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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

Survivor Guatemala: We're Surviving Media Stereotyping Again!

CBS Allows Yet Another Discriminatory Display Aimed at Aboriginal People!
Boycott CBS to Stop Racist Stereotypes: Your Help Needed
Date: Thursday, September 30 @ 09:10:13 EDT
Topic: Media

Sign the petition here. You can also help by information from the forwarding the following message to friends and listservs.

by T. S.Greenfield and M. A. Deveneaux
Special to Natives Against Media Stereotypes
September 29, 2005


We have created this web site for the purpose of raising questions, provoking thoughts and exposing differences, subtle or blatant, concerning the treatment of Indigenous Americans in the media. It is our conviction that it is imperative that changes be made to ensure that Indigenous Americans receive equal exposure and have a say in the way their image is projected to the world.

What happened?

Less than a year after Outkast's Grammy performance sparked outrage in Indigenous communities across America, CBS not only allows, but encourages the Survivor Guatemala contestants to portray themselves as "ancient Mayan warriors" by adopting outrageously offensive stereotypes of Indigenous people. A group of predominantly white Americans competing for $1 Million dollars in cash were encouraged by host Jeff Probst to "get into the spirit of the competition" by decorating themselves with feathers and "war paint" provided by the producers of the show.

It is hard to believe that even after the Outkast controversy, CBS doesn't have a problem in portraying Mayan Indians as savage barbarians who murdered the losers in their football competition. Clearly, CBS didn't even attempt to consult with Indigenous political or cultural leaders in Guatemala. Instead they allowed the contestants to use the racist warrior caricature as a gimmick for their entertainment show.

Last year, when Outkast chose to dehumanize and objectify Native Americans, CBS reluctantly offered a luke warm apology. Clearly, the CBS executives haven't learned anything from last year's controversy. Once again they show white men parodying Mayan men as ridiculous painted warriors and white women parodying Mayan woman as scantily clad ethnic go-go girls. Encouraging the contestants to put feathers in their hair and to paint whatever they felt like on their bodies while claiming to emulate Mayan warriors is equally obnoxious and offensive as the Outkast performance, or of any sporting event where Native people are objectified as mascots. How long will Indigenous Americans have to put up with these dehumanizing and degrading depictions of themselves?

What Were They Thinking?

Contestants fought with each other and pushed and shoved each other for the chance to win $1 Million dollars. Thursday night's show much more resembled a football game where the fans adorn themselves with "war paint" and practice the offensive "Tomahawk Chop." Did CBS ever think about how painful it might be for Native Americans in the viewing audience to watch white people parody Mayan warriors and bounce and prance around on netting trying to imitate their deeply engrained racist perceptions of Mayan culture? Did the producers even do any research into modern Mayan culture. Did they ever think that feathers might have special spiritual significance to the Mayans and that they might not like their culture depicted in the outrageously disrespectful way it was depicted on Thursday night? We think not.

Representatives of Guatemalan Indigenous culture should have been contacted to assure that they were not represented in an offensive way BEFORE the show aired. We are asking any Native Americans who come across this site and their friends and supporters to call for an apology from CBS for the unacceptable and disrespectful misappropriation of Indigenous Icons on the show "Survivor." CBS must take responsibility for the images they allow to be broadcast on the public airwaves for consumer consumption. CBS failed to address honestly and directly the issues surrounding the petition protesting the stereotyping of Native Americans in 2004. We are too outraged to let them get away with another incident.

Has it escaped the producers of Survivor Guatemala that Native Americans have had a long history of suffering discrimination and persecution because of the widespread misperception that all true Native Americans are either extinct or living on reservations. Stereotypical media portrayals of Native Americans wearing fake feathers and war paint and behaving like savage barbarians reinforce this misperception, as does the near-total absence of countervailing portrayals of Native Americans functioning as recognizable members of American society. The producers of Survivor Guatemala have included every under-represented minority group in America as contestants, except Native Americans.

The CBS television network's decision to broadcast Outkast's offensive portrayal of Native Americans at the 2004 Grammy's and promote the TV show "Survivor Guatemala" shows a blatant disregard for the consequences and power of racial media stereotypes. To allow another incident to happen within a year is unconscionable. Native American children are especially susceptible to the taunts and ostracism of their peers, who are likely to be entertained by the show's simplistic comedy premises and fast pace, but are unlikely to have developed the critical facilities necessary to reject the stereotypes presented.

More generally, to date there has been no indication that CBS ever intended the contestants or viewers of "Survivor Guatemala" to question the portrayals of Mayan Indians that now constitute the show's signature images. To view the contestants dressed up in fake feathers and body paint go to: www.cbs.com and click on "Survivor" last episode. To the contrary, as a patently mindless entertainment vehicle, "Survivor Guatemala" is not intended for viewing with a socially critical eye.

On numerous occasions, the producers have suggested that the show doesn't promote stereotypes, but rather makes fun of them. The photographs currently on the CBS website illustrates the absurdity of this premise.

