Hawking Up Hairballs

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Survivor: New Meat

I’ve never watched a single episode of the various CBS Survivor shows. It’s not that my entertainment tastes are so refined. I’ve watched my share of crap TV. It’s just that the whole premise behind these Survivor shows is such bullshit. If they’re going to put these people on deserted islands in order to see who lasts the longest, then put them on the islands and see who lasts the longest. Don’t fake it with phony challenges and such. Let’s see how these bozos do without any food and water for six months. He who survives wins the prize. If someone gets injured or sick, and dies, tough luck. How about a little cannibalism? I mean, don’t promise the Coliseum, if you aren’t going to deliver the Coliseum.

I’m exaggerating, of course, but I don’t understand why anyone would want to watch some phony survival contest, and America’s television viewers have apparently come to see it the same way, and ratings for these shows has been declining. So, how has CBS responded to this situation? They’re giving us Survivor: Cook Islands. In this version of the franchise, the contestants will be divided up into four “tribes” that are segregated according to ethnicity. There will be a tribes of whites, blacks, latins, and asians. A number of civil rights organizations have protested, claiming that CBS is promoting racism.

No doubt this show will promote racism, in some small sense anyway. However, more than anything else it reflects American realities. The fact is that, in the public space, racism is the 500-pound gorilla that everyone pretends isn’t there. (Class is another such big gorilla in that space, but I’ll leave that for another post.) If one were to learn about race in America only by watching TV, one would conclude that it’s a thing of the past and that, when racial incidents occur, an overwhelming majority of the people disapprove of them.

Racial differences as presented on TV are mere foibles of the sort that provide fodder for comedians. A staple of beer commercials is the group of white and black guys watching sports, as though this sort of thing were typical. I’m certain that there are white and black guys who are the sort of good buddies who watch sports together, but such situations are so rare as to be anomalous. The reality is that, when it comes to our private lives, we gather into self-segregated cliques and crews.

Without a doubt, there have been significant advances in the race situation in this country. When I was a very small child I visited my grandparents in Florida. I can remember the water fountains, one for whites and one for coloreds. Those days are gone and hopefully forever, but racism still thrives in America. Here in Georgia, I have worked with many educated and intelligent whites who, when they felt that they were in a situation where they could speak freely, expressed the opinion that blacks were intellectually inferior, and thus incapable of holding down the jobs that required intelligence and education. One coworker who had a master’s degree in computer science even went so far as to claim that the National Football League was being taken over by blacks because they had harder heads and could therefore better tolerate the hits that the players have to take. That is such nonsense that I thought he was joking at first, but he was completely serious.

These sorts of opinions are still out there, but there proponents have been intimidated and silenced. That is for the best in my opinion, but we shouldn’t underestimate the strength of those attitudes. The right-wing movement that put the Bush cabal into power is deeply rooted in the beliefs of this publicly silenced segment of our society.

I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Survivor: Cook Islands does well. Most people in this country believe in racial stereotypes. Black are better athletes than whites. Asians are better at science and math than whites. Whites are smarter than blacks. Mexicans don’t mind living in big groups, stuffing a dozen people into a single apartment. Those are just some of the stereotypes and, to the extent that they might seem to be true, the explanation lies in the realm of the social and cultural, not in some mythical notion of race.


Blogger David Matthews said...

I am heartened when I think of how far we have come since I was a boy in South Carolina in the 1960s and dismayed at how accurate your depiction of the present day is. In my optimistic moments I think that for each step forward we take only three-quarters of a step back; in gloomier mood I take the notion of progress to be only a chimera. So whacha gon' do? as my old French teacher used to say.

11:07 PM  

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