Borders of Pity

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The object of this research is the third season of the Australian nonfiction program “Go Back to Where You Came From,” whose premise is to bring six ordinary Australians with opposing views on refugees on a twenty-five-day reverse journey that follows the path of refugees. During the recording, participants and cameramen were shot at by ISIS in the context of the war in Syria, on the Kurdish front. According to its creators, it is a documentary that seeks to generate a public conversation about refugees and the Pacific Solution, a controversial policy that denies refugee status to irregular immigrants arriving by boat and allows their confinement in detention centers. This topic has spawned great social division in the country. However, through a discussion around the narrative genre, we object, despite extratextual factors (brand image of SBS as a public service and the marketing of the show as a documentary), and a textual factor (the progressive narrative in favor of granting asylum) that the reality TV genre predominates because refugees’ testimonies are overshadowed by participants’ confessional style. Subsequently, through a critical discourse analysis based on the theoretical platform of politics of pity, we explored more deeply how asymmetries between refugees and Australian participants are shaped. We conclude that “Go Back” proposes a kind of ironic solidarity, where Australians that were against granting asylum become benefactors and blur refugees’ voices and focuses narcissistically on their own Western emotions. This research is relevant because, in the face of the tragic rise in refugees, refugees’ rights are being violated in the West through discourses that unequally distribute visibility and compassion between Western lives and the lives of refugees.