Reality TV’s “Heart of Darkness”

It’s Friday, and I’m looking for a lighthearted show to laugh at, but I stumble upon the Discovery Channel’s reality show “Gold Rush: South America.” “Gold Rush” focuses on families of gold prospectors who travel to “strangest place on earth” to mine gold for profit.

Discovery markets the show as an adventure series, a glimpse into the lives of devil-may-care, rugged opportunists á la Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The producers plucked a movie narrator from an old Arnold Schwarzenegger flick; his voice ominously intones, “They must traverse this steep Peruvian mountain road in order to reach the gold.”  I half expect the whipping of helicopter blades in the air to punctuate his narrative.

The dialogue is background noise until I hear one of the Hoffman brothers utter these words:

“The American Dream doesn’t stop at the American border.”

I shiver. Irrationally, I feel threatened. It does not take me long to figure out why.

In 2013, he has unknowingly resurrected the rallying cry of 19th Century colonialism and Manifest Destiny. The go-getter spirit of which America is so proud spurred us to ‘go get’ resources from foreign lands and profit from them. It frightens me that no one checks Hoffman. No one says, “Um, actually, the American Dream does stop at the American border. After that, you are borrowing, mining, robbing, appropriating, exploiting, and fleecing the dream from the nationals of another country.”

Hoffman further laments, “You know, I have a wife and three kids. Sometimes, doing this, I wonder if I’m going to make it home to them.” Oh, the invisible violins swell to a pitiful crescendo then.

This man voluntarily hops on a plane to mine another country’s gold and solicits sympathy because he puts himself in danger?! I could understand if he was doing humanitarian work or if his employer demanded it. But he is risking his life for love of Mammon, God help him.

The Hoffman brother did not mean to sound sinister, I am sure. Still, a not-so-different speech played in my head:

I went down on my knees and prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance … and one night late it came to me this way. We could not leave (the Philippines) to themselves–they were unfit for self-government… There was nothing left for us to do but take them all and educate the Filipinos, and uplift and Christianize them.” –President William McKinley.

Hoffman’s hubris flies far beyond ambition. It hints at a belief that he even has a right to step outside his motherland and mine the resources of a developing nation that needs it. He regards both the landscape and the locals as Other, when he is the interloper.

Herein lies the greatest fallacy of capitalism and imperialism: That there are no borders, no external forces compelling us to leave riches and land and people to themselves; that we inherently own what others currently possess. If anything, it is America’s Manifest Destiny to repeat the evils of our forefathers, because clearly, we haven’t learned. “Discovery Channel,” indeed.

2 thoughts on “Reality TV’s “Heart of Darkness”

  1. It is amazing what Western imperialism has done to Nations around the world. The Philippines for instance is still in a financial shambles after Spain and the U.S. took what they wanted. And, don’t get me started on what’s happened on the African Continent.

    Worse though is that same philosophy of imperialism is still practiced in the U.S. on its poor citizens. The rich take what they want and then blame the poor for being poor.

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