Thursday, August 24, 2006

Surviving Prejudice, Surviving Hate

Yesterday, I promised a rant on my blog today. Brace yourselves.

The next Survivor will see tribes divided by race.

Now, let me be clear. I don’t watch Survivor (anymore). I might have been tempted to tune in for the first episode, just to see the Cook Islands, because I’ve always wanted to go there.

But this stunt has guaranteed I’ll never watch the show again. Ever. I find this concept exceptionally offensive. Now, men vs women doesn’t irk me, in part because there are a healthy number of extreme feminists out there who are always asserting they can kick a man’s ass in anything. So let them try. I couldn’t care less. Boring. I think they did a Survivor that was men vs women? I don’t know. It long ago got old, and they should have known when to quit. It’s like Dallas for heaven’s sake. A show that just went on way past its prime.

So, the gender thing wouldn’t irk me, but race definitely does. Have we really not moved forward at all? As the article says, Black Tribe! White Tribe! Latino Tribe! Asian Tribe! Survivors ready ... let the social Darwinism begin!

I mean, come on. If they wanted to stir interest with controversy, why not have the Jews and the Islamic fundamentalists on two opposing teams? Can the producers of this show really be so ignorant as to think that it’s a good idea, or even just OKAY to play with old prejudices?

Just the other day, I was >reading this column – are Hezbollah and Hamas freedom fighters or terrorists? The ‘war on terror’ has become the new war of hate, like WWII and the Cold War with the Soviets. Is there a right and a wrong? Is it all as simple as we think?

No, of course it isn’t. But as the columnist astutely points out, we’re in the midst of decided what side we’re on, if we haven’t already, and prejudices are being formed. Prejudices that will cut deep and mark society. Prejudices that, in some cases, will set us back decades, maybe cause irreparable rifts.

We experienced that in varying ways after 9/11. Kevin and I had a trip planned, to Tunisia. So it wasn’t a hotbed of terrorism – it was still a Muslim country, still too close to that ‘bad part of the world’ in many people’s minds. We had a number of people criticize us for not canceling our trip. I remember phoning the travel agent, and being assured we could have all our money back before we even got the question out – all we wanted to know was that we could still go.

And when we got there, people would come up to us in the market and clasp my hand and tell us, in varying degrees of broken English Thank you for coming. Thank you for not blaming us.

How could I? Blaming one Muslim country for the actions of an extremist group is like blaming America for the actions of televangelists. Or cult leaders. Religious extremism is often not a ‘national’ issue. It may be more prevalent in some countries…

But instead of identifying the source of the prejudices so that they can be addressed, perhaps corrected, we put up barriers of hate. We refuse dialogue. At what point do we become as prejudiced and narrow-minded as the people we accuse?

Now, I’m not saying any of this in defense of terrorists, believe me. But when I was in Munich back in 1989. I went to Dachau. At the concentration camp, they have a film and it covers some of the history leading up to the events that happened at the camp during WWII.

I was 18 and na├»ve, and I’d thought it was so fucking simple to say the Germans were all wrong. But a lot of them were deceived. If you read the history of how Hitler came to power, how he used economic problems and reigniting national pride as a basis for preaching hate, you see that it wasn’t so simple. Oh, with some, sure. Some were people filled with hate already and only too happy to jump on the bandwagon and start locking people up. There are always those who crave power.

But there were a lot of people who were misled, one small step at a time. It’s always easy to look back later and see you’re off course. But if it takes a while before you realize it, it’s a lot of work to get back to the point where you first wandered off the path.

I grew up in a town that was essentially all white. A token black family (from South America, so just add in the complexity there of shattering a prejudice – what? You’re not from Africa?) and the people who ran the Chinese restaurant. A few Native kids in school, but, for the most part, white.

I knew a lot of people who were pretty narrow-minded.

And I never got that. Ever.

I know I’ve mentioned it here before, about how when I was quite young, there was a Japanese family living down the road. Their son was my age, a classmate in our school. They lived in town less than two years, and I clearly remember Ben phoning my house to see if I could go ride bikes, and my parents having a debate about whether or not to let me play with him.

Because… why? His eyes were ‘slanted’? His skin was darker than mine? It wasn’t that he was a boy – most of the kids my age on my street were and I played with all the other ones without issue. So, why?

And why was it such a big secret that my hometown was one of the places where Japanese people were set to “internment” camps during WWII?

