to their clubs and their club brothers (Lavigne 1987: 301, Veno 2003: 263). Key words: community; sub-cultures; media; identity; gangs; outlaw motorcycle clubs David Haslett School of Sociology and Anthropology University of Canterbury Private Bag 4800 Christchurch 8140 New Zealand