This is not the only CBS show that promotes demeaning stereotypes when seen from a Native American audience's perspective. Nor does it mitigate the consequences of the widespread viewing of these portrayals for Native Americans, especially our children. Finally, it does not disqualify Native Americans from criticizing the show, because Native Americans are no more responsible for these white-dominated television productions.

Despite its great wealth and power, CBS has not tried to do anything to enlighten its audience, to educate them about the harm that cultural stereotypes do to oppressed people or to contribute anything positive to race relations in the United States. The voices of Native Americans are so rarely heard in the mainstream media, and the accurate history of Native Americans in the United States is so rarely taught, that the relevance of race to the experiences of Native Americans comes as a surprise to many people.

Many Americans are heavily invested in the stereotype of Native Americans as primitive savages. They desperately cling to any anecdotal evidence they can find that will support this investment: the complicity few white contestants in the production of "Survivor Guatemala" is inexcusable. As we bear witness in contradiction of these views, we expect to reap a whirlwind of outrage from those who are surprised that we exist at all."

We, the Undersigned, will boycott all CBS Broadcasting Company properties, including Paramount Pictures, Blockbuster Video, MTV, Nickelodeon, Infinity broadcasting, Simon& Schuster, Blockbuster, Paramount Pictures, UPN TV network, Pocket Books, for a period of two (2) months for each day the producers of Survivor Guatemala refuse to make amends for putting the offensive episode on the public airwaves. We will also support a boycott of prominent sponsors of CBS and Viacom.

For more information on the boycott, visit


CBS has not yet responded to our complaints about the Survivor Guatemala episode. This would call for a 16 month boycott of CBS properties. CBS can shorten the boycott period only by making a sincere, public apology and taking steps to see that legitimate cultural and political leaders of Indigenous communities have real input as to how they are depicted the show.

Why two months per day? As a marginalized minority group, we are forced to make up in intensity what we lack in numbers. Based on ratings for the first episode, the number of people we need to commit to this boycott in order to make it unprofitable for CBS to continue showing negative stereotypes of Mayan Indians on "Survivor Guatemala" is between 10,000 and 25,000. Help make it happen by sending the petition to your friends and listservs.

You can begin the boycott now by manually removing CBS stations from the channels received by your TV. (If you're looking for something to do instead of watching CBS reality shows, how about learning more about Native American empowerment through online radio?)

When will CBS stop airing these racist stereotypes?
Contact Addresses for E-mails, Telephone Calls and Letters of Protest:


CBS Viewers Comment Line:
(212) 975-3947

Dial this number, WAIT until the message is over, then place your comment after the beep.

Hand written letters of complaint are the most effective: CBS Television Network
51 W. 52nd St.
New York, NY 10019
Fax: 212-975-9174
Email: Diversity@cbs.com
E-mail complaint form: Go to http://www.cbs.com/specials/cbs_75/timeline/1960.shtml#. Scroll down to the very bottom and click on "feedback" chose "survivor" from the pull down menu and include a comment (the form will accept around 500 characters).

Survivor Sponsors

Telephone 1-800-CALL-DHL (1-800-225-5345)
E-mail contact: http://www.dhl-usa.com/custserv/contactus.asp?nav=ContactUs
Go to the middle of the page and click on "write to us" in red.
You can submit feedback without giving them an e-mail address if you wish.
Address: 1200 South Pine Island Road
Suite 600
Plantation, FL 33324

Home Depot
For immediate assistance, The Home Depot customers should call:
Public Relations: 770-433-8211

Customer Care (CON8)
Address: Lowe's Companies, Inc.
P.O. Box 1111
North Wilkesboro, NC 28656
Telephone: 1-800-445-6937
Contact form: https://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=custSvcOrderIssue&topic=customerService

Preference by L'Oreal
E-mail form: Go to "Another question click here (in red) in the middle of the page.

Pontiac Torrent
Telephone: 1-800-762-2737
Address: Pontiac Customer Assistance Center
P.O. Box 33172
Detroit, MI 48232-5172
E-mail contact form: you need to limit your message to 2500 characters.

Telephone: 1-800-MERVYNS
Address: Mervyns' Customer Service
22301 Foothill Blvd. MS 2115
Hayward, CA 94541
E-mail contact form: http://www.mervyns.com/cust_serv/contact_us.aspx

American Family Insurance
Address: American Family Insurance
6000 American Parkway
Madison, WI 53783-0001
E-mail contact form:

Telephone: 1-800-Alltel1 (1-800-255-8351)
Address: Building 4 Fifth Floor
One Allied Drive
Little Rock, AR 72202-2099

E-mail contact: http://www.homemadesimple.com/febreze/index.shtml. Click on "contact us" at the bottom in blue. When a box pops up, click on "e-mail us" in blue and submit your message. They require age, country and e-mail address.

Related links
The trouble with face-painting
Tipis, feather bonnets, and other Native American stereotypes

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Original text and pictures © copyright 2007 by Robert Schmidt.

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