October 01, 2005

So much of what I write here is gleaned from countless discussions, both face-to-face and on-line, branching wildly out of interaction and rebuttal and endless exploration and testing and collapsing and occasional imploding of brainstormed ideas. It is the fertile pushme-pullyu of discussion in an environment of mutual respect, engendering reactive thoughts in occasionally stagnant -- but always receptive -- waters.

Had I ever claimed to speak a single unique word?

Survivor is generally assumed to be a United States remake of the original British show Castaway: and indeed the surface premises of the two shows seem virtually identical, gather and strand two or three dozen persons in an isolated place (ideally an island), and see what transpires, evolves, devolves.

Here the similarities end.

Castaway gathered together a diverse group of persons of varying ages and marooned them together, to remain together and marooned with the cameras watching: what would transpire? Would the social experiment collapse in anarchy? Would these people succeed in building a community? Would even the basic necessities of life be secured? One hypothesis -- perhaps the hope -- of the show was that under such conditions of relative extremis a viable social structure might evolve: but I suspect most viewers were glued to the show with the same fascination as one cannot but watch an automobile accident unfolding. The various practical, hands-on skills of survival certainly seemed to be in adequate supply and quickly defined a new currency of wealth -- and consequent resentment. One generally invisible skill quickly became apparent in its lack, call it "leadership" or maybe "human resource management": the ability to identify the various direct skills of survival in others and place them to good use within the community while simultaneously balancing perceived personal value and diffusing or redirecting resentment.

(Indeed, if done well, resentment should be minimal to non-existent, each member of the community having a unique and valued role within that community. I am at least able to identify the necessity and the potential, without possessing such ability myself: and I can also recognise it in others who, though they themselves would seem to have little relevant skill or knowledge, nevertheless have somehow managed to pull and retain a tight cadre of skilled persons around them, and a much broader following of the faithful around those.)

Mindful of ratings and profits, the future creators of Survivor noted the majority focus of audience attention (toward isolation-amplified disasters-in-the-making, rather than toward community building): and revised the format accordingly. Age differential was out. Photogenic was in. And any incentive toward anything other than the temporary alliance (and inevitable betrayal) was shattered in the new reality that only ONE can survive: the net effect being to continually reinforce personal isolation (call it "individualism"), and thus an anti-community where the only value of other people around yourself is what they can do for you. Reality show perhaps, but only a "game", many scholars of television media term it: and yet the feelings evoked in a member of a fundamentally social species at the inversion of what millennia of genetic instinct tells us ought to be at least to some extent community-building? are certainly real enough.

Perhaps we, the audience, too readily mistake the ability to effectively communicate to a camera for the reality?

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