Thursday, August 24, 2006

Survivor's Racing Ahead + Lee's When the Levees Broke

Survivor's Race Game
Another day, another dolor
, to echo the late James Schuyler. In keeping with the current reactionary societal logic of today, CBS's Survivor show (why is it still on the air???) will divide up this fall's 20 competitors by "race." Claiming a desire to bring "more diversity" to the show, Mark Burnett and the other producers decided to create four "tribes" of five players--there'll be White, African-American, Hispanic not a racial category, but hey, the Nixonians knew what they were doing when they devised it), and Asian teams, at least initially, for the 13th edition of the show, Survivor: Cook Islands. (Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and any other "racial" categories presumably would have included would have messed up the neatness of the numbers.) Supposedly Donald Trump considered doing this with Apprentice--and he did divide teams up by sex--but the outcry was too great so he backed off. Survivor: Cook Island's overt segregationism masquerading as a "new" approach parallels the unspoken segregration, racism and racial exclusivity, ethnocentrism, and racial, ethnic, gender, and class stereotyping that plagues so much of mainstream TV (cf. Black White or Welcome to the Neighborhood) and the media landscape in general. (Cf. Crash, Soul Plane, etc.) Then again, at a time when you have someone like Pat Buchanan openly calling for immigration policies to ensure "white dominance," Senator George Allen slurring an opponent's staffer as a "Macaca," Joe Lieberman's aide using racist appeals against Ned Lamont, and on and on, it's not surprising. And let me not forget the recent story from Shreveport, Louisiana about the 9 Black children who were forced to sit at the back of their school bus so that White children could sit up front, or the lawsuit in Alabama alleging resegregation of bathroom facilities, to name just two of the more egregious recent examples. The uproar--if there is one--about this will probably draw more people to the show, which saw its ratings plummet last year. How much stereotyping will the show engage in? (The athletic Blacks who cannot swim; the delicate Asians who'll use their brains to outwit everyone; the hardworking Latinos Hispanics, etc.). It also makes you wonder, what's next? Teams based on religion? Sexual orientation? Class? Political affiliation? IQ scores?

Of course one might say that this is all much ado about nothing; this kind of mess pops up all the time. Any and every response could be viewed as a form of reaction, of particularized aggrievement. Why not just ignore it, not give it credence, not hype it up? Why not allow this TV program, which will reach millions more people than any thoughtful book or documentary or even feature film, to broadcast whatever it will, and find means to put forward a counter-discourse, not a reactive one, but a proactive one? So what if this kind of crap, and other programs like it, reinforce millions of people's misguided ideas about race, ethnicity, and so on? Don't worry, be happy....

Andrés on When the Levees Broke
I wasn't able to catch Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke on HBO, but Andrés at Blabbeando writes about it and underlines the consistent praise I've heard about Lee's treatment of one of the worst disasters and failures of government leadership this country has faced in its history. If there was any event that should shocked Americans out of our complacency about the disastrous way this country has been run by 2000--or should I say run into the ground--it should have been Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, which played out horrifically in real time as the TV cameras rolled. Over 1,000 people died, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced (and many still are), and one of the country's major cities, as well as a huge swath of the Gulf Coast extending in both directions, was completely obliterated. I carry around memories of the images, the images of the destruction and suffering--and a residue of rage--about what happened down there, and I applaud Lee and anyone who calls attention to the ongoing devastation and loss, the failure of leadership and lack of services, and above all, the continuing absence of accountability that has left New Orleans, other parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama shells of themselves, and scattered their people, our people, everywhere. Next week is the one year anniversary of this tragedy--we have to be vigilant so that if we can, we don't ever let anything like it happen again.


  1. Hi. I was flipping through blogs about the new Survivor series and I came across your page. I like what you have to say about the topic. i wrote on teh same issue. Check it out!

  2. Jayceeclevie, thanks for dropping in, and for sending me your URL. I'll leave my thoughts on your site.

  3. Sorry J. I gotta vent about this because it never ceases to amaze me. There is a fixation with racial catergories in this country that is really really disfiguring issues concerning access to wealth and educaiton/information. Not to mention issues of self-segregation by black folk up North and up South. I find it really hard to bare.

    And tomorrow on Nightline there is a special on Black America and Aids. It is the last piece that was put together by Peter Jennings. His daughter helped to wrap up the production after his death. I saw a segment of it on ABC Nightly News, and she said that the discourse does not cross beyond the black community and this show will bring it to light.

    Amazing. Noah's Arc (I know J, I exhaled for a second from all the eye candy and you are right . . . the acting is not the best)last night stated that 46 percent of gay brothers are HIV positive . Not sure, but I do remember in the late 90's, one out of three young gay black males that were tested for HIV came up positive in many parts of NYC according to a friend of mine that was a case worker. I could go on . . . but Survivor boils thing down to the essentialist notions of race that fail to fostering hardy discussions on the truly culturally specfic problems we have in this country.

  4. The new Survivor seems to be falling in line with the general trend for more segregation and separation of the 'races' and will, I'm sure, play on and attempt to reinforce stereotypes ("naturally athletic" Blacks, "brainy" Asians, "emotional" Hispanics, and "regular" whites). Didn't/haven't watched this show before, and won't watch now. (BTW: NBC has a 'Survivor-lite' show with teens on Saturday mornings)

    Finally, re Spike: I haven't seen the documentary (yet) but bravo to him for doing this, and being allowed time to develop the story completely (4 hrs).

    A year ago I was hoping to see a major blue ribbon panel of designers, civic planners, and citizens to develop a plan for the rebuilding/re-creation of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. This was a unique opportunity for the best minds in the country to (re) create an entire city. I am still waiting for someone in power to have that kind of vision. Katrina and the woeful response to it truly is a Great American Disaster, and deserves the operatic/classic tragedy treatment Spike Lee's apparently given it. Since it was on HBO I doubt it can be nominated, otherwise I'd say "polish up that Oscar"

  5. I think the ABC special is on now, tonight (at least in NJ). I thought they said tomorrow.

  6. HBO will show When The Levees Broke again in its entirety tomorrow (8/29) on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.