Middle of Nowhere
Celebutante eco-tourism is horrifying. In her MTV reality show Trippin’, Cameron Diaz travels the globe with her star posse, showcasing pretty mountains and pretty teeth. She means well. She wants the MTV generation to experience more than just the joys of eclectic world travel. She wants to convince them to save the planet. But she’s skull-crushingly solipsistic.
As Diaz clambers around remote villages in places like Nepal, Bhutan, and Chile, she tells viewers a few facts about environmental and animal conservation. She encourages support for the World Wildlife Fund. And she offers such insights as, “It was incredible to see how in tune these people are with their own environment.”
We know conservation is important. But Diaz makes it sound faddish and trite. She travels halfway around the world on an adventure quest, but her insights are limited: It’s good to attend a yoga class and drive a hybrid car. In an episode entitled “Bhutan,” a graphic tells us, “You can get a solar charger for your iPod. That way you can listen to the hottest songs and help the environment.” That twisted logic is just one step from: Save the planet simply by watching MTV.
In the premiere “Nepal” episode, when Diaz and her crew—Redman, Eva Mendes, and Mark Hoppus (of blink-182) and his wife Skye—first arrive from the States, she exclaims: “It’s so cool. I mean, we’re in the middle of nowhere.” As they then fly over the countryside to reach their camp, Diaz’s voiceover notes, “We had heard that a lot of Nepal’s forest cover had been clear cut and destroyed to make way for farming. From the helicopter, it was really hard to see what effect that damage had actually had on the environment. To us up there, everything just looked beautiful.” After riding and washing elephants, she exults, “That was awesome!” and on learning that rhino waste serves as fertilizer, she cries, “It all goes back to poo!”
Isn’t it fun to go see lions? To save the rain forest? C’mon, let’s hop on a private jet and go! Indeed, Diaz says she wants her viewers to travel to some of these places too. While promoting Trippin’, she giggled to Jay Leno, “Everyone should go to Nepal in their lifetime!” While the impulse to give the world a big hug is laudable, Diaz seems willfully blind to her own privilege. Paltry few of her viewers could afford some of these rustic adventures.
This may be just as well as many locals look rather beset by Cameron and friends. We hear that some are trying to balance traditional culture with modern conveniences. But we learn so little about specific cultures that each place becomes vague, blurring into the next like a New Age gruel of reductive multiculturalism. In “Nepal,” after the stars go on a safari and meet the teenaged leader of an environmental club, Mendes euphorically observes, “That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been involved in my life. We’re all humans and we all want the same thing.” Diaz concurs, “We are all the same.” If they had some kind of substantial exchanges with their hosts that led them to such conclusions, we don’t see it. And so their sentiments appear superficial and laughable, a variation on liberal pluralism.
Repeatedly, Diaz sells her audience short. MTV’s website blurb reads, “Cameron Diaz and a group of her close, personal friends think globally and act locally too as they travel to unlikely getaways… from Chile to Yellowstone, on a quest to safeguard the environment. The travelers will not have the benefit of any luxury.” The implication is that it takes celebrities to get the attention of that prized 18-34-year-old demographic. They won’t care about South American rain forests unless they see Diaz and Justin Timberlake traipsing through one. But her target audience isn’t as shallow as she is.
In fact, watching Diaz and pals play at “roughing it” (Redman misses his video games, Mendes is afraid of spiders) is not that interesting. Diaz tries so hard to ooze coolness that her slacker-surfer gal persona becomes grating. In “Nepal,” Diaz employs a night-vision camera to sneak up on Mendes and exclaim, “We can’t sleep, ‘cause Eva won’t stop farting.” In “Bhutan,” she yells, “Hey, we’re gonna go see the endangered birds!” As Diaz constantly jumps up and down, she just makes you dizzy.
For all its attention to the stars performing so “candidly,” Trippin’ doesn’t reveal much about its telegenic travelers. The only truly stirring scene comes in the “Bhutan” episode, where Redman flies a Buddhist prayer flag for his friend ODB, who had just died in the States. He actually talks about how ridiculous it is to find himself out in the “middle of nowhere,” and appears to be genuinely moved. The other celebrities look mildly embarrassed, like deer caught in headlights. Or like props in Diaz’s elaborate infomercial.
And so her attempt to mix education with frothy celebreality fails on both counts. If you really want to learn about Katmandu, watch the professionals on the Discovery Channel (the camera shots are better there too). If you want to get more star dirt, read the tabloids.
In Trippin’, Diaz clearly wants to emulate entertainers like Bono who parlay their celebrity into serious activism. But her series is patronizing, implying that stars can save the little people of the world—through reality TV, no less. Even though its message is pro-environment, the show is still just Ugly American tourism.