Watch our Society make money for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp by fanning “the flames of violent racism”

From American Gypsies needs to catch up with the reality of Roma people’s lives, by  in The Guardian:

… Now comes National Geographic’s new reality series, American Gypsies, launched on the heels of TLC’s ongoing My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, itself a spin-off of the UK’s Channel 4’s enormously successful Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. Sadly, this spate of exoticising voyeurism has nothing to do with genuine interest in Roma or Travellers, the two ethnic groups lumped together under the term “Gypsy” (a term considered derogatory by most Roma activists). Rather, it has everything to do with the chase for ratings, which is at the heart of the tabloidisation of television everywhere. Consequently, these shows are built on tried and true tropes: broad stereotypes, artificially constructed conflicts, unidimensional characters, set-up scenes and scripted lines.

Accuracy is beside the point: these shows are invested in reproducing a version of what it means to be a “Gypsy” that broadcasters believe to be most comfortable for their audience – Esmeralda-like headscarves, belly dancing, innate violence, gaudy parties, psychic healing parlours. The teaser for the series [see below] manages to cram all of those cliches into one minute, with time to spare. The response has been predictable: within a day, online comments were rife with racial slurs and no small number of sympathetic references to Hitler.

I have seen this dynamic before. I grew up in an atmosphere permeated by the kind of stereotypes about violent, dirty and scheming “Gypsies” that abound in Europe. I am ethnically Romanian and grew up in Romania, where Roma were enslaved until the 1860s and deported to extermination camps during the second world war. The few who remained nomadic were forcibly settled during communism. Then, many were chased out of villages during violent, deadly pogroms in the 1990s. To this day, Roma children are shunted into dead-end segregated schools which trap them in the vicious cycle of poverty and disenfranchisement. …

These shows are especially harmful because Roma people do not have any alternative representations in the public’s imagination. There is no Roma equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci or Joe DiMaggio, to Rosa Parks or Barack Obama. In the US, where there is very little awareness of Roma, My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding and American Gypsies will likely turn ignorance into all-out prejudice. In the UK, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has already led to a spike in bullying of Roma and Traveller children. Elsewhere in eastern Europe, where it has been syndicated, the franchise will only fan the flames of violent racism by playing into the hands of skinheads and nationalists.

{ Read the whole thing here. }

  • Lynn Hutchinson Lee

    Thank you for posting Ian Hancock’s very important letter. We really have to work together and speak out against media who stereotype and portray us in such a despicable way. Anti-Romani racism is on the rise. Romani children in England have been bullied after the appalling wedding series came out. Does NGS want that to happen to Roma children in the U.S.? Why are they not doing a real documentary on Romani history, contemporary issues, and human rights struggles?

    • Hi Lynn,
      Thanks very much for your comment & for stopping by….

      Ian Hancock and others are doing great work trying to counter the dangerous stereotypes that are perpetuated by these reality TV series. And I can assure you that the National Geographic Society does NOT have evil intentions towards the Roma or any other community. Instead, the goal is simply to draw a crowd of people who will watch the show and the advertisements

      Problem is, the people who run the Channel, and who manage the Society, don’t believe a crowd will show up to watch a “real documentary.” So instead they produce loud, offensive, dangerous programs, and figure they’ll never be held accountable. 

      Meanwhile, the mob shows up to laugh, leer, and gawk; the ad revenue flows in; and the executive team — at Fox (which owns the Channel) and at the Society (which is minority partner) — figures your ire, and mine, will sit quietly in the comments sections of niche websites while the National Geographic Channel broadcasts their tabloid trash to the world. 

      As John Fahey, the Chairman & CEO of the National Geographic Society has said, TV audiences have their own special needs

      It’s all painfully cynical. Appalling, really. Question is: What can be done in response? (And I ask that question as a Society member.)

      Thanks again….

      • g sw

        Nat Geo did not air a documentary, instead they filmed a carnival side show. They have gained much at our expense. I believe they have terribly compromised there integraty with this scripted,fake ass show.

        • G SW – 

          I agree. But David Lyle, CEO of the National Geographic Channel, did not build his career in television by producing shows with much “integrity.” 

          Please see THIS and THIS

          Thanks for your comment… and for stopping by.

      • Tsipa

        So what happens if we go after their advertisers and ruin their revenue stream? The humiliating shows become less profitable. Does it then follow that the Society will then make better shows? Is there a way we can shatter the executives’ belief that no one wants to watch a more accurate portrayal? Are they approachable by a group of committed activists with better footage in hand?

        I do not see that we have any choice but to go after them with every tool at our disposal and hope that they will then be amenable to talk. I cannot imagine that National Geographic wants to ruin their brand with a show revealed to be racist. But are there better tools to change their minds? I am open to suggestion.

        • Guest

          With respect to Tsipa, the only way “we” could go after NG Channel’s advertisers and ruin the revenue stream is if many, many people stop watching these shows and/or if there is a tremendous amount of bad press. And I cannot see either of these things happening. The Society is all about making money now. It’s no longer about quality programming or making quality products. Money, money, money. Once you realize that, you can move on.Recently, at a staff meeting where the Channel tried to make themselves look good, we were told more than once that without the Channel, the Society wouldn’t be here. the hosts seemed to be quite proud of the shows they are showing on the Channel—either that or trying to justify their programming choices. Also remember, the viewers are just as much to blame for these terrible shows as NG Channel, Discovery, etc.

        • guest

          going after advertisers is sa waste of time. never gonna happen. by the time that’s been organized, the show will be forgotten. only thing i can think of is get people to resign from Nat Geo. stop sending money for magazine. get thousands of people to cancel their subscriptions. that myabe has a chance of changing minds.

  • Lynn Hutchinson Lee

    Hi, Alan, In answer to your question: what can be done in response? Letters, petitions, public education at the very least. I think whatever the intention of NGS is towards Roma (and all others whom they exploit) –  it could be indifferent, evil,  anything: but as long as the resulting ‘information’ and public response to that ‘information’ is negative and racist, that is what the NGS actions must be measured by.

    • Lynn – 

      I couldn’t agree more. 

      That’s why I’m trying to get an interview with John Fahey, Chairman & CEO of NGS. He should help us understand exactly why he’s letting the Channel continue down what seems like a self-destructive path.

      If you’re inclined, please consider giving Dear John: Let’s Talk (which you’ll see in the right sidebar of this page) a Like. If enough people gather at John’s office door, I’m hoping he’ll eventually sit down for an extended conversation. best,Alan

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