Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Amazon with Pruce Parry

In scenes reminiscent of a northern English town after closing time on Friday night, part two saw Parry joining the Achuar Indians of the Peruvian Amazon in one of their regular communal vomiting sessions. (Non-UK readers may instead recall the puking puppet in Team America.)

V joked that these 'vomitindios' were probably all drinking sweet papaya juice while the poor unwanted gringo was made to down four litres of the 'piss one chango' recipe for Ayahuasca...para que no le quedan ganas de regresar!

While the programme is revealing of the potential impact of globalised business - legal and illegal - on Amazonian communities, it also attests to a somewhat hypocritical streak of prejudice against modern life in general. Parry, making use of planes, choppers and all sorts of outboard motors on his journey 'from source to sea', at one stage describes a puddle of crude oil oozing from a drilling facility as "really not great stuff". 

Nor, once he had come down off the Andes, did we get to see much of the extraordinarily diverse wildlife that Parry has periodically mentioned - in fact in this week's episode, the only evidence of the great river's fauna were a barbecued monkey and some hapless catfish that the Achuar extract from the river by deoxygenating it using local leaves. This poisoning of the river is impermanent and fully sustainable Parry reassured us, unlike of course, the over-keen harvesting activities of the outsiders. 

And this perhaps is the problem I have with this kind of British TV  documentary - when a white American man dances with a snake, he is a figure of ridicule, but when it's a member of one of these museum communities, a rather phoney reverence for tribal superstitions of all kinds kicks in. 

I like my travellers to be a bit more judgmental, with a sense of what they could teach as well as learn. Parry however follows the mold of other affable BBC nomads like Michael Palin and Louis Theroux - though of course the irony with the latter's films is that he affects his own brand of receptive relativism, convincing his hosts of his fascination for their sub-cultures while discreetly holding them up to the most acrid and knowing kind of mockery. 

Passing another Achuar township further down Parry noted that this lot had been less wary of commercial intrusion and thus now benefitted from jobs, electricity and TV. "But what had they lost..?" Don't you just hate it when presenters toss that little rhetorical question into the mix and then make little effort to answer it.  

Nobody really wants an L-Dopa-style of development for these indigenous peoples - the kind familiar from the history of the United Fruit Company elsewhere in the hemisphere - bonanza followed by devastating burn-out. Nevertheless, who are we to say that the Achuar would be wrong to aspire to a life with more to it than war, wife-beating, fish suffocation and serial chundering? Some sort of long-term exposure to the globalised world and its values is surely inevitable and in a sense desirable. It should however be based on an exchange which emulates intercourse not violation - consensual sex rather than rape. 

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