Anyone watching “high end” reality TV, the “upscale” stuff designed to appeal to upper income viewers such as pretty much anything on Home and Garden TV or Food Network knows that the programming, aimed at a mostly female audience (just watch the ads), has certain ideas it caters to that reside in the hearts of its audience. Among them, the “romance” of the Third World which is seen as “authentic” (because its crowded, noisy, stinking, polluted, and most of all non-Western). Much of the self-hate for Western culture comes from a combination of spoiled boredom and a desire for more “masculine” men (i.e. sexy-dominating guys who boss them around) by an upper class female audience. HGTV is no exception, and its “House Hunters International” has run episodes on Western women moving to places like Bombay, and Cairo.
Mamdouh and Laura Raafat now live with their two children, Tarek and Hannah, in a nice, quiet neighborhood in California. They have a great house, nice careers and an easy-going lifestyle most people would envy. So why are they looking to leave all that and move to the to the busy, bustling city of Cairo, Egypt? Well, it depends on who you ask. Mamdouh wants his children to experience part of their cultural heritage while they are still young and Laura is up for the adventure of living in the ancient city by the Nile, the Triumphant City of Cairo, Egypt. But just because they’ve got the ambition to move doesn’t mean they know where to live. So to help them navigate the real estate scene in this hectic city they’ve hired realtor Soaad Abd Elsalam. The Raafats have asked her to find them a family friendly condo that’s near a good school. Let the house hunting begin.
Yes, a nice quiet neighborhood in California just pales in comparison to the “multicultural” and “diverse” environment found in Cairo. Even more, the show’s producers figured their audience would love the episode. And they were right!
For too long, much of the Western world has labored under a delusion that life is “better” in other places. Particularly Third World places. You’ll often see comments by men bemoaning Western women, and extolling the virtues of Third World women (and environments). The reality is quite different. Third World places have no real law, safety, predictability, decent hospitals and medical care, safe and uncontaminated food and water, or working sewer systems. In short, they lack all the reasons why people come to the West in the first place. They lack them, moreover, because the people of the Third World are completely incapable of constructing them. Japan and South Korea were flattened by war, with much of their people dead or displaced, yet built modern nations that whatever their faults, do not lack for: safe food, clean water, working sewers, modern and efficient hospitals and medical care. Even, functioning legal systems that while not “fair” keep anarchy and street chaos at bay.
But as much as the typical male attitude towards the compromises inherent in having a functioning nation with modern technology and all the benefits it implies, tends towards belittling Western ways (and Western women) and extolling the virtues of Third World anarchy and (presumed, the reality is much different) more deferential women, it is the media empires aimed at women that contribute most of the romanticizing and idealizing of failed peoples and nations.
HGTV has much of its programming predicated on the “romance” of dirt poor and fairly ugly Third World nations, with the network running episodes on searching for houses in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize, Tonga, Tahiti, Mexico. But HGTV is not alone. This attitude, of glorifying Third World failure as success, is something that you can see on almost any TV show, reality or otherwise, on the broadcast networks or cable networks. The specifics are usually, the Third World is more colorful (less dreary stability needed to keep the power on). More spontaneous too, a fiesta (or an anti-American riot) can break out any time. A “slower pace of life” contrasted with the West (where the water is not loaded with fecal bacteria, straight from the tap, and the police don’t routinely shake you down). Indeed, one memorable HGTV episode in Nicaragua featured a “suicide shower” with an electric water heater plugged right into the wall and affixed inline to the shower’s pipes. It was noted as typical for the region.
Naturally, the congruence with Western women’s desire for a “type” of man, i.e. one colorful and amusing and dominant, with bouts of unpredictability, is no accident. Both speak clearly to a sense of wealth, power, and security. Able to trade off security and safety for “excitement” and thrills.
This seems destined to come to an end. The Third World has been coasting on (relatively) cheap energy and food that has come to an end. China’s insatiable demand, loss of Western farmland to housing/development, and biofuels all signal an end to cheap food. Cheap energy being laughable even with the economic crisis, given China’s own demands on the global market, and Western fantasies of “green” energy from biofuels, wind, solar, unicorn farts, and rainbows.
Cairo is a seething mass of violence now (likely the entire family is desperate to move back to California), and likely to remain so for some time. Not only Cairo, but other areas featured on HGTV: Lebanon, Dubai, and Jordan. To say nothing of Central America and Mexico.
And the impact of all the strife in the Middle East is a guarantee re-run of 2008’s $4.50 a gallon for gas. A price that ensured economic meltdown as people could no longer afford to fill up their cars and pay their mortgages. The entire West has had a long run of safety, affordability, predictability, and security. If 9/11 was the wake up call, that this dominance had ended, the Cairo riots and Egyptian mess (prompted largely by fallout from Tunisia, itself a victim of food riots), is the alarm clock blaring loud rock music.
The Romanticizing of Third World failures is likely to stop. While you can’t smell the tear gas and blood through the TV screen, its hard to project a romantic image of the Third World when much of it is flames. And the US looks threatened as well, in different forms. Idealization of failed peoples is likely to be stopped by reality, and America and the West’s own virtues pushed larger by simple comparison.
After all, even the most bored upscale yuppie would rather live in suburban California than Cairo.