'The entire premise of the show is antithetical to the hunter-gatherer principles. It's a nightmare vision of primitive life! And the worst part of it is that now you hear people saying: 'You are so off the island.' " Like the rest of us, Richard B. Lee is talking about CBS's new hit "reality" series, Survivor. Unlike the rest of us, he actually knows of what he speaks.
Co-editor of The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Hunters and Gatherers and a world-class anthropologist specializing in African Bushmen, Dr. Lee is a forager expert. And the folks on Survivor—while they may gnaw on beetle larvae, hunt rats, run around with torches, go to a pseudo-primitive "tribal council" and paint their faces with mud—just don't cut it.
At his cramped office at the University of Toronto, Dr. Lee helps me sort out the differences between Survivor's tribes and the real thing. "Hunter-gatherers believe in sharing, inclusivity, and in making it all work together," Dr. Lee explains. In traditional Iroquois cultures, if food was scarce, whoever had food would share it equally among other tribe members.
Is it strange to quote NBC characters at policy meetings?
A few weeks ago, I participated in a serious roundtable discussion at the University of Toronto's venerable Massey College. The subject was whether a guaranteed annual income could be a viable campaign for the left. A group of political theorists, economists and activists debated the question, divided over whether the idea was too pie in the sky.
Which is when the TV show came up. "Well, to quote a recent episode of The West Wing," one of the policy experts said, "we need to raise the level of debate in this country."
The West Wing,which had its season finale last night, comes up a lot these days. It's especially popular on the left, where it serves as a kind of hallucinatory vision of how politics could be if Bill and Hillary Clinton weren't such sellouts to the business lobby.