I just watched two episodes of “Go Back to Where You Came From.” As with the first series, I again feel conflicted about the dire circumstances of refugees and asylum seekers being turned into spectacle for comfortable Westerners such as myself to gape at, and indulge in an emotional reaction of one kind or another from the safety of my couch.
It also offers an opportunity to camp on the high moral ground along with Allen Asher, Imogen Birley and Catherine Deveney. Because even though I think Asher, Deveney and Birley’s positions are right and good and honest, and echo many of my own, we do get to occupy the morally superior position, a nice warm place to be, and that does give us the chance to look down on the likes of Peter Reith, Angry Anderson and Michael Smith who, initially at least, act like total crap.
I have to say I’m a bit bloody sick of this good and evil dichotomy. It’s all getting a bit George W Bush.
A justification for the co-opting of human misery to prime time television (complete with advertisements, I’ll get back to that) would be if three male participants whose minds were changed by their up close and personal encounters with fear, terror, hunger, thirst, illness and misery endured by millions every day were to become a voice for asylum seekers for longer than the interest in the television series lasts. Then much may be achieved, as they change the opinions of their bigoted followers and deprive the rabid xenophobes of a voice and leaders.
I’m mindful that since the first series of Go Back, things have got so much worse for boat arrivals. Clearly, whatever the personal epiphanies experienced by those participants, they’ve stayed personal, because our politicians have only got worse.
The first series hasn’t changed a thing for the better. And here we are again, gasping with outrage and emotion in between our dinner and the bedtime Milo.
Peter Reith, Angry Anderson and Michael Smith all have public platforms they could use to undo some of the damage they’ve already done to the public perception of asylum seekers who arrive here by boat. In particular, Reith was John Howard’s architect of the infamous Children Overboard affair. During that time, asylum seekers were demonized as never before, and the mud the Howard government slung at them has stuck. It seems to me that the least Reith could do to compensate for what he now describes as a “stuff up,” is apologise for his part in that deadly “stuff up” and admit they were terribly, wickedly wrong about the children, women and men they exploited to stay in power.
The intrusion of advertising in Go Back revealed the show for what it really is: entertainment. Just when we got really involved with someone’s suffering and the whole damn disgraceful fucking situation, there’s an ad for a new car, food, furniture, whatever the hell they’re selling now, to remind us that it’s only television! It’s not our real life! Our real life is cars, food, furniture, whatever the hell else and this documentary is merely a distraction from what actually matters. An intense emotional experience brought to you by Toyota, and a bunch of people who’ll never ever own one.
I would love to believe that these series will bring about change. I would love to believe that enough minds will be changed as a consequence of viewing them. But I don’t. Which leads me to wonder what is this series really about? What is its purpose?
And what are its ethics?