Last night marked the “where are they now?” special of SBS’s groundbreaking reality TV series social experiment, Go Back to Where You Came From, which aired over three emotional nights last week. The episode was called Go Back to Where You Came From: The Response, so I thought I’d offer my response to the show.
Firstly, I’d like to say that I thought it was one of the best things I’ve seen all year. Hell, I’ll even go as far as saying it’s one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Given the opportunity, I would have loved to go along with Raye, Adam, Darren, Raquel, Gleny and Roderick to Malaysia, Jordan, Kenya, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Certainly, I would think twice about going to those countries on my own, but were the participants in any real danger with a camera crew and, I’m guessing, copious amounts of security around? My money’s on no.
While there has been a lot of criticism of Darren and Raquel, especially, and I was (and still am) one of those naysayers, a lot has to be said for the participants’ willingness to enter into the experiment; their willingness to let the experiment change their views.
I still think Raquel is a bit ignorant and sheltered, but I was really proud of her embracing an offer of friendship from a woman in a “teatowel” on the special last night. She said it right when she said “we all have hearts”, and witnessing what they did would be enough to soften even the hardest heart. Darren notwithstanding.
In fact, I think Raquel hit the nail on the head when she kept complaining throughout the journey that she’s an “Austraylyan” (is that the phonetic spelling for the bogan pronunciation of our country?), that she hasn’t been brought up like this, and—especially—that in the refugee camps, everyone was staring at her and she felt like she didn’t belong. I’m sure these are all feelings refugees have. We’re lucky enough to be raised in the “lucky country”, so to speak. Don’t you think we should extend some of those privileges to those not as lucky?
Another one of the participants I was really proud of was Adam, the Cronulla lifeguard. He certainly came into the program with a set of prejudices from his upbringing in the affluent beachside suburb and his involvement in the 2005 riots there, but I almost cried in the second episode when he sheepishly admitted that he would get on a boat: the very action that he’d been decrying from the beginning. I was happy he changed his mind because a face like that goes to waste on a person so right-wing!
Raye was another who had a marked turnaround. In most of her scenes I wept along with her, and it was great to see her spending time with the Masudi’s, the eldest child of which is coming to stay with her and her husband this weekend.
That leaves Gleny (yay!), Darren (boo!) and Roderick (meh!).
I felt that Roderick didn’t get much screen time and therefore we weren’t really clear on his motivations for going on the program, nor his beliefs. I wasn’t such a big fan of his Tony Abbott t-shirts but, as he said on last night’s special, he believes in the freedom of speech and religion, which is what the Liberal party stands stood for.
Gleny was super awesome and I applaud her efforts to more fully understand the plight of refugees and her offer to house some should it come to that. And if it comes to that, I would be there right alongside her. If people are complaining about people from other countries “infiltrating” the Aussie society and that they should “speak our language”, what better way to integrate them than to have them live with you? Next SBS “social experiment” right there!
Darren was someone I couldn’t really understand; to witness everything he did and the only result be downgrading his vilification of asylum seekers from “queue jumpers” to “system dodgers” is pretty cold-hearted. Especially seeing as his wife is Taiwanese, and could very well have been an asylum seeker if her circumstances were different. A lot of attention was drawn to his children, as well: would he put his family on a boat if it meant the possibility of a better, safer life for them? (The answer was no.)
One of the many things I found interesting was the different reactions from different participants when their views were challenged. Raye and Adam were quick to change their status on refugees and became the darlings of the show, somewhat. But Darren and Raquel, who had the furthest journeys to take in terms of changing their opinions, dealt with this with anger and frustration. The angrier they got, the more the audience could see just how uncomfortable they were with this. Again, as Raquel said, “we all have hearts”.
You’d have to be positively heartless for this show not to affect you. Most of the people I spoke to who watched it said they cried at some point each night. Them and me both. I just hope what eventuates from this show is a deeper understanding of the plight of asylum seekers, and a fire being lit under the government’s ass to make some actual change happen.
Elswhere: [SBS] Go Back to Where You Came From.
Image via SBS.