The only times I’ve ever written a blog have been when I was in Uganda. But why? Is my life in Tennessee not interesting enough to write about? I hope not. If it is, then I need to get out of here fast! Seriously though, I like sharing my observations about the world, so I decided to start blogging this semester – my last semester at the University of Tennessee. I felt like I needed a theme for this new direction with my blog, but a few suggestions from friends convinced me to keep it simple and just write about my life, which is pretty much a theme in itself. It also allows me to write about anything I want. There’s also a fun surprise coming up with this blog that you’ll just have to wait to see!
If you’re new, here’s a little about myself. I’m graduating with honors in May with a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. I’m writing a thesis from my original research on cultural revival programs in northern Uganda, a post-conflict zone I have worked and lived in and a place where I have left a piece of myself. I’m running a project turning Acholi folk tales into cartoons, even though I’m a continent away from my team. I’m constantly reading news and other blogs about Africa in general, Uganda in particular, and other topics when it strikes my fancy. I’m a fan of Conan O’Brien, and I enjoy watching Grey’s and Private Practice every week along with Glee. Feel free to judge me for my taste in television series. I don’t know what I’m doing for grad school, but I’m interested in development, aid, human rights, anthropology, politics, and a wide range of similar topics, all of which tend to overlap. Before this starts to sound too much like a singles ad, I’ll stop. I’m just letting you know all of this because I might be writing on any range of these topics in my blog. Plus, this could be a really fun time to follow along while I graduate and try to land myself a big girl job.
Did I mention that I’m moving to Uganda in July? Yeah… I’ll be writing about that, too.
So, for my first blog entry, I’ve decided to write about a gem of a new tv show on ABC (note: sarcasm) called “Off the Map.” Due to my aforementioned Grey’s and Private Practice faithfulness, I was watching tv one night when I saw a commercial for this particular show. It’s no doubt riding on the ever popular and romantic idea of Americans wandering into the deepest darkest jungles and saving the locals with technology and medicine. In fact, the show is pretty much built on this idea.
Now I know it’s not like Grey’s or Private Practice are particularly realistic, and they definitely romanticize the profession, so why should I be upset about Off the Map right? That’s because there is a critical difference between the shows: Off the Map bases its storyline on the exploitation of a stereotype of poor third world people that need to be saved by the white man – a stereotype that often has serious implications in aid and development programs around the world. Mostly I’m talking about how this kind of image is used by countless organizations and NGOs to talk the money right out of your pocket and into their fund to save the starving children, whose images they used to lure you in. Some of you might wonder why this is a problem. If they’re using badvocacy, but they get money, that’s okay right? No, really it’s not. But that’s a long explanation that I’ll try to get into in a later entry. For now I’ll just say it’s exploitation, and the means do not justify the ends.
For now, I want to get into discussing the highlights of this first episode a little bit.
Let’s start with the title – “Saved by the Great White Hope.” Now, I’m coming into this a little defensively, so I’ll admit I was on edge from the get go. All kinds of horrible things were running through my mind about what exactly this “great white hope” might be. First, I imagined a scenario where some unnamed indigenous native is saved by a white doctor, thus he is the great white hope. Then I imagined they might talk about some local myth that the white doctor fulfills. Then I thought maybe it could be referring to a geographical land mark. Finally, my question was answered. The “great white hope” is actually a reference made by the latina doctor who has a scornful attitude towards Americans in general. She says this upon meeting an American doctor who professed her desire for helping. I’m glad it wasn’t any of the options I had imagined, but what exactly is “the great white hope”? Is this some kind of reference to the Americans’ need to play savior? Or is this saying that even though the new doctors were naive, their naivety helped to get them through the day?
The show opens up with a view of a beautiful, exotic jungle area. Then it says “Somewhere in South America.” Okay. So… somewhere in South America? That’s a whole continent, right? We can see that the locals speak Spanish, and they have a beach which obviously means they live on the coast. That pretty much means they could be anywhere in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina, or Uruguay. Maybe we’ll get some more clues as it goes along. If we do, perhaps we can use process of elimination to figure out where exactly they might be.
Now let’s tackle the idea that they are in the only medical center for 200 miles. Maybe I’m just not up to date on my South America facts, but I know that in Uganda at least rudimentary clinics are fairly common, so I find it hard to believe that they are the ONLY clinic in such a large area. Then, let’s look at how all of the doctors are American, except for our single latina woman. And none of them know how to speak Spanish. And they have one 10 year old translator? I mean, is this plausible? I assume there are some pretty remote clinics out there, but do organizations really throw doctors out there who have no language or culture training at all?
I admit, the show did a much better job of avoiding bad images of its indigenous people than I thought it would, but that could be because a good portion of their featured patients were tourists. If they can stick with focusing on the doctors and the tourists, they might be able to avoid offending too many people. If you’re not into the whole developing world scene then you will probably find this show very enjoyable. As far as entertainment goes, it definitely met the goals. As far as realism goes, it misses the mark for me. I know, I know – it’s a tv show, and I’m taking it too seriously. I guess Off the Map just wasn’t made for me. I’d like to watch next week to see if it gets any better. I really can’t explain why it is that its inaccuracy rubs me the wrong way. Maybe I just need to lighten up and enjoy the entertainment, but I don’t think I can really become a respectable fan of this particular show. Feel free to share your opinion!