August 25, 2006
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Social experts blast new 'Survivor'
By VIVIAN SONG - Toronto Sun

TORONTO - 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."

Sun Media readers weigh in

"Having just read the comments of both Bill Brioux and Steve Tilley, I must say that I agree with Bill. I think the four five-member tribes will make for an interesting start. It's not long before they are all mixed up and then the ones remaining go into the merge. At that point, it's one against one anyway. It doesn't take long to figure who's who in this show and I think this will give it some extra oomph. I'm looking forward to it."

- Pipi Timms, Mississauga

"Come on! Honestly, what is so bad here? Has society gotten so hyper-sensitive that something like this will offend people? They are not splitting the tribes up as an act of segregation, but as a means of changing up the format of the show. Sure, I could see how it may be construed as racial -- but there is no harm in this."

- K. Scott, Ancaster

"My 3-year-old child doesn't realize yet that her dad, me, is white, her mom is black and her extended family (my stepdad) is native American. But with this offensive publicity stunt ... she is now going to realize that we are very different. (We are) trying to teach her that genetics is what makes our eyes, hair, height and skin different, but socially we can all be unique. Survivor is lost, because it can't be as diversely creative as Lost."

- Paul Lee, Austin, Texas

"Absolutely disgusting! What kind of message does this send to youths in our gang-ridden major cities? Race relations on the whole are at an all-time low, what with the wars going on. Youths are dividing into street gangs based on race relations all the time. For shame! Any studio or television/ broadcasting medium should be ashamed of themselves. Teach them a lesson and don't watch!"

- Ian DuBroy, Cambridge

"Yes, it's a fabulous idea! If for no other reason other than it may just offend enough people to stop watching this ridiculous show and get rid of this trash from the airwaves once and for all."

- Vicky Lee, Ajax

"Why not Jews versus Muslims? Al-Qaida versus Hells Angels? Strippers versus prostitutes? Oh, hey, what about the homeless versus rich people, or deaf versus blind, or hot versus ugly? Smart versus stupid? Anybody? Come on, people, lighten up. It's only a show! (Oh, by the way, I want some sort of commission if they use any of my suggestions.)"

- Andrew Fenton, Toronto

"Television over the last 20 years has pushed the envelope with content depicting taboo subjects, so why is there such an uproar over this decision? This is just another step in the evolution of television, whereby a program is released, then the creators decide to put an interesting spin on it causing controversy, which increases exposure to the program leading to an increase in advertising revenue. It's just the nature of the business, people!"

- Marlon Juman, Ajax

"We need to relax and get off the race kick. It's a TV show, for God's sake. Either watch it or don't. You do have a choice, no matter what your ethnic background."

- J. Yonge, Mississauga

"I think it's smart on their part because, just like the World Cup, more people will watch to support their origins. I know I definitely will."

- Cecilia Baez, Mississauga

"Brilliant. Although controversial, we could actually be inspired by this type of event. I have friends and family from many different races, cultures and societies, and anticipate this event to be ... special."

- Jack Fox, Toronto

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Jam!'s John Powell had his final 'Survivor' chat of the 'Fiji' season on May 10th. To read the transcript, click here.
  • May 3rd chat

    Survivor: Australia
    Survivor: Africa
    Survivor: Marquesas
    Survivor: Amazon
    Survivor: Thailand
    Survivor: Pearl Islands
    Survivor: All-Stars
    Survivor: Vanuatu
    Survivor: Palau
    Survivor: Guatemala
    Survivor: Panama
    Survivor: Cook Islands

    Do you think Kanye West should have the book thrown at him for fighting with a photographer?

    Results | Story