Back in the day, when “diversity education” was still a relatively new concept, some teachers would do an exercise with their classes that involved separating the brown-eyed and blue-eyed children to simulate the idea of segregation in society. Often, things went bad — one group invariably took the game too far. This artificial separation almost always led to tears and embarassment among children who did not like being taunted by children of the opposite eye color. While some observers might say, well, that was the whole point, for the most part the exercise was cruel and only reinforced childrens’ aversion to talking about difference.
Fortunately, pedagogy has evolved and teachers have more effective tools today to teach students about living with people of different races and personal characteristics while constructing a peaceful, productive society.
Other venues: summer camps were (perhaps some still are) breeding grounds for games constructed around ethnic stereotypes — usually with the names of Indian tribes, e.g., Iroquois versus Sioux in capture-the-flag. And of course, in a town that still approves of cheering for the Redskins, we know that professional and intercollegiate sports have long been fond of team names rooted in racial and ethnic stereotypes, in spite of efforts by the NCAA and various advocacy organizations to change this practice.
So, why should anyone be surprised that the producers of the television show “Survivor” have now come up with the most heinous idea yet for this truly ridiculous “entertainment” vehicle: in the new season they will separate the contestants by race. Yes, a few seasons back they did the gender contest thing, and that was bad enough. But in a nation where racial conflict and even hatred still courses beneath the surface of so many parts of the community, the exploitation of racial conflict for the commercial gain of television shows and their advertisers seems particularly disordered.
“Reality” television being the wasteland that it is, I suppose one response is to acknowledge the free market impulse of the Hollywood moguls who will stop at nothing so long as they find a group of willing adults to play the game and others who will watch the show (and sponsors who will pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to advertise). Those of us who find it distasteful can simply click to some other channel (or “Off” which is my favorite button!)
But seriously, folks: isn’t it time for some serious conversation about what this latest “Survivor” gambit suggests about the state of the culture, or at least the state of television? I welcome your comments on this topic. As for me, I think the solution is clear: “Survivor” must die, and if we stop watching this idiotic assault on the human intellect, it will.