This is not a short read, but it is enlightening, not only about the native culture but about how edited, skewed, and plain old not true “reality” programming is. We are so gullible, partly because there is so much information- it would be exhaustingÂ or impossible to question absolutely everything.
Caption for above: Matsigenka community leaders in Yomybato (Manu Park, Peru) discuss the aftermath of the unauthorized visit of Mark and Olly’s scouting crew from Cicada Productions, UK, to isolated settlements in the Cumerjali headwaters.Â Note the partially erased word “[C]icada Productions” on the blackboard, and the name of the Matsigenka man, “Kenkea” (or Kian-Kian) who came from Cumerjali to inform the health clinic in Yomybato about four deaths due to a respiratory epidemic attributed by Peruvian Health Ministry workers to the film crew’s visit. (November 2007).
The Mark and Olly Follies: Reality TV series misrepresents tribal people
May 3, 2011Â | Â Glenn H. ShepardÂ Â |Â http://ethnoground.blogspot.com/2011/05/mark-and-olly-follies.html
Reality TV reached new depths of irresponsibility in Mark & Olly: Living with the Machigenga [sic]. Aired on the Travel Channel in 2009 and on BBC in 2010, the show features Mark Anstice and Oliver Steeds, swashbuckling adventurers who travel to remote locales to â€œget acceptedâ€ by exotic tribes. Mark Anstice, a former British Army officer who now spends much of the year â€œwearing little more than a vegetable,â€ briefly returned to military life during the Iraq War. Oliver Steeds is a self-styled â€œ21st century Indiana Jones.â€ Their first hit show, Living with the Kombai, was made in New Guinea. A Papua-based pilot posted this review on Amazon.com: â€œI met some people that work with the Kombai and they told me about how the show was madeâ€¦[Mark and Olly] requested for the people to act â€˜nativeâ€™ to fit there [sic] plot. It is filmed to make you believe that itâ€™s just these two guys trying to adapt but in reality the whole thing is staged.â€
â€œChili up the Arseâ€
Mark and Olly then ventured to Amazonian Peru. As I describe in the May 2008 issue of Anthropology News, I happened to be in the same Matsigenka community when a scouting team from Cicada Films visited Manu Park in October 2007. The cameraman, Matt Currington, found the people there too â€œWesternized.â€ As he remarked to me at the time: â€œthe shorts, the guys playing soccer, the school house, that just wonâ€™t cut it with Mark and Olly.â€ In violation of park permits and against my warnings, the crew sought out isolated groups further upriver. As reported in Peruvian Health Ministry documents and the international press, their visit apparently unleashed a cold epidemic: four Matsigenka died of respiratory infections and dozens became seriously ill. The crew was banned from returning to Manu by the Park administration. The regional indigenous association, FENAMAD, carried out an investigation and mounted an international media campaign. The Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK registered a formal complaint with the British broadcast regulator, OFCOM.
Yet despite this outcry, Mark and Olly persisted, ultimately filming with Matsigenka villages outside the park in a different region. In the program blog, Anstice described their host and village chief, Jacinto, as a â€œderanged lunaticâ€ who threatens to â€œram a red hot chili up my arse.â€
During the show, Jacinto is subjected to an embarrassing interview about his sex life. When he says, â€œI will have sex another day,â€ the English translation reads, â€œI have sex every day.â€ In the segment, Jacinto appears worried that two men traveling without wives will succumb to the temptations of anal fornication. He supposedly threatens to rub chili peppers on sensitive organs. The Matsigenka are a discreet people, hardly obsessed with sex, and loath to offend. I am certain this segment was scripted or deceptively translated and edited.
As an anthropologist who has worked with the Matsigenka for 25 years, I denounce such disrespectful representations. I also refute their false characterization of the Matsigenka as â€œthe most elusive tribe of the Amazonâ€¦ so little known.â€ Anthropologists and linguists have studied the Matsigenka since the 1950s and missionaries have worked there for over 300 years. No one involved in the series appears to have read any of the numerous books or articles about this large, well-documented cultural group: they canâ€™t even spell the name (â€œMachiguengaâ€ is a Spanish transliteration, â€œMachigengaâ€ is the showâ€™s neologism).
The Matsigenka are generous hosts. It is inconceivable they would subject foreign visitors to the initiation trials portrayed in the show, forcing Olly to sleep outside for laziness, making them â€œgather food for the tribe,â€ sending them to search for a lost child, insisting they take a psychoactive brew before embarking on a (phony) pilgrimage, abandoning them on a raft in rapids, making them compete with a third suitor for a young bride, and otherwise testing their â€œmanliness.â€ In one scene, Olly is subjected to painful ant stings, since â€œaccording to Matsigenka tradition he must be cleansedâ€ and â€œendure the ancient punishmentsâ€ for the supposed faux-pas of buying deer meat: the entire scene was fabricated and has no basis in ethnography. Distorted translations suggest that a woman secluded in a hut with an ill newborn is considering infanticide (she is just obeying the traditional post-partum seclusion rite), provoking much spurious online debate. Such portrayals are false and insulting, leading audience members to comment on the program blog that the Matsigenka are mean and savage people.
