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Up next: 'Survivor: Race War'
Published on Friday, August 25, 2006 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
Up Next: 'Survivor: Race War'
by Tony Norman
 

Bored with scenic settings and alarmed by dwindling ratings, the producers of "Survivor" have taken their once successful reality show back to its roots in Jim Crow era television.

"Survivor: Cook Islands" promises to be the kind of "must-see TV" that would have provided plenty of cover for a lynch mob in Mississippi a generation or so ago.

Since most sentient beings had already bailed by the time "Survivor: McKeesport" rolled around a few years ago, series creator Mark Burnett has grown increasingly desperate in his attempts to lure eyeballs back to what was once the sleaziest showcase of Social Darwinism on television.

After Donald Trump failed to follow through on his threat to divide the contestants on "The Apprentice" along racial lines to get his own show's ratings up, Mr. Burnett appropriated the idea for his flagship reality series.

When the morally obtuse Jeff Probst reconvenes the show's tribal council in the South Pacific in a few weeks, 20 contestants will be divided into four competing racial groups: black, white, Hispanic and Asian.

The four groups will battle each other for petty and illusory advantage based solely on the discredited idea that racial identity is static and biologically determined.

The Phrenology Society has already promised to underwrite the entire season if the level of pseudoscience and racial superstition can be maintained in a thoughtful and dignified manner. Thickness of lips, coarseness of hair and skin pigment has been carefully measured to insure the racial integrity of the contestants. Once again, the "one drop" rule developed by the best minds of the 19th-century was ruthlessly enforced.

The producers of "Survivor" obviously couldn't risk a contestant trying to "pass" for a member of the opposing race and sabotage its efforts. After all, that's how American society got so messed up in the first place.

"I think at first glance when you just hear the idea, it could sound like a stunt. That's not what we're doing here," Mr. Probst told horrified CBS colleague Harry Smith on "The Early Show" when he explained the new season's premise.

Dissembling with a smile that won't be visible under the white hood he'll wear this season, Mr. Probst continued: "The idea came from the criticism that 'Survivor' was not ethnically diverse enough."

With that disingenuous nod to racial inclusion, David Duke, "Survivor's" new executive producer, stood off camera giving Probst two energetic thumbs up.

Could the moral be any clearer? Because of calls for more racial diversity in prime-time, we've got a race war on our hands. With luck, the ratings will reflect the show's triviality and lack of seriousness.

"You know I'm going to watch it," a black colleague told me. He's already betting that the black and white tribes make it to the finals, adding that he'd be "highly shocked" if he was proved wrong.

"When you talk about the achievement gap, you're already talking blacks and whites," he said with an ironic laugh.

Asked if the prospect of a resurgent war of the races on television made him uncomfortable, my buddy laughed. "Hey, man," he said with his southern drawl, "I'll be quietly cheering for the [home] team."

The black tribe consists of a jazz musician (the gangsta rapper was voted off the island long before the cameras began rolling), a salesman, an actress, a nursing student and a makeup artist.

The white tribe fields a crew that includes a copier salesman, a waitress who boxes, a roller girl, a writer and a pre-med student. It's interesting that in their own minds, they're already the front-runners.

The Hispanic tribe has the most interesting lineup, by far: a heavy metal guitarist, a cop, a technology risk consultant, a waiter and a volleyball player. Rush Limbaugh predicts that they'll win because "they'll do things other people won't do" and because "blacks can't swim."

Of course, if they do win, it will freak out America and lead to calls for even stricter immigration controls at the border.

The Asian tribe is represented by a management consultant, a nail salon manager, a real estate agent, a fashion director and a lawyer who graduated from Pitt law school. Are they capable of doing the ruthless things necessary to win "Survivor" even though such tactics would embarrass their families forever? We'll see.

It's always dangerous to criticize a program sight unseen, but its hard to imagine how a show that has as its motto "May the best race win" contributing anything positive to the already strained conversation wafting across America's racial divide.

Copyright © PG Publishing Co., Inc.

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