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Aberdeen researchers criticise
makers of Castaway 2000
Date: January 9, 2001
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SThe creators of the BBC’s major millennial social experiment, Castaway 2000, have been criticised by a team of social scientists from the University of Aberdeen.
Cultural geographers Dr Hayden Lorimer and Fraser MacDonald questioned the role of the programme’s creators, Lion TV, in staging and interpreting the project when they presented the interim findings of their year-long research on the Hebridean project at the annual conference of the Institute of British Geographers. Their study is part of a wider attempt to broaden the field of Scottish studies by engaging with popular cultures and contemporary technologies.
Speaking at last week’s conference, Dr Lorimer and Mr MacDonald said that although the idea of exploring ‘community’ was worthwhile, the high ideals of the social experiment to imagine an alternative way of life for the twenty first century had been flawed from the outset.
The authors focussed their critique on the representation of events and experiences on the Hebridean island of Taransay, from which Lion TV attempted to create a meaningful vision of community for a British audience.
“The idea of community is especially interesting since it has become the key term in modern politics. It is a much less controversial concept than ‘the nation’ or ‘the state’,” said Mr MacDonald. “But the programme’s inference that community is most easily constructed in isolation from normal life, or that rural areas afford more intimate social contact, must be challenged.”
The authors criticised the efforts of Lion TV to continually reduce the concept of community to a series of inter-personal crises, the moral responsibility for which was attributed to certain Castaways, while they remained silent about the manipulative role of the production process.
“There was no suggestion in any of the programmes that the producers might be among the most difficult characters on the island,” said Mr MacDonald. “But as the recent Castaway book, published by both the BBC and Lion TV, reveals, most of the arguments were ultimately about the role of the production company. They used their editorial power to create heroes and villains. And villains were necessary to disguise their own part in the community dynamic.”
Dr Lorimer said: “Reality TV requires this illusion of transparency, as if the role of the camera and of the production team were strictly passive. And yet we have seen that the drama of sexual politics has been hugely magnified. Having found itself in competition with even more sensational programmes such as Big Brother, Castaway inevitably departed from its original aim so that is could feed the celebrity instincts of the popular press.”
Despite the failings of the project, the authors claim that Castaway still had important things to say about the realities of modern life.
Mr MacDonald said: “Castaway can be read as a metaphor for the global
economy in as much as the rules of the game were set by a group of outside
‘experts’ and contractually bound the castaways to particular ‘acceptable’
forms of behaviour. It was the application of these rules that was responsible
for many of the crises on the island and from which the production company
has washed its hands.”
Further information: Fraser MacDonald, Research Fellow, Arkleton Centre for Rural Development Research, University of Aberdeen on (01224) 272347 email@example.com
Dr Hayden Lorimer, Lecturer in Geography, University of Aberdeen, on
Dr Danny MacKinnon, Research Fellow, Geography, University of Aberdeen on (01224) 273699
Professor Fiona Mackenzie, Senior Research Fellow, University of Aberdeen
9 January 2001
University Press Office on telephone +44 (0)1224-273778 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.