Yeah, we bury our shame down deep and never address it, never really, truly let the wounds heal.

The original Survivor concept was a good one, if for nothing more than the intrigue of watching people sink lower and lower in their quest for fame and fortune. It was one of those baffling things, how people who’d essentially done nothing became celebrities.

Really, the appeal of the original Survivor - and reality shows to follow, like Big Brother - was to satisfy the perverse curiosity of the viewers. It’s all very Then Again, Maybe I Won’t adult-version, with film crews filling in for binoculars as we sneak a peek at the person undressing in the house next door.

Now, whenever discussions have come up on Val McDermid’s forum about could she please please please let Carol and Tony have a roll in the hay, I find it amusing. And, on occasion, disturbing. Do I really need to see the two get up close and personal? No. If that was essential to my reading, I’d read romance or erotica. I always wonder what it is that makes people want to watch.

Of course, someone did point out to me that it can be about wanting to know we’re normal ourselves. Which raises a whole other topic about what is normal, because we all know that there’s more than one way to have sex and not everybody likes everything. And that’s about as far with that tangent as I’m going to go at the moment.

So, there are two things about reality shows that are interesting, to me, as a writer. One is what it is that makes people want to “spy” on others.

And the other is, what it is that makes people want to live in a fishbowl.

Now, you might say, But you’re here, blogging, sharing your personal thoughts with anyone who walks by. Isn’t that living in a fishbowl? No, it isn’t.

I have the choice over what I put here. Nobody forces me to expose anything I don’t want to. That’s a marked difference between a blog and a forum – on a forum, anyone can start any topic. On a blog, the blogger retains control of the conversation. I’m very free, and the usual crew who comment are awesome, so the only thing I’ve ever had to delete is spam.

I know that ‘celebrities’ like actors and musicians do live more of a public life, but even their lives aren’t as exposed as the lives of the people on reality shows. Big Brother even had an internet feed you could subscribe to, so that you could watch people between episodes. There truly was no moment of privacy in their lives the entire time they were in the house.

Now, if I were to follow this tangent, I’d end up launching into a discussion of ‘front-stage’ and ‘back-stage’ theories, going back to one of my pet topics (communication theory) but I’ll spare you. Suffice it to say one of the reasons blogging works for me is because it’s the interactive online option that gives me the most control over my life and what becomes public.

I’ve had my private life exposed in a way that nearly destroyed me, many years ago. Fucking Christians. Okay, a generalization, I’m sorry, as I do have many good friends who are Christians, and some people still call me one - I prefer not to talk about my beliefs, or lack of beliefs. Some specific fucking Christians, who thought they had a divine right to meddle. They had a natural talent for being self-righteous assholes, I’ll grant them that.

If there’s one thing I learned – and by this I mean practical knowledge, for I knew it in my head, but this is what made it hit me in the heart - through that experience, it’s that you can be judged on multiple levels. Not just for gender or for race, but for what you’ve endured in your life.

You can be ‘not good enough’ because you’re ‘damaged goods’. And it’s no fault of your own, it’s just what is. But there are those who will still set themselves up as better than you. And it isn’t just ‘do you believe’ or ‘do you not believe’ but how much do you believe, do you go to Church on Sundays, how much do you pray, have you read your Bible this week, do you speak in tongues, what spiritual gift do you have? Because all of that is going to prove how ‘righteous’ you are, or aren’t, as the case may be.

I lived with that for too long. I’ve explained here before how I ended up (raised atheist) turning to religion in my teen years. What I might not have explained at the time was that it came down to slashing my wrists or finding some shred of hope in humanity to hold onto so that I could keep going. So, in many ways, my religious experience saved my life, only ten years later to spit me out the other side when some of the worst things that ever happened to me nearly destroyed me, and the people I knew were only too quick to say I wasn’t good enough to be one of them because I was contaminated. Too much sin in my family.

It’s been ten years since that happened, almost to the day. And sitting here typing this, I can feel the anger in me still and tears burn in my eyes. I’ve been sexually abused as a child, physically assaulted as a teenager and endured more emotional torment than I could stand for many years, but it was Christians who taught me how to hate. Yes, I hate those specific people. (And I still have a knee-jerk reaction as a result - tell me what to do and I'm going to argue, even if you're right.)

And so I look on this “new” concept of Survivor with disgust. Let me tell you, I always favour my right foot, the one I partially severed. I still get shooting pains sometimes, and so if I’ve been walking a lot and my feet are sore, it’s the first to get rubbed or soaked or whatever. There are some things that, even once ‘healed’ always have to be treated with care. I know the pain when I push too far.

