August 29, 2006
Written by C.N.
I’m not a big fan of reality TV series but for those of you who watch Survivor, you may have heard that for their upcoming season, they will be dividing up teams based on racial/ethnic identity, with separate teams of Whites, Blacks, Latinos, and Asians. Several politicians are raising concerns that this structure will only lead to further racial divisions and tensions in American society:
“The idea of having a battle of the races is preposterous,” City Councilman John Liu said Thursday. “How could anybody be so desperate for ratings?” Liu, who is Asian-American, said he was launching a campaign urging CBS to pull the show because it could encourage racial division and promote negative typecasts. He and a coalition of officials, including the council’s black, Latino and Asian caucus, planned to rally at City Hall on Friday.
In a statement, CBS defended the ethnic twist, saying it follows the show’s tradition of introducing new creative elements and casting structures that reflect cultural and social issues. “CBS fully recognizes the controversial nature of this format but has full confidence in the producers and their ability to produce the program in a responsible manner,” the statement said. “‘Survivor’ is a program that is no stranger to controversy and has always answered its critics on the screen.”
I certainly agree that there is a potential for viewers to interpret the new team structure as a reflection of American society in general and that therefore, different racial/ethnic groups should stick with each other and be wary of others who aren’t like them. But I also think that for better or for worse and in many ways, American society is already at that point — we only need to look at the hateful vitriol directed at illegal immigrants (in essence, directed at Mexicans) as proof.
In other words, I don’t see Survivor as really inciting Americans to divide themselves by race — Survivor only seems to be the latest example of that increasing trend. For better and for worse, I have long ago given up hope that the mainstream entertainment industry can be positive engines for social change. Instead, as the Asian American Justice Center’s annual reports indicate, they continue to woefully lag behind the rest of American society when it comes to incorporating and portraying America’s true racial/ethnic diversity.
In that context however, in this upcoming season, Survivor’s producers have the opportunity to either inflame existing tensions even more, or to demonstrate that racial differences do not necessarily have to lead to prejudice or hostility. Is there still a glimmer of hope that the entertainment industry can rise to the occasion, or will it just be the same old, same old? As they say, stayed tuned to find out . . .
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Latest Survivor Divides Teams by Race" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2006/08/latest-survivor-divides-teams-by-race/> ().
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