The Guardian

The Guardian October 4, 2000


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Unreal "reality"

Channel Seven's coverage of the Olympics was regularly interrupted by 
ads for a forthcoming series, Treasure Island. "All new and all 
Australian" proclaimed the voice-over. It might have added "all 
derivative".

A group of assorted young people are flown to a tropical island where they 
camp while solving clues and deciphering a "treasure map". If successful 
they discover a buried treasure worth a considerable amount of spondooliks.

Treasure Island is part of the latest commercial TV fad: "reality 
TV". Like Survivor and other examples of "reality TV", the one thing 
conspicuous by its absence from these programs is reality.

Taking a bunch of well-fed, well-educated, healthy young people and 
plonking them down on a "desert island" inhabited only by a TV crew and 
assorted support services (medical, radio, etc) does not qualify as 
reality.

Neither does making them build a campfire, pitch a tent (or even build a 
rude shelter) and find their own food.

When the worst that can happen to you if you get into difficulties is a 
helicopter ride back to your hotel and you know that help is always at 
hand, "roughing it" for a few weeks is hardly a great chore. Especially 
when there is the chance to win a large chunk of cash at the end of it.

For millions of people around the world, surviving without adequate shelter 
or food is an everyday reality. And there are no TV crews just out of 
sight, no chartered helicopters and medical teams standing by, no cash 
prizes. Just reality  genuine, harsh reality.

Not that monopoly-owned commercial TV is going to devote programs to 
genuine reality.

Although there is great drama in the struggle of poor people to survive in 
the face of capitalism's global onslaught, it's not the sort of drama that 
corporate-dominated commercial TV is likely to want to popularise.

Global poverty is the result of the policies and practices of monopoly 
corporations, but their mates who own the TV companies aren't going to 
reveal that to their viewers, are they?

Instead, they'll continue to pretend that game shows set on tropical 
islands constitute "reality".

* * *
Emigres aghast at possible red sister
In the United States, the sister cities movement which links communities in many different countries is run by an outfit called Sister Cities International (SCI). According to the Miami Herald, this organisation "was founded to curb the spread of communism". But the idea of sister city relationships is popular, so although SCI "doesn't recognise connections with countries that don't have relations with the United States" a growing number of US towns and cities have joined a non-profit group that specifically organises sister-city relations with communities in Cuba. Now seven in all, they include Philadelphia, Madison and Mobile. Mobile in Alabama was the first, forming a relationship with the Cuban capital Havana. There was already an historical connection: the French soldier who founded Mobile died of yellow fever in Cuba and is buried in Havana. In the case of Madison, Wisconsin, its relationship with the Cuban city of Camaguey was initiated by a Cuban-American, Ricardo Gonzalez, whose family originally came from Camaguey. Gonzalez thinks Cuba is enjoying a vogue in the US. "Even before the Elian Gonzalez thing, there was the cigar craze, the success of Cuban music", he told the Miami Herald. The sister-city-with-Cuba trend has even spread to Florida, stronghold of the anti-communist emigre Cuban mafia. A group of residents of St Augustine, a mainly non-Cuban city in North Florida, have decided to create a sister-city relationship with the Cuban town of Baracoa. The group originally gathered to discuss Caribbean culture. According to the Miami Herald, their interest in Cuba grew after watching a documentary about a Cuban band, The Buena Vista Social Club and listening to a lecture about famous revolutionary Jose Marti. Three of the group, including the Mayor, Len Weeks, attended a US-Cuba sister cities conference in Havana in May this year. While there they visited the port town of Baracoa and recognised that it would be "an ideal fit". "Both towns are the longest continuously inhabited settlements in their countries. Both came into existence to protect the Spanish fleet, boast centuries-old forts and have renowned chocolate factories." Spokesman for the group, Dr Ron Dixon, says "there is a fundamental lack of understanding between Cuban and American people because of travel restrictions", which is one way to put it, I suppose. At the same time, he quite unselfconsciously reveals another agenda: "The sister city program could help alter that [lack of understanding] and ultimately bring change to Cuba", he told the media. But the emigre community cannot abide the thought of friendly relations with the socialist island. "We have people daily throwing themselves into the Straits of Florida from that prison camp", says Dr Ernest Carames, who is leading a petition drive to stop the sister city movement in St Augustine. "I cannot live in peace knowing we are the first city in Florida to develop a relationship with a communist regime", says this holdout against the tide of change. The civic leaders of St Augustine have been rattled by the extent of the campaign against friendly relations with Baracoa. But even if the right wing is successful and the sister city proposal is shelved, the tide of history is on the side of those seeking friendly ties between Cuba and the USA. A sister city relationship between St Augustine and Baracoa is inevitable. The only question is when, not if.

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