And I know emotionally what a journey it's been to try to come to terms with some things just in my own life. I've seen my husband's family come through that, after his brother committed suicide. There are multiple levels of forgiveness and healing, and we don't get through it all in the snap of a finger. There is a time that the wound is still covered with a thinner skin, and it takes less to break it.

There is a time to just let things be so that they can begin to mend.

At a time when there are so many who could be easily persuaded to hate and fear those who are ‘different’ this Survivor is exploiting old prejudices for ratings and money. Am I the only one who finds this deplorable?


Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Some of the most hate-filled people I've encountered in life have been so-called "born again Christians"...specifically the fundamentalist foster parents who told my ten year-old brother and I that we'd better convert right away because our mother and grandmother were "already in Hell." I won't go into further details here--this post would run on and on--but maybe we'll get a chance to talk about our experiences at a con someday.

As for Survivor, I used to watch and (guiltily) enjoy it, but I have no desire to sit there staring at a battle of the races. I can get that on the nightly news.

angie said...

I can't even get worked up about Survivor - I don't watch television & I've always thought it was a particularly idiotic show. The ratings will speak for the show's judgement on team divisions - either people will love it or loathe it.

But I do understand the appeal of the show. We are always curious about other people - often as a way to decide whether or not we are 'normal' or 'better than' or 'as good as.' As for those who want to be in the fishbowl...we have a fucking celebrity obsessed culture. EVERYBODY wants to be a star - even if it's for doing stupid shit like eating worms or killing a pig or whatever. Okay, I don't want that, but a lot of people do. So Survivor is a reflection of and vehicle for that cultural fantasy.

I'm sooo glad I got rid of my cable years ago. If I need a pop culture fix I can rent a dvd or buy it off iTunes. Much better than hours of streaming, steaming caca coming into my house.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Angie, I don't watch much TV either. And yes, it is idiotic.

Patrick, some day, I hope we do get to have that talk. There is such a thing as spiritual abuse, and it looks to me like you've experienced that.

I like how you summed up Survivor and not needing to watch it. Dead on.

Anonymous said...

I had this idea about bringing up the whole Habs vs Leafs Survivor analogy, but then thought better of it.

It's a stupid idea to pit race against race. All it does is perpetuate stupidity.

Hitler thought the Aryans would leave everyone else in the dust during the 1936 Olympics.
Jesse Owens kinda harshed his buzz.

Tracy Sharp - Author of the Leah Ryan Series said...

I am a Big Brother addict. I also like American Idol but I can do without it.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Habs vs Leafs is almost as touchy as Flames vs Oilers. Don't go there.

Trace, I will admit I found Big Brother interesting, for a time. In some ways, more interesting than Survivor, for you just weren't 'on' for a challenge but you were being graded 24/7. It's a harder game to play.

JamesO said...

It's been a while since I last read a bible, but I thought Jesus was supposed to love sinners.

I'm eternally grateful that I was sent to a school where they taught you to question everything. It was a very good way to approach Christianity of all flavours, but most especially the fundamentalist kind. Mind you, we still had to go to chapel every morning.

I don't think I've ever had the pleasure of encountering Survivor - although there was a band of that name in the 70's/80's wasn't there? Pitting races against each other is rather idiotic, isn't it. I just hope the white team comes last.

DesLily said...

isn't it bad enough when ones own race perpetuates hate of another without having samples of it shoved in your face on television...

I'm old.. when i was young the movie theaters had but 2 aisles.. the whites sat in the middle (good seats) the blacks could only sit on the sides.. I had a girlfriend who was black and "dared" to sit with her on the side seats.. I got glared at and shouted at by both whites and blacks... I NEVER could understand it. I could never understand why most blacks blamed ME that their relatives were slaves when I wasn't alive back then.. and I couldn't understand the whites thinking I was trash to sit with a friend of color... now I'm old.. I STILL don't get it.

my friendships are based on how I am treated, not by what color or religion they are..since when do friends have to be 100% "the same"?

Good post Sandra.. and one that could go on forever....

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, I've read the Bible, cover to cover, and even graduated from Bible school. It does say that.

But I find there are a lot of people who don't even bother reading the book they uphold as the Word of God. There are a lot of people willing to be led by others and put blind faith in people.

May I never again be one of them.

