Television Review

  • @RobertHanks
JUST BECAUSE something is in danger of dying out, doesn't mean that it's a good thing. We tend to feel an automatic pang at the idea of anything facing extinction - a species, a way of life, a television series about sheepdogs. But pangs are no substitute for rational analysis.

The Last of the Hiding Tribes (Sat C4) followed 30 years in the history of the Panara Indians of the Mato Grosso in Brazil. In 1967, Claudio Villas Boas set out to locate the Panara, a tribe which had never encountered white men, with a view to saving them from the worst effects of contact with western civilisation. His effort was wasted: within a few years of his arrival, a road had been torn through their territory and 80 per cent of the Panara had died of disease; the rest fled.

Now the survivors have returned to their homeland. This is, you would think, a happy ending, but Adrian Cowell's film seemed reluctant to admit this. They no longer live in harmony with the forest, the commentary explained - instead, they had had to "harness" nature - and they had lost their "uniqueness".

This sounds bad. But the "harmony" they had enjoyed seemed to include cultivating crops and killing game; where do you draw the dividing line between that sort of harmony and nasty old "harnessing"? Furthermore, the uniqueness of the Panara seemed to consist largely of having previously killed every stranger they had encountered. Mourning the death of that habit sat awkwardly with the film's idealism about the brotherhood of man ("In the emptiness of the jungle, my human nature is a magnet to theirs... nothing separates us but this meaningless screen of trees," said Villas Boas). Something terrible happened to the Panara, but it had to do with the people dying, not a lifestyle.

The tone of the programme's comments on a stone-age culture contrasted interestingly with some of the remarks about white Rhodesians - a tribe nobody mourns - in Rebellion! (Sun BBC2). David Dimbleby repeatedly referred to the whites as "living in a time-warp": presumably there is some point in its development when a culture stops being quaintly and desirably primitive, and starts being dangerously reactionary.

In fact, calling Ian Smith and his cronies old-fashioned is playing their game - here they were, justifying themselves as the Old Empire, men whose word was their bond and who weren't about to shirk the responsibility of telling several million Africans what to do. The first part of this trilogy about the Unilateral Declaration of Independence and its aftermath illustrated a bizarre clash of cultures, enlivened by accusations of lying and treachery. But it made for dry TV, and the exclamation mark in the title amounted to a fib.

In The Establishment (Sun C4), photojournalist Nick Danziger set out to crack the network of relationships which, he reckons, runs Britain: "The master of Trinity College has married into a family who is known to the lord who is at the centre of the arts establishment. His wife knows the aristocrat whose senior officer is Britain's commander in chief." As conspiracy theories go, I have to say this one lacks a certain pizazz.