Sunday, May 31, 2009

Just trashy TV or genocide denial?

So there's apparently a new reality show on the History Channel where contestants reenact the infamous journey where Henry Morton Stanley goes to rescue Livingstone. This is what the website says:

Twenty miles off the coast of eastern Africa, four modern-day explorers are sailing toward the unknown, the deep interior of Tanzania. They’ll travel 970 miles through African terrain that is as stunning as it is fraught with danger. Using only a compass and basic maps, they will attempt to recapture the spirit of one of the world’s most remarkable adventures—journalist Henry Morton Stanley’s perilous 1871 journey to find Dr. David Livingstone. Their historic exploration has been captured by one of the premiere storytellers of our time, Mark Burnett, for the eight-part television event, EXPEDITION AFRICA

This is not a competition or a game. It's a real-life adventure. These four explorers--navigator Pasquale Scaturro, wildlife expert Dr. Mireya Mayor, survivalist Benedict Allen and journalist Kevin Sites--will trek across a vast, unforgiving landscape of dense swamps, rugged mountains and barren deserts. They will face severe dehydration, deadly diseases, wild animals and more than 29 kinds of venomous snakes, only to learn that the greatest danger may actually be one another.

What struck me was just how much of a bubble I live in. I get that it's fun to pretend to be in rugged life-and-death situations hence the popularity of orienteering as a sport. I also realise that you need an exotic back-story to make a show interesting but, and this is my main problem: isn't about time we all just retired that sad and discredited safari/explorer aesthetic.

For one thing, Tanzania isn't all that dangerous or remote. Take this map from the website for instance:

It is entirely possible to take a train from Dar to Kigoma, which is then only a short ride from Ujiji. If you don't like trains, air-conditioned coaches go all over the country for under twenty bucks.

Also, my knowledge of the original expedition, much of it from the masterpiece of Victorian era history King Leopold's Ghost, is of a creeping massacre, starting from the coast and slowly moving inland, burning the villages in its way and viciously killing thousands including most of the porters. Stanley, some years later, would become the celebrity architect and engineer of Leopold's Congo Free State, a giant slave empire which left an estimated ten million people dead between 1885 and 1908 or half the entire population of the region.

Let me suggest an idea for season two: EXPEDITION EUROPE where we follow four intrepid adventurers dressed up in Nazi regalia as they reenact the invasion of Poland while learning about the local flora and fauna from exotically dressed locals.

Season three: Mao's Long March?

You get the idea.

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