Exploring the intersections of ecology, technology, and ideology: Marx, machines, Gibson, and Shanghai.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Constructing yet a New China: Survivor China

Last year the CBS series Survivor reasserted its position of prominence in popular culture conversation with its Racial framework for initial tribal assignments. For all the criticism it faced, labeling it a crude approach to a complex and serious issue, the program did raise important questions for a massive public in an accessible way. Moreover, competitor discussion over the use of minority representation in media played an important role in informing the jury’s decision for Yul to win.

Last night CBS launched the new campaign, setting history as the network put it by filming an entire US tv series in Mainland China. Behind this premise of Jeff Probst as the new Richard Nixon, however, is the fast-approaching Beijing 08 Olympics. Clearly this Survivor series is produced as a cultural advert for China, especially China as an exotic site appropriate to global competition. And the construction of this New/Old China is fascinating, with the actual geographical place of the competition being neither so remote as described verbally and through visual projection. The Zhelin Reservoir is not all that far from major cities in Jiangxi, not so deeply remote as is suggested from modern Chinese metropolis-life even though they are shown traveling into increasing technological and landscapalogical primitivities once setting out from Shanghai—featured in the footage of the new cast(aways) arriving in China. Most of the mountain footage appears to come from the Guangxi Province, near Guilin/Yangshou, and the wilderness footage interspersed between the human dramatics/competitions features pandas from Sichuan. Not to mention the opening welcome ceremony held in a Buddhist Temple—meticulously explained by Probst as a cultural and not religious welcome, yet cleverly presented to counter any narratives about China’s official attitudes toward religious institutions within its borders.

More on this as the series develops…

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