Tuesday, August 29, 2006

this is why it matters

While some readers have shared my sense of revulsion at the racist structure of the new season of Survivor, others thought I was overreacting, and that the show even sounded like trashy fun. (Alas, these comments were offered in private. How about putting it in the comments section so we can all join in the discussion?) While I’m aware that the producers of the show did this to get tongues wagging—and I guess I stand guilty as charged on that one—I still think you can’t simply write this off as just a publicity stunt, and/or as “good clean fun.”

And here’s why:

In the August 23 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio program, Rush Limbaugh suggested that the competition in a new season of CBS' reality TV program Survivor, in which contestants are reportedly divided into competing "tribes" by ethnicity, "is not going to be fair if there's a lot of water events."

Here’s more of Rush’s handy handicap:

. . . our early money is on [the Hispanics] anyway, because these people have shown a remarkable ability, ladies and gentlemen, to cross borders, boundaries -- they get anywhere they want to go. They can do it without water for a long time. They don't get apprehended, and they will do things other people won't do.

. . . .

The Asian -- the Asian-American tribe probably will outsmart everybody, but will that help them in the ultimate survival contest? Intelligence is one thing, but raw, native understanding of the land and so forth -- this is probably why the Native Americans were excluded, because they were at one with the land here, and they probably would have an unfair advantage.

There’s more of this crap over at Media Matters, but the point I want to make with this is that if Limbaugh is talking this way, then you know plenty of others are having similar discussions. Is this a healthy way to approach race? Does this conversation bring us closer as a nation? Does structuring a debate around stereotypes help redress the wrongs of past discrimination?

I don’t know if CBS execs have managed to talk themselves into believing that their show ever intended to do any of that—maybe they still just think “this is a good way to make more money”—but intended or not, this edition of Survivor is making a kind of conversation happen more than it otherwise would, and I think that the Rushian archetype, rather than bringing us together, seeks to drive us apart.

As we commemorate the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall, wouldn’t it be better to contemplate how a history of segregation and other racist policies helped perpetuate a cycle of poverty that consigned thousands of poor, predominantly African American New Orleanians to horrible deaths in the rising flood waters, instead of wondering if they would have faired better had they been genetically superior swimmers?

(hat tip for the Rush content goes to Think Progress)


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