DesLily - I don't get it either! Not at all. I don't want my friends to be all the same as me either - that would be boring! Sometimes, where we're different is where we're inspired to learn, and that's never a bad thing. I have friends in their 60s and friends in their 20s and friends who are guys and others who are gals, and I don't care. As long as they're a person I want to spend time with, age, religion, race, gender - none of that matters.

mai wen said...

Really good post Sandra! I think there's a huge danger in what Survivor's doing. Not only are the perpetuating the hate and fueling the fire, they're almost saying, here, we'll show you once and for all which race is supremely powerful! What a sick and disgusting idea. It makes me very sad that any show would sink that low.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Mai Wen, thanks. And I think you've said it well. It is sick and disgusting, and I really hope that people don't support the show. The whole thing is offensive.

Christa M. Miller said...

This is why I don't watch reality TV: I could not have predicted this particular extreme, but I felt when the whole craze started that to get ratings, producers would constantly have to push the envelope, appealing to the baser aspects of human nature. This particular boundary seems logical given that these shows are fundamentally built on people dividing amongst themselves. What's next - The Running Man?

On the one hand, it's easy to wonder how people can think this way when when our economy has become increasingly globalized. On the other, maybe this - Survivor, Islamic and Christian extremism - is all a reaction to that trend - a fear that we will all lose our identities in the name of mammon?

Sandra Ruttan said...

Christa, excellent point. I think as long as the world keeps getting smaller, that competitions like this will only heighten the extremist views and contribute to problems. It's the fear that someone is out to get us that's the issue, and that's what this communicates I think.

For every advance of globalization we have to find ways to not only communicate but actually convince people that they don't have to sacrifice their culture in the process. I can appreciate that fear - so many of us North Americans go out in search of our roots because we need to feel that tie. I once heard someone gripe about how everyone claims to be part Irish, and I wanted to say what's wrong with that? My grandmother was Irish - should I deny that just to make that person happy? It's insane.

It's funny, because I can't stand The Crusades. Almost anything set in that time period just kills me. People killing in the name of God...

Christa M. Miller said...

You know, I've often thought that so many aspects of the Catholic/Orthodox churches were actually concessions to the pagans that the evangelists were trying to convert. You don't understand praying to one God? Pray to all these patron saints. Crosses and scapulars became the new talismans. Even our holidays!

In other words, I think the earliest Christians *did* understand that they had "to find ways to not only communicate but actually convince people that they don't have to sacrifice their culture in the process." Somehow we ALL lost that insight along the way....

WannabeMe said...

What frightens me are the contestants willing to go on the show. But I wonder if the contestants knew ahead of time. You know, they usually don't split up the teams until after they are flown to the island, but who knows. I only watched the first Survivor, it all was kinda the same after that. However, I would LOVE to find out who the moron was that pitched this race v. race season. I have fanmail I'd like to send him. =)

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

"I would LOVE to find out who the moron was that pitched this race v. race season."

I'm surprised the network allowed them to do it.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Interesting point Christa. And even from an evangelical standpoint, I recommend Bruchko, a missionary story that will make you think. Specifically because he didn't try to change the way the native tribes he worked with lived, this one guy had a bigger impact on helping them than teams of people in other tribes. He worked with the witch doctor instead of against her. It's fascinating.

Dana, Patrick... It makes me tempted to boycott the network entirely. Of course, I hardly watch tv, so that means nothing. I just find it sickening. The fact that anyone proposed it, never mind that it got approval...

Patry Francis said...

Something definitely worth ranting about. What an incredibly repugnant concept.

Anonymous said...

The majority of the applicants for each Survivor show are white. Each season the producers of Survivor are criticized for not having enough minorities on the show. This time, they figured they would turn the criticism in their favor. Will it work? Well, so far, everyone is talking, so I'd say, yeah, it's worked, they've gotten the publicity they wanted from it. Will it follow them through the season to the finale? It's possible, because those people who went to Cook Island aren't going to go there and just sit on the beach once they realize that they may have been chosen because of their race. They still have a chance to win a million dollars. They are still going to fight for that money. I know that many may disagree with what I've said here, but essentially, all this game is about is the money, and when people lose sight of that, is when they get screwed.

Besides, the four way tribe split probably won't last long, it's not practical. The last one only lasted a few days, then they went back to two tribes.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I agree Patry!

