Thursday, January 12, 2012

Don't feed the animals at the Spring Break zoo

Maybe you haven’t heard of the primitive Jarawa tribe or the controversy involving them.

The last 403 Jarawa inhabit the tropical forests of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India. They are protected by law from outside influences, as they are susceptible to diseases carried by more “modern” people and their culture is dying out. It is illegal to photograph them or otherwise come into contact with them.

However, several unscrupulous tourist companies, working with a local police officer, have ferried visitors to the island so they can photograph the tribeswomen dancing and singing — most of them topless — in exchange for food. Video of one encounter is posted at the Guardian UK newspaper website; you can see and hear the women and children asking for food while an off-camera voice tells them they already got their food and should share it.

(A police officer responded that locals had not taken advantage of the tribe; it obviously was a British journalist who had broken the law by videotaping the Jarawa.)

You ask, “What has this got to do with Panama City?”

And I respond, “Have you ever been here during Spring Break?”

Just last night, as I write this, I saw a TV show called “40 Greatest Fails” (or something like that) which consisted of videos gathered from YouTube. One of the video clips was of a bikini contest in Panama City Beach during Spring Break that showed a young woman slip and face-plant while strutting across a plastic stage over a swimming pool.

Then I read in the next day’s paper that the TDC is planning to challenge a Guinness world record for the largest bikini parade during the upcoming Spring Break season. You can be sure the video cameras will be in abundance that day, and the footage will be online. Let’s just hope they wear sensible footwear on slippery surfaces.

Obviously, the Jarawa and the ’breakers are very different from one another, but the two situations set the old brain to thinking.

The big difference between what happens in the Andaman Islands and what happens along Panama City Beach is that the perspectives are reversed. That is, rather than the locals dancing half-naked for tourists to photograph in exchange for solid food, the locals here generally try to steer clear of where the tourists are dancing half-naked for each other to photograph while imbibing liquids.

PCB during Spring Break is less of a “human zoo” and more of a free range you might drive through very slowly with your windows rolled up.


(This was my Undercurrents column for Jan. 12, 2012.)

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