Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ethnically offensive or pure entertainment?

Each week, Professor Ric Calabrese invites a guest to speak and discuss their culture and heritage with our Global Communications class. This evening, an international studies teacher spoke with us about her Italian roots. Throughout the discussion, the class asked questions, and one of possibly the most interesting inquiries came from Brian Hahn. "My international partner students are from Saudi Arabia," he explained, "and when I tell them I live in Cicero, they instantly think, 'Oh! That's where the Mob is, right? Gangsters and stuff?' So, what do you think of that TV show, The Sopranos, and its implications of Italians?"

Our guest responded that she adamantly disliked that show, "because it's like a cartoon. Every person on that show is a total character. You got the funny mob guy, the crazy mob guy, the mob guy's wife; the people are so extreme and it's all a joke. My brother works in Hollywood and he loves that show, but I don't."

Some students agreed that it was overly stereotypical; others insisted, "well it's entertainment and a brilliant show."

What do you think? I never watched that program, nor am I Italian, so I cannot speak on that matter.

Are there any television shows, movies, or other media forms that irritate or offend you and your personal culture that other people find hilarious?

I'm Zambian, and there are not many (if any) programs that particularly showcase African culture, but I can say that Eddie Murphy's Coming to America was ridiculous.

"Oh, but that's a hilarious movie!" You exclaim.

Well, my parents both have Zambian accents, and Eddie Murphy's rendition of a Zanzibar (or wherever the hell he was from) accent was weak and not believable. I speak in what most would consider a traditional Midwest American English accent (I wouldn't go so far as to call it Chicagoan, though), and I can do a WAY better African accent than Eddie Murphy was paid millions to do.

And sure, the concepts in the movie were a joke, but still perpetuated the silly stereotypes that non-Africans have about the continent and its diverse, rich countries and cultures. And no, Africans will not rejoice that they're rich if you give them a nickel.

I know many of the "prestigious" black American icons (Oprah, Bill Cosby) despised Dave Chappelle's show on Comedy Central. He played characters such as "Tyrone Biggums: Crackhead" ...

...made fun of black people drinking generic Kool-Aid consisting of sugar, water and food coloring, "A lot of black people don't know about grape juice. Cause they had 'grape drink.' It's not the same formula. There ain't no vitamins in that stuff! What's juice? I want drink! Sugar, water, and of course, purple."

He also played off every stereotype one could think of. "You people? What you mean,'YOU PEOPLE?'"

I (still) love that show.

I don't think it has much to do with the fact that I am African, but I do like how I can relate to and understand the hilarity of black American life. He also unpacked the knapsack of white privilege in many of his sketches, portraying race relations as they are, for the most part, in America today. Also, it was a black man making the jokes, not Amos 'n' Andy.

Is there anything on TV or in the movies that annoys or offends you or your heritage?

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