I’ve been seeing a lot of TV ads for the January season premier of “Border Wars“. If you haven’t watched it before, it is basically a reality show that follows ICE around and it is told from the perspective of the border pratrol agents. I suppose the show is done from such point of view so as to show that the often demonized ICE agents are just regular men and women that happen to work very hard to guard our borders against drug smuggling, terrorism, and yes, against “illegal” immigrants (aka economic refugees) and to make it relatable and appealing to the mythical but ever-present ‘average Joe’ (whoever that is anymore) American audience (by the way, I’m not a big fan of the hand-washing excuses that corporate media apologists often like to give that revolve around the ol’ “we only give the public what it wants to watch”, as I have previously argued on this previous post of mine).
Here’s the preview that is currently up on the National Geographic website:
To view more clips from the show, you can access them on the National Geographic’s YouTube Channel (which as you might expect, is filled with hateful and racist comments that many bigot viewers have left on that site).
I’ve been trying to keep an open mind about this show, even after other reality shows have tried similar formats but with more disturbing results on ABC and Fox. This latest incarnation of ‘tough immigration police reality TV’, is a bit different because it is put on by National Geographic, which, after all, has a widely established reputation for cultural sensitivity and appreciation for all peoples of the world. It also tries to somewhat humanize the image of the immigrant, by highlighting the reasons behind why many of these people risk their lives to cross the border and by recognizing that many end up dead in the sweltering heat of the desert. I have also read this pro-migrant review of last seasons’ show, which I thought was pretty fair. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling of apprehension whenever I hear the promos that are trying to get people to watch the show: peppered with sensational taglines akin to “come watch the border patrol fight the bad guys the likes of drug lords, terrorists, immigrant smugglers aka coyotes, and illegal immigrants”, as if they all belonged in the same social category.
I’m not a hater of Reality TV, among my favorites shows in the history of the genre are “The Real World” and “Road Rules” in the 90’s, the early episodes of “The Simple Life“, “The Ultimate Fighter“, and “The Osbournes“. I think, however, that at some point the question of responsibility in terms of Reality TV’s impact on the national dialogue on hot button issues like immigration has to be considered. Yes, I realize that the point of the show is to entertain (and at some level to also satisfy the producers’ adrenaline rush cravings by playing dress up as ‘exciting [border] war correspondents’) and not necessarily to educate; kind of like being in a virtual zoo or circus, editing out the stuff that is deemed “unimportant” or “uninteresting”. Yet, that’s exactly the point: there’s something unsettling about putting a camera in the face of an economic refugee that is being taken into custody by a border patrol agent, all for the sake of our entertainment, damn the dignity of these men and women that risk everything to feed their families.
Lost in the editing process to churn out this style of assembly-line entertainment and feed it to the masses is a more substantive discussion of what is behind the humanitarian crisis that is taking place in our Southern border. Lost is the historical context of U.S. interventionism in Latin America mainly through the CIA-backed School of the Americas that has helped to destabilize these “illegal” immigrants’ home countries. Lost is the dynamic behind the torrent of military and civilian firearms that continue to flow from the United States into Mexico. Lost are the bitter tales of the day-to-day realities of what some of these immigrants’ families live in. When will those topics get their own Reality TV shows? Hey, I’m under no delusion that it would be easy to produce them; but rather than blindly embracing right-wing slogans of war a-la George W. Bush that are probably making Pat Buchanan smile in glee, all for a quick buck, a more humanized starting point for National Geographic’s “Border Wars” would be to stop using the flippant and oftentimes bigoted term “illegal immigrant”, or worse, “illegal alien” in their present show.
Agree with me? Let National Geographic know by clicking here.
Update: Erick, a fellow pro-migrant activist, alerts us of the following:
I’ve been watching the show and I followed up on a queue to go to their website and play a game they have. You get to decide on what steps to take when patroling the border or the entry gates.
Example : A white van arrives and you soon learn it’s three passengers Mr. and Mrs. Mulero and their teenage nephew Alexandro. It’s mid-day and everyone is wet with perspiration. Especially Alexandro, who decided [to wear] “cool” baggie jeans and a long sleeve shirt. Amused, you smile at the silent boy, then decide to A) ask the family questions B) start examining the van.
It goes on like this in which you either find drugs or people or you let them get through. When you do catch someone, they use pictures from the show of people who actually got arrested for doing something wrong. It’s pretty insane that they have something like this.
Also, for further analysis of the show, you can visit the Restore Fairness blog.