Friday, October 05, 2007

Meet the Natives

Have any of you been watching 'Meet the Natives' on Channel 4 on Thursday nights?

I came across it last week by chance and found it absolutely fascinating. The series recounts the adventures of 5 men - cultural ambassadors - from the island of Tanna in the South Pacific. Among them are the Chief, their best doctor, their best pig expert and a guy who speaks English. Normally they live peacefully on their island, wear nothing but penis sheaths made out of straw and mind their own business.

Along comes Channel 4 one day to make them an offer. They are handed a video camera, shown how to use it and are invited to spend a few weeks on the island of their 'brothers' in the UK. From the hot climes of Tanna, they are thrust into the cool, damp climate of England having been given tracksuits and the like to wear. One guy keeps his red woolly hat on practically the whole time, even indoors.

On arrival they are taken to stay with a Middle Class family who work a sheep farm and employ the services of a rabbit hunter. It all went very well, but the family couldn't help but be reserved and somewhat anally retentive. The next family was a Working Class mixed race (black/white) couple with two children, and I have the impression that they offered a warmer, more heartfelt welcome.

Last night's show finished with the guys going even further north to stay with a lord and his family in a castle. Practically the first thing the guys saw was a man trap which the lord told them was a cheaper way of dealing with a baddie than putting him in prison. I don't think the guys understood his wit...

I was telling all this to my American pal B - how the show was not patronising and that although it seemed rather a strange idea to plonk these guys in the middle of the UK and tell them to see what they made of it, the tone was genuinely sympathetic. He said that if the same show had been made in the US, it would have had a totally different outlook as the programme makers would not have been able to resist poking fun.

That would have been a shame because the guys are not idiots and their piercing observations and pointed remarks on English society are well worth noting. They come from a caring society so were horrified to see homeless people in the centre of Manchester. It's very easy to gloss over uncomfortable issues in society, but when you bring in outsiders to observe what is going on, those issues get noticed and remarked upon. English society so far has not come out of the experience too well...

Despite meeting some lovely people, I think the guys are mostly appalled, and well they might be. I am too when I go back.

Next week they hope to meet Prince Philip - the son of God...!

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