Go back where you came from: Part Three
I was amused to see Roderick, vice president of a branch of the Young Liberals, appear again in last night’s episode sporting the tee shirt with Tony Abbott in a lifeguard’s bonnet and budgie smugglers on the front. Unfortunately I couldn’t read the slogan.
Later he showed up in Congo wearing Julia Gillard as a lemon on his chest. Roderick is to be commended for his commitment to furthering his goal, stated at the beginning of the series, that he did not intend to allow anyone to cast him as a leftie. He simultaneously pushed domestic political propaganda for the home audience, and I’m certain he is to be watched as a future politician.
I’m struggling with on-going ambivalence about this show. On the one hand, it’s a remarkable achievement. I mean, imagine the logistics involved in pulling it all together. Give credit where it’s due, I say.
The fusion of documentary and reality TV genres was inspired: while I found the Big Brother style narration a little irritating it certainly allows the program to speak to a broader audience than a straight doco. It was a clever marketing decision, and also allowed the participants an on-going and authentic emotional engagement that would not have been as easy in a doco.
However, I’m unable to shake a sense of voyeurism and exploitation. I think this could have easily been avoided by including footage of whatever negotiations took place between the producers and the asylum seekers and refugees who took part in the program. We get very little sense of their agency: they are portrayed as largely without any.
While they obviously have severely restricted agency in determining the course of their lives, I think it would have been respectful and humanizing to at least show the audience how they were invited to take part, and how they accepted the invitation.
Instead, we are left with an impression that they passively exist for our consumption, while the agency of the white participants is taken for granted. Raquel, for example, was given a choice about visiting Congo and she declined.
At the same time, the face to face interactions between the Australians and the refugees worked extremely well to humanize them, counteracting the Gillard government’s on-going efforts at dehumanization by isolation.
As the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas pointed out, when we are denied interaction with the face of the other, we are denied interaction with our humanity and theirs. Go back to where you came from achieved a great deal in this regard, and this is one of it’s most powerful strengths.
Two participants did have their beliefs about boat people reinforced. Having seen the camps in which refugees languish for years awaiting resettlement, the sense of unfairness that these people should be usurped by boat arrivals was strong.
It’s probably entirely unreasonable to demand that anybody fleeing death and persecution should first consider others who may be worse off than even them. Such moral considerations are easy for those of us who are safe. Put any one of us in a war zone and we might well discard all moral niceties, and bolt to anywhere in any way we can.
Hopefully, the show will have gone some way to exposing the constellation of false assumptions that underly Australian attitudes to asylum seekers. But I’m not holding my breath.