By Marc Thibault-Bellerose
Last night (Sept. 15, 2005) on CBS, the eleventh season of the very popular reality TV
show, "Survivor," which was filmed in the national park Yaxhá-Nakúm-Naranjo in Petén, Guatemala, premiered. This location was
promoted to the contestants and more than 200 million viewers as the region that the mysterious,
fascinating and now disappeared Maya Civilization once inhabited. Isolated inside the National Park, which
was closed during the filming period, one would have to assume that the contestants and production team did not realize that the Maya still make
up more than half of the Guatemalan population...
This "reality show" cult, like most shows of this genre, transmits, through its intrigues and its artificial drama, the pillar values of
hegemonic neoliberalism. Left "to themselves" during 39 days in the inhospitable Petén jungle, the 18 contestants (all very white, of
course) will compete among themselves to avoid being eliminated, and the
last one will keep the million dollar prize. Rooted in the survivor game lies the idea of competition and "competitiveness" among
individuals as a superior value. Like a metaphor of neoliberal society, the individuals are found in the jungle (the job market, for example)
where they live with other human beings who, despite other possible qualities, should as always be considered competitors. Nobody can be
trusted, because all others (including ourselves) are acting in their own self interest, which will one day conflict with our own. In this
fashion, the use of the collective, the other, is conceived of from a utilitarian perspective, in which it is merely a resource, like any
other, for fulfilling one's personal interest. There is not much space in this neoliberal society for altruism or solidarity.
The individuals in the competition will need to use a very elaborate and perverse strategy to accomplish their goals. However, they will need to
be "flexible" and ready for any challenge. "Flexible and productive"…
It sounds like a World Bank report. Behaviors or ideas out of the norm, as well as physical and emotional weaknesses, will be sanctioned through
elimination. Thus, for the individual to predominate, conformity is a
must. In "Survivor," just as in today's North American society -- whether
in its own internal market or in the international commercial setting -- a species of Social Darwinism imposes the rule that only the strongest
survive, while others remain marginalized. And this is how it should be. There should always be winners and losers.
It is a strange post-materialist civilization up North, one in which the existential void in each individual consumer -- where the person's status
as a subject is limited to what can be purchased in Wal-mart or to which TV channel to choose -- leads viewers to consume the
"Survivor" product because they identify with the contestants, "common" people like
themselves, but ones who are made into heroes and subjects by surviving
in a half sterilized jungle. They live through people that could very well be themselves.
In Guatemala, survival is not created artificially for the benefit of viewers. If we consider that 56% of the population
live in poverty, that 37% "survive" on less than $2 a day and that 16%
live in extreme poverty (less than $1 a day), survival is not a game for many Guatemalans. Surviving is the sad, everyday reality, not something to go
out and acquire.
Without millions of Internet websites and "blogs" dedicated to praising their "personalities," the success of their last diet, or other
trivialities, how many Guatemalans succeed in feeding their families daily without even knowing how they will do it the next morning? How
many Guatemalans keep on going, even after having witnessed the massacre of their families during the internal armed conflict? How many have to
keep taking the same route or the same bus where they are assaulted by the same gangsters that keep charging them the "war tax" with a gun in
their hand? How many families do not have any alternative but to pray to God each time it rains, for fear that their house might fall down the
ravine or be buried by mud?* While the eighteen Survivor contestants
traveled to Guatemala to play the survivor game and cry in front of national television because they can't climb a tree or because they have
a personality conflict with another contestant, how many Guatemalans will make the trip to the U.S.A, risking their lives in the Arizona
desert with unscrupulous coyotes (illegal agents), so that they may have just a small
chance of surviving with a little relative dignity?
To those millions of Guatemalans, to half of the children that suffer from malnutrition, to the women that have to suffer from machista
violence every day, to the elderly abandoned without pensions or attention, the program "Survivor" and all of the racket surrounding it
seems a bit obscene.
As we mark the passing of Guatemalan Independence Day, we should be paying homage to those millions of anonymous heroes that survive
every day in the real world, without the reward of winning one million dollars and without having the same number of websites in their honor.
However, it should also be highlighted that, in the end, the harsh conditions that make survival a challenge for millions of Guatemalans
are created artificially -- not due to a scarcity of resources or God's will,
but by the unjust distribution of resources.
|Editor's notes: This article recently appeared in the newsletter of CCGAP, the Copper
Country Guatemala Accompaniment Project, courtesy of Sue Ellen Kingsley.
It is an English translation by NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the
People of Guatemala), of which CCGAP is a local branch organization. The
original article, in Spanish, can be found at http://www.i-dem.org/rd/2005/septiembre/160905-817.htm.
For more information about NISGUA visit their
*Recently Hurricane Stan has taken a toll of lives and forced
the evacuation of thousands in Guatemala. See the NISGUA
Web site for information on how you can help send aid to the victims.
See also the article
about Guatemalan Macaria (Miriam) Jocop Guamuch, who is visiting the
Copper Country this week and speaking on economic and human rights issues
to local groups and students at Finlandia and Michigan Tech universities.
Visit the Keweenaw Now discussion forums to comment on this
|Note: Views expressed by our guest columnists are not necessarily the views of Keweenaw Now.
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