A cultural public service announcement

Paul Bograd

Posted on August 28, 2006

Writing for AsianPundit has been fun. What’s not to be fun? You get to pontificate endlessly and usually without consequences. There is no responsibility since you post whenever you feel like it. And so far the audience has been limited to those with who I am on a first name basis.

Then yesterday it happened. I was infected with an undeniable dose of self-importance. I felt compelled, as if by some higher power, to bring warning to Asia of a cultural atrocity and video abomination that was headed our way from America via the Cook Islands.

Yes, the American television series SURVIVOR Season 13 is heading our way again. Season 13 promises to be the most offensive yet. Not just the usual SURVIVOR genre of synthetically contrived and alleged “Reality”-based story lines and characters. This year’s SURVIVOR series will organize the teams by race and ethnicity. It will pit Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and Caucasian teams against each other.

Now this offends me on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin.

First in the interest of fairness, I will present the defense offered by the SURVIVOR host himself:

“I think at first glance, when you just hear about it, it could sound like a stunt, especially with the way reality (TV) has gone,” Survivor host Jeff Probst told CBS television in the US. “But that’s not what we’re doing here. The idea for this actually came from the criticism that Survivor is not ethnically diverse enough. We said, ‘Let’s turn that criticism into creative for the show,’ and I think it fits in perfectly with what Survivor does. It’s a social experiment, and this adds another layer to the experiment.”

Before I get to my personal objections to this desperate, money lusting, racially exploitive abomination of a television program, let’s dispel the idea that SURVIVOR is some sort of “social experiment” as professed by Mr. Probst.

Take a brief look at Mr. Probst’s professional history as provided by ImDB.com.

Probst previously served as host of VH1’s “Rock and Roll Jeopardy,” and was also the voice of “Raycliff” in the animated television show “Filmore.” He also hosted several programs for FX and traveled over 300,000 miles around the world as a correspondent for “Access Hollywood.” Prior to that, he hosted a variety of shows for KIRO-TV, the CBS affiliate in Seattle. Probst even used to work at Boeing, where he produced and narrated sales and marketing videos. He got himself ordained in 1999 so that he could preside at his parents’ 40th anniversary remarriage. He was ordained by the Universal Life Church of Modesto, California. He paid $25.00 for his ordination papers. Mr. Probst is also an award-winning independent filmmaker (One film that received a Seattle Film Festival award, “Finders Fee”.).

Based on this experience, what “besides the entertainment value of the TV Show” qualifies Mr. Probst as a social scientist who should be empowered to perform “social experiments” on a worldwide television audience?

And who is fooling who? This racially exploitative format of the program is not intended to inform, or sensitize its’ audience to racial and ethnic understanding and harmony. It is intended to appeal to the prurient ignorance of us all. Otherwise, they would not have lumped all Hispanics together, as if Cuban culture is the same as Puerto Rican or Dominican culture. I am sure that most Caucasians have a very different ethnic and cultural perspective than my own third-generation American, Russo–Romanian–Cuban-Jewish background. I am also pretty sure that they would not want me representing their cultural view of the world. And to try to consider all Asian–Americans as one “team” is pretty stupid if you ask me.

This program is about ratings and money!

And I will tell you something that might sound surprising coming from me, this program is supposed to be all about ratings and money. It is supposed to be about “entertainment” and escapism. Maybe it is even supposed to be about “prurient” interest. Never mind that an alarmingly high percentage of its viewers actually think that SURVIVOR is reality.

But just because it is supposed to be about ratings, entertainment, money, escapism and prurient interest, does not make it right. I don’t think that anyone should find racial exploitation and profiling right.

WHAT DOES ALL THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ASIA?

Well for one thing, Asian cultures are among others that are being exploited and profiled by this kind of programming.

Secondly, since most Asian countries are producing “copy cat” versions of television programming like SURVIVOR, it might be useful to sound the warning that this type of programming is mutating to something really anti-social in nature.

SO WHAT SHOULD WE DO?

First of all, DON’T try to censor this program. Censorship is a manifestation of the insecure and the self-righteous. And it doesn’t work anyway. Besides, I am not against programming that is fun, satirical, comic, escapist, provocative and even titillating (with parental and spousal disclosure of course!).

I suggest that we all watch the program once or twice before we act to make sure that it is as misguided in production as it seems in its promotion.

If it is, let’s register our disapproval in the most powerful way possible.

• Don’t help this program get ratings; don’t help this program make money.
• Let your programming provider know that they have lost a viewer. Let them know why.
• Tell the shops where you will not be buying the products of SURVIVOR’S sponsors why you are not buying those products.
• Most of all tell SURVIVOR’s producers and that great Social Experimenter and SURVIVOR host Jeff Probst that you don’t like racial exploitation and profiling; and you will be back watching SURVIVOR when they return to their usual format of plain old pseudo-reality, T&A, and bad taste.

Contact SURVIVOR at: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/survivor13/

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