The producers assume no one in the audience understands Matsigenka, but I do. When a villager â€œsurprisesâ€ them in his garden at night and says he thought they were â€œa herd of boar,â€ the translation reads, â€œIf you were colonists, he would have tied you up and cut off all your skin.â€ The program is rife with egregious mistranslations and outright falsifications. The Matsigenka phrase, â€œYou come from far away where lots of gringos liveâ€ is translated as â€œWe use arrows to kill outsiders who threaten us.â€ In a rafting scene, a Matsigenka remarks of the duo, â€œTheyâ€™re playing instead of rowing,â€ but the translation reads, â€œTheyâ€™re going to die.â€ During what is portrayed as a solemn meeting of community elders to discuss Mark and Olly’s fate, but which appears to be staged, the village leader asks in Matsigenka, â€œGood afternoon, what are we here to talk about?â€ The translation reads, â€œWhen they arrived, I treated them like small boysâ€¦now weâ€™re starting to treat them like brothers.â€ In the final episode, the non-sequitur, â€œThis time I did it right, the same way as yesterday,â€ in Matsigenka is translated, â€œSometimes they tried too hard and hurt themselves.â€
Ron Snell, who also speaks the language and visits often, posted his reaction: â€œHow did they get the Machiguengas to do so many things that are completely out of character and so contrary to their culture?… How did they produce the â€˜wild pig danceâ€™, which we have never seen in 35 years of living in Machiguenga villages?…About all we could conclude is that they paid the Machiguengas to perform for them, saying things the Machiguengas wouldnâ€™t ordinarily say and doing things the Machiguengas wouldnâ€™t normally do.â€ Snell encountered two of the filmâ€™s native protagonists in the city of Quillabamba: â€œOur suspicions were correct. They entered the village on a well traveled path and only veered a few feet off the path to film themselves â€˜hacking their way through the jungle.â€™ They contracted someone to make new cushmas [cotton tunics] so everyone would be wearing one. They staged the whole drama about one of the guys being accepted and the other treated as a lazy outsider. Since they couldnâ€™t get to the Pongo [rapids] by balsa raft, they used a motorboat to get there. The translator quickly became disillusioned with the whole thing, but kept going because of the money. He is ashamed and embarrassed that he had anything to do with it.â€
I am shocked by Mark & Ollyâ€™s narcissistic antics, their gross misrepresentations of Matsigenka culture, and their disregard for consequences inflicted on native communities. I am dismayed with Travel Channelâ€™s involvement since the parent company, Discovery Channel, worked with me on two award-winning films about the Matsigenka, Spirits of the Rainforest and The Spirit Hunters. Before we began filming, executive producer Steve Burns insisted I watch Baka: People of the Rainforest, an acclaimed documentary about the Congo. He was setting high standards, and it paid off: Spirits of the Rainforest won two Emmy Awards in 1993, including â€œBest Cultural/Informational Film.â€ I wonder what Living with the Machigenga was modeled on. Borat comes to mind.
—Note: This piece was published simultaneously with minor abridgement by the American Anthropological Association in Anthropology News Vol. 52, No. 5 (May 2011), pg. 18. Quoted material is verbatim from the film and the sources noted below. Some online sources have been altered or inactivated since they were first accessed and downloaded.
 http://mark-and-olly-blog.travelchannel.com/ accessed and downloaded February 18, 2009.
 http://oliversteeds.com/ accessed Feb. 20, 2011.
 http://www.amazon.com/Living-Kombai-Tribe-Mark-Anstice/product-reviews accessed Feb. 22, 2011.
 “The reality (TV) of vanishing lives: An interview with Glenn Shepard.” Anthropology News 49(5): pg. 30 (Washington, DC: American Anthropologist Association, May 2008). Online at http://www.aaanet.org/issues/anthronews/ANarchives.cfm; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/anne.2008.49.issue-5/issuetoc.
 http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/3166 accessed April 30, 2011.
 http://mark-and-olly-blog.travelchannel.com/ accessed and downloaded February 18, 2009.
 http://mark-and-olly-blog.travelchannel.com/ accessed and downloaded February 13, 2009.
 updated version of this blogpost at http://assets.survivalinternational.org/documents/620/ron-snell-markandollie.pdf; originally accessed and downloaded at www.plattepost.com/Websites/sublimesitecmsdemo3/Images/MarknOlly.doc June 11, 2010 (now inactive).