Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Ultimate Teachable Moment: wonder how it will play out?

The MTV generation is weighing in and, apparently, its not all good. But that's okay a week with the Maasai will cure you of all your selfish make-up and flavored lip gloss needs. You will return to America with the thankful realization that your life is, like, totally, way better than all those other gross people in the world, so, like you totally need to stop being such a whiner and move out of your parents home, get a job, and like, totally, do something.

Thanks to SACC (the Society for Anthropology in the Community Colleges) for a link to the NY Times on the success of a new MTV show, unfortunately entitled Exiled. The MTV site for the show has clips and a detailed explanation.

Its based on one of those personal transformation issues of sending the spoiled, obnoxious teenagers whose Sweet Sixteen parties were profiled last year on MTV to other countries/cultures of "less fortunate" people in the hopes of redeeming the value-challenged young women. Sweet Sixteen was one of those train-wreck of a shows where teenage viewers either envied their lavish parties or scoffed at their ridiculous excess in much the same way as students in my classes felt about our Rock of Love discussions that I had blogged about previously.

Anyway, my own daughter pointed the show out to me right before she left to go to College. She watched the episode where the girl went to live with the Maasai. I only wandered in for the very end, so I don't feel qualified to comment on the show fully, just yet.

On the surface, there seem to be many cringe-worthy anthropological moments. The first episode, at least, had the girl sent to Kenya as a form of punishment for her selfishness--this judgment levied by the parents who made her that way. *eye roll*

Okay, got that shudder out of my system....continuing.....

Hence the name of the series "Exiled", as in banished to....god knows where. Several members of the SACC listserv have weighed with disgust on that one. The overall philosophy, once again, reminds me of the Geertz quote at the bottom of my blog. The Maasai seem to exist only as a corrective to our "bad behavior" and an opportunity to be glad "we don't have to live like that". I guess its just another opportunity to point out to the students that other people don't exist to provide meaning to our lives but deserved to be respected in their own right.

Its going to be another opportunity, also, to discuss development and ways of achieving it because if you look at the MTV site you will see a whole slate of NGO's and the UN throwing their expertise and support behind the series. See, the full slate of anti-malarial supporters for the second show in Thailand at the MTV site. Since most of what they do goes counter to what Anthropology thinks we should be doing....I am guessing even more teachable moments will come about. So......

Judgements and rants to be continued throughout the semester........

Feel free to join in.


Maximilian C. Forte said...

I went through the links you posted, and yes I have to agree with your assessment. This really is a retrograde era we are living in, traveling back to old notions of civilization and savagery, superior and inferior, and bridging development "gaps" conceived as evolutionary stages. It's as if all the work we have done is for nothing...worse yet is when we see other anthropology bloggers shoring up these Eurocentric ideals.

Elise said...

I forced myself to watch the "Thailand" episode in its entirety so I feel somewhat qualified to speak about it. My opinions and reactions echo strongly the posts and comments found here.

Bugs, elephant dung, and the killing of a chicken to honor a guest were all labeled 'gross' according to Beverly Hills, not Thai, standards.

The show's neophyte, a Global Studies major, was able by the end of the week to overcome her 'culture shock' and learn the valuable lesson of humility (except that upon her return to Beverly Hills, she decides that while she does need to be more "mature," she doesn't need to change any of her behavior or consumption patterns).

My students ARE watching the show-- I polled and about half of the female hands went up. Many male faces didn't look blank, but I suspect they would rather not admit in class they watched such a show.

I see Exiled as an example of culturally relevant pedagogy. But how to frame the discussion to a group of undergraduates who don't care and often don't think? Therein for me, lies the rub.

Pamthropologist said...

I, also, brought the show up in two of my classes and, yes, they are watching it. Like you, Elise, I would say some 1/3 and in one (small) class 1/2 of students reported seeing it. Like you, the women were quick to raise their hands and the guys hung back. Eventually, some of the guys contributed to the discussion, so, I think your suspicions about their having seen it may be correct.

I can't say that I gained a recipe for how to handle the situation. I was afraid to do too much with it until I have more of an established relationship with them. This only the second week of class. I asked their opinions and they don't see it "our way". They seem to really dislike these girls and are rather gleeful about their experiences in Africa--none of my students had seen the Thailand one. They all had seen the Maasai one.

In one class, I repeated some of the concerns mentioned by us Anthropologists--SACC members, Max, and myself, and I had a couple respond "I can see that". I think they are open for the discussion but I think it might be important to let them have their say about what it means to them before explaining our perspective.
I hope we can all continue to share our experiences. I am going to keep the discussion going.

Pamthropologist said...

Forgot to add, my own beautiful student called to correct my faulty memory. She had already left for college and called me about the show. I was watching convention coverage and didn't click over until the end of the show. Funny how I would swear she was still here. But her presence never really leaves me, so it's all good!

anth student said...

I also watched the Thailand episode just to see how awful it would be.
I really want to know where the girl went to college seeing as how she is a "cultural studies" major and manages to be so insensitive. I was thinking to myself how I would kill to be lucky enough to experience what the girl viewed as torture.
I felt dumber for having watched the show and I normally don't watch MTV so I dont plan on watching any subsequent episodes.

Pamthropologist said...

anth student,

Since I always heckle my students, I will accord you the same respect. Do you think students can learn by watching the show and critiquing it? In a twisted way, did you think it had any value in presenting a case for "how you don't want to be"? Always curious to get student insight, thanks for the perspective.