Any of you watched this TV program “Survivor”? About two groups of people, supposedly alone on some ‘desert island’ and the two teams compete to win a million bucks. Apparently, there’s another 200-odd people on the island with them, tucked away behind the cameras. Anyway, each day, the 2 teams go through a kindof “Gladiators” without the Lycra and each nite the losing team has to toss one person off the island. As the series progresses, it gets pretty hectic each nite when they have to select one of their fellow contestants.
There’s an English writer John Berger who has written some really interesting stuff on the media , his most famous being, the “Ways of Seeing” series. Well anyway, in “Ways of Seeing” he referred to there being three basic fantasies that most TV commercials exploit; ‘the fantasy of being someone else’, ‘the fantasy of the skin’, and ‘the fantasy of the faraway place’.
I haven’t seen the English version of this game but judging from the American version, the two teams look like they’ve been specially picked to be a ‘cross-section’ of American society. I’m surprised however that there are no disabled included in the mix, or maybe that’s going to far? These regular gringos, have to eat wriggling live grubs! Yuck! And that’s the other interesting thing about the contestants, whether black or white, male or female, young or old, they all react pretty much the same way. They all buy into the fantasy totally.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, the thing is well put together, the ‘tribal’ stuff, rituals etc, are really slick. They’ve plundered pretty well every ‘primitive’ culture they could find traces of (only we don’t call them that anymore do we, they’re ‘indigenous people’ now).
But what is it about “Survivor” that makes my skin crawl, so much so that I had to come and write this column just to stop from watching it? Okay, we know it’s a fantasy, in fact it’s just a glorified game show, but there’s something different about “Survivor” and I think it has to do with the subliminal message that it projects, and through the participants themselves, not just the fake trappings. And there’s not a single really ugly person amongst them. Even the old codger on one team is a well preserved ex-Navy Seal. They’re so into it that they come across like actors.
This is the American fantasy, that’s there’s always some faraway place to be conquered, and made real when the propagandists started believing their own propaganda. Just as with the fantasy of the ‘wild west’, it’s an invention that has actually become history for many if not most, Americans. Even for myself, raised on a diet of US cowboy movies at Saturday morning flicks, it was quite some while before I was able to shed the subliminal image I had of America as this endless frontier of scrub, plains and mountains, with everybody shooting at each other and Indians dropping like flies.
I’m actually quite amazed that there’s not been some public outcry about “Survivor” especially from ‘indigenous people’. After all, this is from a country which has still not come to terms with the fact that the place was built on the back of the genocide of an entire continent of cultures, millions of people, dozens of languages.
Yet now it calmly plunders what’s left of the ‘Age of Innocence’ and plunks these – in my opinion, unfortunate ‘representatives’ of civilisation – down into a game show that looks a lot like “Hawaii 5 0” without the hotels and that blithely requires them to go ‘native’ for a couple of weeks.
The rituals, especially around fire, strike a resonance with all of us. Cameraderie, teamwork, and all the other things missing from our own lives, we now consume vicariously thru these temporary natives. The illusion is masterful and well crafted, although the guy who tells em what to do is so sanctimonious and he takes it really seriously, so much so that he almost destroys the illusion.
At the bottom of it all, is a twisted version of Darwin’s theory of the Survival of the Fittest. Okay if you’re lion or something but then this is the Imperialist version of reality, which seeks to justify its own actions according to a supposed set of natural ‘laws’ to which we all must eventually bow. ‘Civilisation papers over the reality. We’re really just animals in clothes. Let’s get back to basics!’
The act of going to the island then, is to rediscover our ‘true’ Darwinian existence, US against Nature. Quaint really, which is not surprising, considering that it was a 19th century idea in the first place. The propagandists of the time conveniently stood Darwin’s ideas on evolution on their head in order to justify the rapacious nature of Victorian Imperialism and Colonialism. Survival of the Fittest!
I love it! This is Thatcherism, Neo-liberalism, Globalism, call it what you want, this is the rediscovery of our true Imperial role in the affairs of the world. We’ve become bold enuf to mimic those we’ve conquered after years of wringing our hands. It’s okay now to mock them, as we’re really just like them, we were all along only now we buy our gear at Banana Republic. Thats’s why “Survivor” makes my skin crawl. It exploits our genuine needs and desires, as does all effective advertising, which was at the heart Berger’s observations on the three fantasies.
What’s the bet that it’ll be in the next Olympics?
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