The White Guy from Wichita Tries to Explain Race-Based Survivor
Survivor host Jeff Probst thought he was making a wonderful point: noting how much the decision to segregate contestant teams by race rejuvenated the aging reality TV series.
"It was literally the biggest casting endeavor we'd ever gone through in 13 seasons," he enthused during a conference call Thursday. "But we found the freshest cast in years. When you put on a show with a lot of people who are white, and only white people watch, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We started looking at these people and saying, 'Wow - we have fresh points of view again'. All of a sudden, the show, in our minds, rebirthed itself....It really did re-energize us."
As I have written before, I remember asking Burnett why Survivor was so lacking in diversity during a press party held by CBS in Los Angeles. Back then, he jumped back like I had touched him with a hot poker, insisting that race was not a factor on the show and complaining about a lack of diversity was just foolish.
It's the kind of response I've come to expect from many network TV during discussions about diversity. Many of them -- including CBS president Les Moonves -- seem to view such discussions, especially when raised by a person of color, as a thinly-veiled excuse for a more selfish agenda. They see someone seeking fame, or professional status or a part for their cousin; what they don't see, is the validity of the argument.
So along comes Probst, six year after I made the initial observation that Survivor might benefit from being more diverse, finally admitting that Survivor has benefitted by being more diverse. So why did it take them 12 seasons to get around to it?
"I don't know why television is taking so long to be more representative....I only know that its finally coming time with Survivor and CBS," said Probst, describing himself as a "white guy from Wichita" while sidestepping the question. "I felt in my heart we would never go backwards. I think we all felt, wow we just reinvented our show."
So why do Burnett's shows seem to perpetuate such stereotypical images among its players of color -- from Sean Rector, a racially paranoid black man who couldn't swim, to Gervase Peterson, a black man with children by two different women he isn't married to, who also couldn't swim, and the Apprentice's Stacie J. -- the quintessential Crazy Black Woman?
"One problem with only having....If you have a season where you only have one black guy and everybody else is white...if that black guy doesn't perfom, or if that black guy can't swim, or if that black guy quits it's like a beacon screaming," said Probst. "If you looked across the board at all of the jackasses we've had on the show who are white - all the people who are white who make the same, ridiculous social mistakes...all the white people who are lazy, all of the white people who are bigots. It just so happenes, most of the people on the show have been white, so you can find someone to root for. So I think the observation you make is correct. I think the conclusion you came to is not correct."
Probst indirectly described a curious situation, where producers learned early on many of the show's signature sponsors would not be involved -- for the first time, they had no products to wrap their challenges and rewards around, because advertisers such as General Motors, Procter and Gamble and Home Depot had decided not to be involved, long before anyone had decided on the race angle. But in trying to refute the notion that a flood of sponsors dropped the show because of its team segregation, Probst instead confirmed how much the show needed to generate buzz heading into planning its 13th season.
And in considering their biggest criticism, they found the biggest gimmick to promote the new season. ""It was the single biggest casting job we ever had," said Probst, noting that, for the first time, Survivor had to go out and ask people to be on their show. "Usually, if you say something during the casting sessions like 'I just think it would be fun to be on another episode of Survivor,' you're out the door. Because we know you'll quit on episode three. But here, it got to the point where we were literally calling the Miss Koreatown pageant in Seattle. That's how deep we dug (to find contestants of color)."
It struck me during this call that race relations in America are too often like this; a dance of anger and denial set to the rhythms of an old married couple's habit. One side moves along blissfully, unaware of how badly its pissing off the other side, which mostly wants to gouge someone's eyes out in frustration.
Probst may never understand how frustrating it is to see him act like the value of diversity is such an amazing, unexpected revelation, when there are those of us who had been trying to convince him of its usefulness for years. And, as is so often the case in network TV, they really only wind up doing the right thing by accident -- backed into a cornr by the show's on failing fortunes.
Oh well. Sometimes, you have to take progress however you can get it.
Fresh Air Tackles Broadcast Indencency
National Public Radio's Terri Gross offered a compelling discussion yesterday on the broadcast indecency issue, talking to a TV producer, an attorney and FCC member Jonathan Adelstein.
My own position falls pretty close to Adelstein's -- that broadcasts need some sort of policeman to handle the most egregious cases, but the commision has overstepped by fining people for accidental uses of profanity and for profanity aired in oviously legitimate documentaries and event programming.
The Most Censored Stories of 2005-06 -- Maybe
Project Censored at Sonoma State University in Californa has released it's annual list of the 25 stories most-censored from mianstrema media. But I can't help noticing that I know about many of these stories precisely because I have read pieces about them in mainstrema media outlets.
Particularly the first story listed -- net neutrality -- has been covered by many news outlets. When I wrote my first blog post about the issue, I learned the details of the situation from a story and editorial published in the Washington Post. So i'm not sure what these folks are smoking in Sonoma.
But here -- with a large grain of salt -- is the list, anyways.
1. Future of Internet Debate Ignored by Media
4. Hunger and Homelessness Increasing in the US
The number of hungry and homeless people in US cities continued to grow in 2005.
6. Federal Whistleblower Protection in Jeopardy
Special Counsel Scott Bloch, appointed by President Bush in 2004, is overseeing the virtual elimination of federal whistleblower rights in the US government.
7. US Operatives Torture Detainees to Death in Afghanistan and Iraq
The American Civil Liberties Union released documents of forty-four autopsies held in Afghanistan and Iraq October 25, 2005. Twenty-one of those deaths were listed as homicides. These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogation.
10. Expanded Air War in Iraq Kills More Civilians
A key element of Bush’s drawdown plans in Iraq includes increased uses of airpower. Expanded air strikes will likely lead to increased civilian deaths.
16. Ecuador and Mexico Defy US on International Criminal Court
18. Physicist Challenges Official 9-11 Story
New developments in satellite imaging technology reveal that the Amazon rainforest is being destroyed twice as quickly as previously estimated
Consumers spend a collective $100 billion every year on bottled water in the belief—often mistaken—that it is better for us than what flows from our taps. Worldwide, some 2.7 million tons of plastic are used to bottle water each year.
22. Billions in Homeland Security Spending Undisclosed
More than $8 billion in Homeland Security funds has been doled out to states since the September 11, 2001 attacks, but the public has little chance of knowing how this money is actually being spent.
Lobbyists funded by the US oil industry have launched a campaign in Europe aimed at derailing efforts to enforce the Kyoto Protocol against global warming
24. Cheney’s Halliburton Stock Rose Over 3000 Percent Last Year
Vice President Dick Cheney’s stock options in Halliburton rose from $241,498 in 2004 to over $8 million in 2005, an increase of more than 3,000 percent
25. US Military in Paraguay Threatens Region
South American countries are concerned that a massive air base at Mariscal Estigarribia, Paraguay is designed to be a US military stronghold in the region.