Doug Ireland says Viacom chairman Sumner Redstone ought to lay off Tom Cruise and give CBS honcho Les Moonves his walking papers instead. In a post so withering it manages to blame Rupert Murdoch for the vices of a network he doesn't even own, Ireland condemns the new season of Survivor, which will divide the tribes along racial lines, with Black, White, Latin, and Asian teams:
Le mot juste about the Survivor race caper came from Lisa Navarrete, the Latino civil rights leader who is a vice president of the National Council of La Raza, and who told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I can't decide if the producers are completely naive and clueless or completely soulless." Indeed.
Navarette added, "They could think it's no big deal, but the premise of Survivor is not a friendly contest. It gets very competitive and it's tempting in that setting to nurture stereotypes." That's an understatement—Survivor is a cut-throat, take-no-prisoners ethical sewer of a show. And this "race war" theme is a base appeal to the dark side of the American consciousness—setting up racial and ethnic conflict as a way to boost the show's sagging ratings (Survivor dropped out of the Top 10 shows on the tube in the last Nielsens).
The late poet Charles Bukowski once observed that, "Bad taste has made more millionaires than good taste" (and if Bukowski didn't become a millionaire, it wasn't for lack of following his own maxim). Moonves' lapse in taste in approving this Survivor appeal to gutter instincts and racial conflict is entirely mercantile in its motivation. Yeah, let the gooks and the spics and the macacas and the white-bread boys do each other dirt in prime time—hate sells.
Details about Survivor: Cook Islands, along with some promotional hand-wringing by Jeff Probst (shouldn't he be joined by Tommy Davidson, George Lopez, and Lisa Ling as co-hosts), here.
This is an experiment that could go way wrong, but I don't share Ireland's negative reactions. I like level-playing-field* explorations of racial tensions, which past Survivor seasons have occasionally featured anyway, in a sub-rosa manner. This team business just brings it to the forefront, and I wish there were more stuff like it. That is, if we have to live in a country with racial assholery, we might as well get some interesting television out of it. Speaking of which, did anybody see Black. White., Ice Cube's blend of Black Like Me and White Chicks (or maybe it was just the TV version of Watermelon Man)? I wanted to watch it but never got around to it.
Maybe I'm feeling better disposed toward Redstone since it looks like they're dropping the Starfleet Academy concept for Trek XI. Now if they can just bring a team of Talosians to compete on Survivor, we'll be living in the world our ancestors wanted for us.
* With the caveat that a truly level playing field on racial issues will probably remain impossible at least throughout our grandchildren's lifetimes, you can still provide a pretty good forum for everybody to speak freely.
Self-promotional update: I forgot to include a link to my article on the anti-defamation industry, which brought (joyful?) tears to the eyes of Bill Donohue, Abraham Foxman, and Lisa Navarrete just a few years ago.