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A Sham Of A Show: Why Not 'Helper' Instead Of 'Survivor'?
Published on Friday, August 25, 2000 in the Boston Globe
A Sham Of A Show:
Why Not 'Helper' Instead Of 'Survivor'?
by Derrick Z. Jackson
Now that ''Survivor'' is over, CBS presents ''Helper.'' No one knows if this new show will get 40 million viewers for the final episode. No one knows if Americans want to see Americans do nice things.

They said ''Survivor'' was ''reality TV.'' They said it was real because it was about ordinary people in an unscripted drama with a surprise ending. Real-ly? As far as I can tell, the show was as predictable as a day in Congress or in an overcrowded school. There is no mystery as to who wins when 16 people are left on an island and told that they have to vote one another off until only one is left to win a million dollars.

Did anyone actually think that the winner of such a contrivance would be anyone other than a mean, manipulative son or daughter of a female dog? Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, Mike Tyson, and Rudolph Giuliani would have loved being in the final four after having voted off Jesse Helms, Rupert Murdoch, O.J. Simpson, Mark Fuhrman, Lorena Bobbitt, Klaus Von Bulow, Susan Smith, Charles Stuart, Richard Nixon, Newt Gingrich, Don Imus, and the LAPD.

The winner of ''Survivor'' was supreme manipulator Richard Hatch. Even as the losers voted for him, one told Hatch, ''You are an openly arrogant and pompous human being.'' What a surprise! A corporate trainer winning a son-of-a-female-dog competition! Anybody ever heard of George Steinbrenner?

As an African-American, I found the ''Survivor'' frenzy a prime example of certain white folks with way too much time on their hands. If I get this right, we were supposed to be gripped with the struggle of 16 people engaged in a primordial, back-stabbing Olympics, with finalists who were rewarded with ''Got Milk'' ads and wore shirts for sneaker companies even before the final show.

You could have filmed ''Survivor'' for 400 years if it had been African-Americans, from slave ships to plantations to lynchings to shootings in housing projects to police brutality. Forget about promoting products. How about exclusive CBS footage of black folks being shafted for promotions?

Latinos must be scratching their heads, too. How come the cameras at the border were not from CBS but from the INS? Haitians did not get a million dollars trying to flee to Florida from a military coup. They got the baking heat of asphalt at Guantanamo Bay. And do not forget the Golden Venture, the decrepit ship that in 1993 spit 286 emaciated Chinese immigrants out into rough waters off Queens after 100 squalid days at sea. Ten immigrants died trying to swim to shore. The United States detained many of them for more than three years and sent 170 of them back to China. None of them ''Got Milk.''

So now that you have gotten enough of jerks winning a million dollars, isn't it time for a show that celebrates 13 weeks of making America a better place? I'm talking about goodness that builds on itself until it becomes good policy for all of us. Here are possible plots for the 13 weeks of ''Helper.''

Week 1: Alert teachers in suburban Dallas discover Columbine-like plot to shoot up school.

Week 2: Concern leads to after-school programs, gun control, and George W. Bush's rejection of cash from the National Rifle Association.

Week 3: Daughter of vice presidential candidate Dick Cheney is harassed by skinheads for being lesbian. Cheney drives up to scene and pushes them away.

Week 4: Cheney leads fight for hate crimes laws.

Week 5: Sixth-grader in Los Angeles is buried under debris as dilapidated ceiling collapses at school. Child is rescued by classmates.

Week 6: President authorizes $100 billion to repair the nation's public schools.

Week 7: Man is demoted for wanting more than a week off to help with newborn child. Hotel maid is fired after attending too many school meetings for her child with learning disabilities.

Week 8: Congress enacts flexible family leave - with pay.

Week 9: Colin Powell's daughter is denied job because of racism. Powell tells GOP to either support affirmative action or he'll become a Democrat.

Week 10: GOP rewrites platform to support affirmative action.

Week 11: Five service workers leaving work suffer multiple fractures in crackup. None has health insurance. All have wives and small children. HMOs couldn't care less.

Week 12: Congress enacts universal health care.

Week 13: ''Helper'' cast gathers around the fire to hold hands and say the Pledge of Allegiance, with liberty and justice for all, and not a million dollars for the most manipulative son of a female dog.

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Globe columnist.

Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company


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