Norby, you have a point. Even by discussing it, it adds to their hype. But if the show has been getting boring and this is the best they can do to drum up interest, if they dismantle the tribes a few episodes in, won't the interest wane again?

Only from a morbid curiosity pov will it be interesting to see what happens. I'd be thrilled if it ended up being the last season...

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is, once the season starts, it usually isn't boring. People end up finding strengths they never knew they had, attitudes you wish they didn't have, etc, etc... I'm not sure why Burnett & Probst resorted to this particular stunt for attention, while it works I don't know that I would have had the cojones to try it.

I'll probably tune in, just because I've often thought of trying out for Survivor myself, and almost did this past spring, so I'm always curious about how others play the game. And I am curious how the Survivors will respond to the blatant pandering to the race cards. I haven't read the bios online yet, but I probably will in the next day or two. I actually dreamed about this last night, but in my dream everyone looked the same!

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

LOL...Sandra, tell us how you really feel!

The one thing you have to remember is by the time this show airs on TV, the actual encounter has been over for almost six months. these are filmed way in advance.

So it must have turned out okay or it wouldn't be airing! Burnett is by no means stupid!

I'm sorry you had such a bad experience with religion. I hate religion too! But I am into a personal relationship with Jesus, that's different!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yes Bonnie, I said nothing about Jesus! And as I was typing that, I was thinking about you, but I knew you'd get what I meant.

I'm still not watching it though. Never in a million years!

Mindy Tarquini said...

Survivor in general is deplorable. So now it sinks to new levels of deplorable. I'm more concerned about the people who will watch it anyway.

Primetime Television. *shakes head*

The antics of a bunch of Hollywood bright idea guys is hardly comparable to the Holocaust. I find your reasoning for how an entire people/nation/race go mad/are led astray/are deceived simplistic and revisionist. The only way to understand it, if such a thing can be understood, is to look at it with the eyes and heart of the time. Even then, no excuse or explanation can be proferred that will somehow mitigate such horrific crimes against humanity. This is the kind of thinking, IMHO, used to justify the keeping of slaves.

The other leap I read, and maybe I'm reading too much into it, is the notion that to regard Hezbollah and Hamas as terrorist entities rather than freedom fighters also means one blames all Muslims for their acts. Or, conversely, failure to visit countries in the battle zones is bigoted rather than judicious.

I agree that we do ourselves and the future disservice if we do not ponder these matters. For myself, the question is not only what makes a person/people/country/whatever act a certain way, but to define with what confidence I can stand apart and convince myself that nothing will ever make me like them.

s.w. vaughn said...

I've never watched Survivor. Had no interest from the very first time I heard about the concept.

That aside, this latest debacle is indeed appaling. No doubt it was conceived for shock value, though the producers may have thought to justify what's clearly a horrific insult to humanity by playing the cultural pride card. Many are the advocate groups and hate clubs founded through cries of "Be proud of your (Asian, black, Aryan, whatever) heritage!"

What we all miss is that if everyone were proud of being HUMAN, rather than promoting whatever characteristic they feel makes them "deserving", this world would be a far better place.

Just be human, people. It's what you are.

Unknown said...

I've watched a bunch of the Survivor shows but this takes the cake. I can say I won't be watching this one. Unbelievable! Who said hey this is a good idea let's put this on tv. If I was one of the contestants I would have told them to shove this idea. Shameful.

I also can't believe the network is actually allowing this on the air. Sure they get all in a huff about Janet Jacksons boob but Survivor with the tribes divided by race...sure no problem. What is wrong with them? What will be next? Gay and straight tribes? Criminals vs. honest people? Murders's vs. victims? It's just exploitive and they should be ashamed of themselves.

P.S. Yes there was a survivor of men vs. woman and if I remember correctly the women kicked the men's butts in the first few episodes because the men were too busy drooling over the women. :)

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

Sandra, you and I are always on the same wave length :-) Other people don't understand the difference between "religion" and "relationship".

Cum' a few episodes! I've seen some clips. I think you'll be mildly surprised...!

Anonymous said...

I used to love Survivor but there's only so much of anything you can watch before you feel like you're watching the same thing. I agree with you Sandra. It's deplorable. Instead of letting the show rest on its laurels and end, since obviously there's nothing else they can do to make it interesting, they've sunk to new lows. This will absolutely start up racism.

And I agree with you about the Christians but anyone who's religious gives me the heeby jeebies. If they do it quietly and for themselves it doesn't bother me. But as soon as they start going on about it I run.