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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mark Burnett, May You Burn In The Deepest Pits of Hell

Despite being one of the grand-daddies of today's reality tv explosion, Survivor has suffered in recent years from lacklustre ratings and general consumer disinterest. Gone are the days when your overweight friends held Thursday night Survivor parties with each attendent sporting their brand-new, freshly-ordered off the CBS website Survivor buffs, and "voted off the island" has long past its hey-day as pop-culture jargon. So, what did Mark Burnett do this season in order to remind us that his cash cow was still kicking? He did what all reality television shows inevitably do: he turned to race. This season, Survivor features 20 new cast-members trying to survive in harsh, untamed nature (completely authentic despite the well-fed six-man camera crew following sticking the camera in your face as you attempt to light kindling with two pieces of rock and a machete). Of note is the fact that this season marks the most diverse Survivor cast we've ever seen, with a whopping fifteen people of colour. Of course, rather than try to deflect accusations of tokenism in casting, Burnett went to the opposite extreme: unabashed racism! In the 30-second video promo, host Jeff Probst excitedly informs us that Survivor has become a social experiment; the twenty castmembers will be divided into four tribes... by "ethnicity"! (Burnett must think we're stupid if we think that "White", "African American", and "Asian American" are ethnicities. They're races; Burnett is just afraid of sounding politically incorrect, describing what he has nonetheless done). People divided by race and told to survive in the wild. What could be wrong with this picture, you ask? How about the unabashed racism of just looking at skin colour and separating people into different tribes? How about the fact that the only reason one would pit the tribes separated by race against one another is to play off of the kinds of racial superiority contests best left to the Bell Curve? How about the fact that Burnett is hawking this development not only as a daring "social experiment" but is implying through the commercial that separating people by race will automatically create such delightful racial strife that we will just have to watch (i.e., that racism is human nature)? And how about the fact that despite all this focus on race, the video still emphasizes images of White people? I am disgusted -- absolutely disgusted -- by this new season of Survivor. Sure, there's a rockin' three Asian American men on the show (although what does it mean that no Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans or Asian Indians are included in this season?), but nothing excuses using people of colour as props to increase your own flaccid ratings, by including us in some sort of desperate affirmative action ploy and re-vamping your show's rules to only incorporate people of colour when it's about race. Screw you, Mark Burnett. They should throw you into that Tribal Council fire. Hat-tip: WilliamBruceWest.com

15 Comments:

Anonymous Mac said...

LOL! I was wondering if you were going to talk about this. I love this idea. I don't see this as no worse then dividing them by age or by gender. Other then the fact of him calling attention to it and making it a big deal instead of just doing it.

8/24/2006 05:07:00 AM  
Blogger James said...

This new Survivor division proves as horrid and untenable as any other faux division on racial lines to increase corporate profits. Mark Burnett suddenly finds that the exoticised Technicolor travel hour he's promoted for years seems stale, so he trots out ye-olde Reality TV Handbook, and openly advertises who the Mary Ellis Bunim reality tv model always cultivated, but never advertised as the Real World's main selling point.

Frankly, people of color should never be the props monochrome corporations utilize to keep their bottom line in the black. Not to mention the disheartening stereotyping possible here - if the Black team proves effective in physical challenges and someone explains that success with old-school African physical prowess stereotypes, for example.

In my opinion Mac, that's the most useful issue with Survivor's racial divisions here. Unlike age or gender, that can logically affect physical performance in survival situations, race has no scientific involvement with such activity. It's totally social. So these divisions only exist to allow the American viewing public tribalized solidarity on racial lines, a completely divisive, un-American, and archaic ploy.

CBS should be ashamed.

8/24/2006 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Cocacy said...

Excellent comment James. The outcome of this season of Survivor can only be best described as catastrophic. The eventual outcome(s) of the show will be most assuredly used to bloster existing stereotypes of earch racial category and reinforce racist practices in media and elsewhere against people of color. White people never cease to amaze me...

8/24/2006 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

WHO THE HELL WATCHES SURVIVOR ANYMORE? That show lost me after Richard Hatch won the first one......only to be plagued by legal troubles for years to come. Ah, karma's a bitch, isn't it?

