Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Reality show 'Urban Jungle' tests survival skills in the barrio

"Sí TV, the Latin-themed cable network that principally broadcasts in English, first appeared in February and is now available in seven million homes. To followers of what some have called the language wars, the channel appears to suggest an elegant solution, one that is especially evident in its new reality show, 'Urban Jungle.'"

"'Urban Jungle' sends nine young suburbanites of various ethnic backgrounds (the show calls them 'privileged brats') to live and work in the barrio of East Los Angeles for the chance to win $50,000. What's left out of the premise is the real challenge of the show: to master the art of American cultural flexibility, which here means learning, relearning and unlearning both Spanish and English. (One contestant already speaks Spanish.) To start things off, one contestant, Vanessa, a blond party girl, makes it clear how little she knows: 'I had to be told the definition of what the barrio was. And when I first read it off of something, I pronounced it 'bar-ee-OH.' '"

"So far, no one has lost points for xenophobia, though Bryan makes the case for assimilation: 'If you're going to come here, learn the language.' But which language, and where's here?"

"By the end of the second episode the contestants' experiences indirectly reflect the barrio's influence. They're squabbling and suffering from hangovers, but they're also coming to appreciate the struggles of the urban poor and to enjoy the moral charge of hard work. Hey, good for them. That usually lasts a few days."

The New York Times

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