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Reasons for U.S. vacation

'Come Home Alive' tells Westerners' harrowing stories of trips to far-off places that go terribly wrong.

September 06, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

One can never fully predict the effect of a work of art, but it's a fair bet that "Come Home Alive," a History Channel series that debuts at 9 tonight, may prove a boon to the domestic tourism industry.

With interviews, news footage and dramatic re-creations, the series promises weekly horror stories of what happens when Americans and other Westerners travel to non-English-speaking countries.

Kidnapping, threats, murder, rape, ransom and mutilation, that's what happens: "In a world where people journey just about anywhere, just about anything can happen," says our narrator.

The first episode is "Guerrillas in Their Midst," the tale of what happened to a group of Westerners snatched by rebels in the highlands of Uganda on March 1, 1999.

The tourists were on a gorilla watching trip with cameras; the rebels were on a killing spree with machetes and machine guns. In coming weeks: similarly scary stories from Kyrgyzstan, Michoacan and Ecuador.

Fair is fair: "Come Home Alive" didn't invent this genre of journalism. It's a common staple of overseas feature writers and the network newsmagazines. And like the newspapers and TV newsmagazines, "Come Home Alive" wants to dress up its efforts as something more elevated than just an exploitative recounting of violence and bloody suffering.

"Guerrillas" is punctuated with experts explaining how to react when confronted by rebels, kidnappers etc. in a strange land.

The advice is common sense: Try to be cooperative but not servile with your captors. Start planning an exit strategy. Women are advised not to try to butter up the bad guys by flirting. Don't freak out.

"Come Home Alive" professes to want to increase our survivability. Its own problem may involve sustainability; journalistic templates are serviceable but can age quickly.

Next week's "Ascent to Terror: Kyrgyzstan," about four American climbers taken hostage by Islamic rebels, is a step down from "Guerrillas" in dramatic tension. And "Gateway of Death: Mexico," to be shown Sept. 20, in which an American geologist is kidnapped in Michoacan, is mostly flat.

It's enough to convince you to forget the exotic locales in the travel brochures. Isn't this a good time to take the kids to the Grand Canyon?

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