That said, I bet you, any of the "third world" peoples will beat the crap out of the white tribe, only to have the white tribe WIN and take all the credit.

That's the AmeriKKKan way, betch. White people dominating on the backs of people of color. Making POC do all the dirty work and them taking ALL the credit. YEEEE-HAW!

8/24/2006 07:32:00 PM  
Blogger Lee Herrick said...

Survivor is like the 8 track or cassette tape. Old news. May their ratings continue to sag.

8/24/2006 11:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Loren said...

Yes, Survivor is trying to figure out how it can still remain fresh. I agree, though, this is about as insulting as when they went with the sexist and ageist route last year. Maybe next year it will be the straights vs. the gays.

But, I also have to say that I'm also for getting more Asian Americans on these shows and, when I looked at the list, there's a whole bunch of them, both men and women. Unfortunately, I know how TV works and if Asian Americans don't watch the show, they'll just chalk that up to Asian Americans don't need to see Asian Americans on TV.

So, I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Do I watch the show and support Asian Americans being on television or do I not watch the show because of the stupid way their going about it?

8/25/2006 12:09:00 AM  
Blogger NursePam said...

Oh good grief. I'm speechless.

8/25/2006 01:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Not watching. Survivor jumped the shark a few years ago.

But anyways, what purpose does this show have except to reinforce stereotypes? Remember, Survivor is scripted, so I think the Latino and Asian tribes would be eliminated almost immediately.

8/25/2006 01:48:00 AM  
Blogger fortycalibernap said...

watch the ratings spike.

but the real issue is media, not this show.

8/25/2006 02:40:00 AM  
Anonymous philly jay said...

Pure gimmick.Just like men vs women, and older vs younger.It probably won't even be that heated either.I forgot people still watch Survivor.

8/25/2006 06:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like everybody above says, no one watches Survivor anymore. It's not part of the public zeitgeist anymore. The stunt's a desperate attempt to grab some headlines, but apart from the cable news programs exacerbating the hype, it won't grab anyone's attention unless somebody gets killed.

But you know, as much as we all would like to wish it weren't true, most people are still divided by color lines and group with those of their own race. So as crass as Survivor is, in a way it's reflecting (okay, exploiting) a certain reality, albeit cynically and dishonestly.

But really, you should save your outrage over Oliver "Vietnam Guilt" Stone casting white actors as the heroes in "World Trade Center" who were, in real life, black. Or Angelina Jolie playing Daniel Pearl's black/biracial widow in Brad Pitt's movie about his murder. Apparently the role was going to go to former Pitt Wife Jennifer Aniston, but well. The whitewashing of history...

8/26/2006 04:52:00 AM  
Blogger fortycalibernap said...

the two port authority cops portrayed in stone's movie were hispanic and white. the story you link to has noted at least a partial correction.

aside from that (knowing nothing of the pearl/jolie issue) i think the point you've made is pretty solid. i also believe if you're gonna call somebody on their shit you need to make sure your own research is solid.

8/27/2006 05:05:00 AM  
Anonymous Wraithe said...

Good summary!

I was reminded of "The Daily Show" bit they did on the Senator who referred to a guy who was taping one of his speeches. In the bit, their complaint wasn't that it was a racist slur, it was that it was a pathetic, weak racist slur.

Seriously, Burnett wants to do a "Social Experiment"? Hey, how about getting a couple of Bosnian Serbs and a couple of Bosnian Croats for different tribes? And, wait,and, you could grab a couple of Militia members from Rwanda and some refufees from Rwanda and put them in another Tribe! Oh! AND put a cache of weapons somewhere on the island for them to fine. Now THAT's a ratings-fest.

Of course, what scares me - is that I probably just described NEXT season.

8/28/2006 05:46:00 PM  
Blogger fortycalibernap said...

wraithe -- i think you've hit on something, and i think you're right and i think it's only a matter of time.

but i'd watch that shit.

8/29/2006 01:45:00 PM  
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