Sunday, October 26, 2008

MTV's "Exiled" Continues, Pushback on Stereotyping Students and Islam, Teachable Moments Abound

Punishment and Transformation: Dirty Living or Dirty Working for those who are Living and Working Dirty? But follow it through to an Ending of Grace and Beauty.

If you go back and look at the September posts (I call them the Pre-Ike period). You will notice that people continue to post new comments to the two posts about MTV's television show, Exiled, the first here and the follow-up here. The show has continued to air on Monday nights on MTV. Episode 7, set in Morocco, finds one Bjorn being exiled to a week with a Berber family as punishment for maxing out his father's credit card. (I kid you not.)

The enduring delight of watching the spoiled be forced to endure unspeakable deprivation in the land of the "other" continues. My students continue to discuss the "train-wreck" enjoyment the show brings. But like heroin, what feels good is not always a good thing. Simply put, the lived experiences of the "other" are not a punishment. And many continue to feel uncomfortable with that message.

Heather a student at Tulane's School of Public Health and former volunteer in Mozambique, posted her own excellent criticism of the show on her blog before finding her way here.

So, I have a new idea for an MTV show. Instead of making people be the punishment how about if we demonize employment, think of both the messages of political economy and spirituality which question the nobility of some occupations. So, a la the Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs, how about we seek out the offenders of society and make them do (literally) crappy jobs. I would so love to see the managing elite of AIG ruin their manicures cleaning out septic tanks. Shiners and chips at my house for the first episode.

But seriously, I am enjoying the discussion that this show engenders. My continuing pet peeve with my profession and my colleagues is our tendency to treat our students in ways we would never treat our informants or that broad category that we all so hate our "culture". Students don't all think alike. They come to the table with different perspectives and different knowledge levels. The show allows them to teach each other in terms they understand. There are very good discussions to be had with minimal professorial interruption. I have yet to teach a class where at least one student was not offended at the implication that other people's lives are punishments. Many students come away rooting for the other side of the spoiled brat equation.

But, IMHO, to be a truly effective Anthropology professor, you need then to kick it up a notch. You need to step back and contextualize their conclusions and move them to a wider perspective. Once, they learn that humans have the right to be respected on their own terms not just as the stereotypical "other" whose lives are a "punishment", you need to argue for how to relate to them. Not only the fieldwork issues of rapport and non-interference but the wider implications of a foreign policy which lacks rapport and respect. Those implications are nicely summed up by NYTimes' Nikolas Kristof (who I don't always agree with). Kristof cites the case of Somalia, who students are likely to know through Blackhawk Down. Its a good opportunity to push the discussion further and pushback on Islamophobia.

Speaking of which, did anyone catch Queen Rania on Fareed Zakahria's GPS show on CNN last Sunday? Here are Parts 1 and 2. I encourage everyone to have a look at her YouTube Channel which is "(d)edicated to breaking down stereotypes about the Arab and Muslim worlds and to bridging the East-West divide". And nobody does it better.


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