A Gilligan for the Millennium

It's Lord of the Flies meets The Real World--and everyone wants to be Thurston Howell III

What would Baudrillard say of Survivor? Clearly, it embodies in a grotesque fashion the great American dictate to win friends and influence people. And at the same time it masks and normalizes the fact that this is already a surveillance society, a place where surrendering anonymity brings a reward.

You can see this tradeoff in action everywhere, but perhaps most vividly in another innovative product from CBS: iWon.com, a portal and search engine that entices users by entering them in a lottery. Each day $10,000 is given away, and $1 million a month, and $10 million at year's end. But this lottery is only nominally free. In order to play, one has to fill out an identity questionnaire, and so losing anonymity is the price of admission.

Of course, CBS plans to use those names to recoup its investment. That means laser-precise marketing to every visitor to the site, and beyond. "The individually identifiable information that you provide will be used extensively within iWON to provide a personalized experience to you....It will also be shared with iWON's partners...," reads the fine print on the site. Considering the size and scope of CBS, those "partners" are just about every corporation in America. Welcome to the real survivor show.

Mark Weber

And when you get down to it, Survivor and iWon are not such different enterprises. They both share the same Huxleyan formula of diminishing rights in exchange for increasing pleasure. Today's surveillance may be sugarcoated--but it makes for good TV.

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