Is this anthropology? African pygmies observe Britains in TV-show
TV-shows about people from remote places (the producers use the term "tribes") seem to have become quite popular. In a German TV-show, German families are sent into the African bush to live with "African tribes". Now, in Britain a new TV-show called "Reverse Anthropology" is in the making according to the BBC:
Reverse Anthropology aims to turn the traditional formula - where a UK film-maker experiences life with distant tribes - on its head. Members of a tribe of pygmies will take part in a British hunting expedition and report back on their experiences. Channel 4 deputy head of documentaries Simon Dickson said: "It's about time we turned the mirror on ourselves."
"While we're often baffled and amused by the customs of communities on the other side of the globe, this series will show that some of our rituals - the gym, queuing, getting drunk on a Friday night, golf, showing a lack of respect to our elders - look pretty peculiar to outsiders too," he added.
C21 MediaNet even writes: "Channel 4 flips with anthropology".
On the one hand, this seems like another terrible and exploitative stunt in a long line of such TV programs. However, on the other hand, it presents a very interesting exercise in viewing our world through the eyes of those whom we usually study. (...) And, considering how connected the world is today, will they really be that shocked by what they see?
I think it might be the best damn cure for ethnocentrism the unwashed masses may ever recieve. And a highly amusing foreign vacation for the islanders, which is not to be sneezed at.
I initially had a knee-jerk reaction that this was exploitive, but then I considered that if it is done tastefully, it might be alirght.
Maybe Channel 4 is more tasteful than the private German TV channel SAT1? Their show is called "Like the savages" (!) (Wie die Wilden) and on their website you can click on "the families" and "the tribes", and these texts are quite revealing. The message is: "These tribes do consist of real savages!" Each presentation has chapters on hygiene, rituals, men and women.
We learn these details about the Mentawai (Indonesia):
- armed with bow and arrow, they are representatives of a lost past
- they have sex in the hen-house
- you're not allowed to fart inside the house
- they eat what their dogs have peed on
We learn about the Himas (Namibia, former German colony):
- Women aren't allowed to wash themselves
- Their toothbrushes consist of a chewed off branchlet
We are not provided such details about hygiene and sexual life when you click on "the families".
At the German excellent blog Riemer-o-rama there is a link to an interesting related article called Talking about "Tribe". Moving from Stereotypes to Analysis:
For most people in Western countries, Africa immediately calls up the word "tribe." The idea of tribe is ingrained, powerful, and expected. Few readers question a news story describing an African individual as a tribesman or tribeswoman, or the depiction of an African's motives as tribal.
Yet today most scholars who study African states and societies--both African and non-African--agree that the idea of tribe promotes misleading stereotypes. The term "tribe" has no consistent meaning. It carries misleading historical and cultural assumptions. It blocks accurate views of African realities. At best, any interpretation of African events that relies on the idea of tribe contributes no understanding of specific issues in specific countries. At worst, it perpetuates the idea that African identities and conflicts are in some way more "primitive" than those in other parts of the world. Such misunderstanding may lead to disastrously inappropriate policies.
In this paper we argue that anyone concerned with truth and accuracy should avoid the term "tribe" in characterizing African ethnic groups or cultures.
In this paper, they argue that:
- Tribe has no coherent meaning.
- Tribe promotes a myth of primitive African timelessness, obscuring history and change.
- In the modern West, tribe often implies primitive savagery.
- Images of timelessness and savagery hide the modern character of African ethnicity, including ethnic conflict.
- Tribe reflects once widespread but outdated 19th century social theory
- Tribe became a cornerstone idea for European colonial rule in Africa.
In the US, the TV show Survivors plans to divide teams based on "race". James Pritchett, professor of anthropology said: "This program is drumming up every old stereotype, and I don’t think it is going to be useful at all. What next, a show pitting Jews and Muslims and Christians against each other?"