Rina wrote a few days ago about how the next round of Survivor will feature teams divided by race. There has been a firestorm of response to the announcement, from bloggers predictably, but also from civil rights groups and government officials. Yesterday, New York’s city council held a press conference to denounce the show. City councilmember John Liu:
“This idea is so ill conceived that it would be funny–but for the fact that racism does still sometimes rear its ugly head. This show has the potential to set back our nation’s race relations by 50 years. Nowhere else do we tolerate racial segregation, and we certainly won’t stand for it in this battle-of-the-races scheme to prop up sagging television ratings.”
Another councilmember said that the producers didn’t realize the damaging impact of their decision. In fact, the coverage of this twist all seems to say as much, that Mark Burnett, the king of reality television and a slave to controversy, “didn’t really think it would have such an uproar.”
Yeah, right. This is precisely the outcome he was hoping for. I mean come on, he got Rush Limbaugh to wax on about it on his show this week. And he really couldn’t have been more offensive, stirring the controversy pot for the show and Mr. Burnett:
Hispanics, he said, “have shown a remarkable ability to cross borders” and “will do things other people won’t do.” Asians are “the best at espionage, keeping secrets.” Blacks “lack buoyancy” and are “more likely to drown,” while the white man’s burden will weigh down the last team with “guilt over the fact that they run things.”
CBS is defending the show, saying it will answer the critics “on the screen.” The thing that people may not want to admit is that reality is a lot closer to this situation than we’re comfortable admitting. Neighborhoods and schools are becoming more, not less, segregated and some seem to be fine with that. And if we’re not then the fight is better fought in our communities, rather than aimed at Hollywood. This Survivor scenario seems to tug at the unease that manifests when true survival is at stake: Watts, Rodney King, O.J., Katrina, all times when we have had to look critically at how we deal with race in this country. We may not want to see people of different races competing for food, shelter, luxuries and their very existence on television. We don’t have to, we can just take a hard look at our country to see the same. Most people won’t, but you’d better believe they’ll tune in September 14th.