New 'Survivor' series reveals and reinscribes American racism

by Vivian Song, Toronto Sun

The tribe has spoken. Sociology and media experts described the newest Survivor series that pits whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics against each other as an an experiment in poor taste.

But though appalling, the strategy isn't surprising, said media expert Megan Boley, pointing out the show mirrors today's inflammatory political climate.

"We're living through one of the most volatile periods of renewed racism," said the associate professor media at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education.

"It reveals the many ways in which popular culture is linked to global politics."

U.S. foreign policy, the war on terror and President George W. Bush's anti-immigration stance have led the way to a racially "stratified" America, Boley said -- conditions ripe for such a social experiment.

Anna Makolkin, a professor of cultural studies, went further, charging the U.S. response to the stranded victims of Hurricane Katrina -- mostly black -- exposed a "profoundly racist society."

Though she hasn't seen the new Survivor, which debuts on CBS on Sept. 14, Makolkin said ethnically divided groups who win or suffer the shame of losing sows "allegations of superiority."

"This particular show is harmful because it reinforces the myth about inferiority of particular races," she said.

"It's extremely insensitive and harmful to young viewers who are not enlightened. Even without seeing the show ... it seems to me it's profoundly harmful."

To segregate the races into four, neat groups is a dangerous oversimplification of the world, Makolkin said.

"The idea of racial and cultural melange, this is the key motto of the 21st century," she said. "Cross-pollination has always been basically the vehicle of culture ... people became civilized only by mixing with one another."

The implications of such a show are sure to lead to racism, added retired sociology professor Wsevolod Isajiw, who called on the media to weigh social responsibility against sensationalism and ratings.

"We have enough ethnic conflict in the would today. Why make it worse?" he asked. "A show like this is not an objective study ... (it) is more dangerous than not."

And Canadians aren't above petty American racism, Boley said.

"In Canada, and especially in Toronto, there are myths of happy multiculturalism, a dream that we don't have this kind of retribalization."

Said Makolkin: "It can lead only to the promotion of stereotypes in which blacks are born athletes, that Chinese are better problem solvers, and can only breed prejudice among the unenlightened and can only basically promote barbarism as opposed to education."

article originally published at http://jam.canoe.ca/Television/2006/08/25/1775070.html.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey