Vojtěch Lavička: Czech TV show featuring Romani guys in drag is low "humor" of the fifth-rate category
During the online celebrations of 8 April this year organized by ARA ART in the Czech Republic, a discussion was held about Romani art and music and how they are presented in the media. One panelist, the excellent musician Tibor Žida, who is my friend, raised a subject that has long been a ticking time bomb among Romani people and that is polarizing the community into two irreconcilable camps - the television series "Ďábelské cikánky" ("Devilish Gypsy Women").
Based on that discussion, I have decided to write this commentary. I personally love humor that is politically incorrect, and in the band Gipsy.cz we have also used it.
I think there is no need to always take ourselves so deadly seriously. With Gipsy.cz, sometimes our humor was on the edge of what is acceptable, and sometimes we crossed the line.
It's rather difficult to keep track of what the boundaries are. Of course, what is important is balance.
If you launch into politically incorrect humor and come up against different stereotypes, then you have also have to say what things are actually like. That is what we in the band have done - we have also presented ourselves as proud Roma and defended our fellow community members.
"Ďábelské cikánky" is a series with no such boundaries. It prefers humor that is coarse, whether situational or verbal, and that has nothing to do with the concept of taste.
Why not? We have a democracy here.
After all, nobody can force me to watch the show. Why am I fascinated by it, you ask?
I'm not - I don't watch it. I saw about three minutes of the series right after it started.
Then about a week ago I ascertained, to my horror, that TV Barrandov had taken the series up. On the weekend I watched about another 10 minutes.
I couldn't watch more than that because it made me nauseous, physically. I'm not a person who suffers from prejudices, though.
I could care less that the roles of the girls and women in the series are being played by guys. I'm not a homophobe - I would have the same opinion about the series if "girls were playing the girls."
For me, the problem is the program's content, which degrades Romani girls and women, is full of aimless vulgarities (even a properly used vulgarity can have an artistic intention) and must be a torture for more traditional Romani people to watch. Despite my opinion, I would like to reiterate that nobody is forcing us to watch the show.
The enormous trouble with the show, however, is how it is impacting those viewers who do not comprehend that it is an extreme parody. I will give you a hypothetical example.
Let's say that at a school somewhere, during a class on social education, there is a discussion being held about the Czech Republic and minorities. Naturally, the discussion is about Romani people, about the fact that we were previously labeled "cikáni".
A curious child decides to learn something more about "cikáni"/Roma. Children today do not look for information in books, libraries, or regular websites.
Children today will go to Facebook or YouTube to find what they are looking for. On YouTube, the "Ďábelské cikánky" will "pop up" for them.
What kind of image of Romani people, their culture, their language, their way of expressing themselves, will a 10-year-old take away from watching the show? Certainly not a nice one.
If somebody wants to do humor of this kind, the space in which it is created must be clearly defined! Do any of you remember the humor magazine Sorry?
How about the program "Česká soda"? That, too, involved quite abrasive humor that was strongly politically incorrect - but it was clearly a given that it was a parody or political satire.
"Ďábelské cikánky" is pretending to be stories based in reality. That is insane.
I think the owner of TV Barrandov, Soukup, and its dramaturgs must be rubbing their hands with glee to be pulling off such an incredible joke about us Roma. To broadcast something like this on a television channel?
The whole thing really crosses the line. The sad fact is, though, that the series is being watched by a lot of people.
This is demonstrably the case with the episodes shared to YouTube, at least. Take a look at the numbers of people who have watched the videos there.
It's all the same to me whether racists are among those "gawping" at this, making fun of us, and certainly enjoying it. What is startling, of course, is how many Romani people are watching it, including Romani children who are enriching their vocabularies by doing so.
I know adults are aware the show is parody, humor that has significantly "overshot the mark". Do their children know that, though?
Won't the children themselves begin to speak just as nicely as the characters in the series do? Won't a new boundary of "normality" be created?
Will all the children start speaking like this? Radek Banga and I have had many debates on this subject - long ago he released the album "Rýmy a blues", which was a musical success.
The lyrics on that record were unbelievably vulgar. When we toured with the album a year or two later, Romani children were singing those songs.
It really bothered me to see that. I don't want to moralize, though.
I don't feel authorized to moralize. I just want Romani artists who are publicly active to realize that here in the Czech Republic their role is different than that of a "white" artist.
For Romani artists here, it's the same as when a Czech band performs abroad. At that moment, they are representing the Czech Republic, and that is how they should behave, how they should reflect on what to say in interviews or not, or on which songs to play.
That's how Romani artists in the Czech Republic should behave. They are representing Romani people, Romani culture, they can't rip off their Romani-ness.
The majority society here will always see them as Romani. They must, therefore, consider all the more what they are doing, what they are singing about, and how to behave.
"Ďábelské cikánky" abounds in the kind of humor best suited to viewers who are extremely drunk and have lost all inhibitions at 3 AM. The next day, if their memory functions, they will be ashamed of how they behaved the night before.
What I am about to say next is for Honza Bendig. I am not going to comment on Lukáš Rejmon, whom I do not know personally.
Honza studied at the International Conservatory of Prague, where I taught, and he played the lead role in the musical "Superstar Company", which I directed. That is how I know what a gifted singer he is, and I also got to know him as a person.
"Projects" like this show damage the Roma, and Honza must realize that. I do not believe he wants to harm anybody.
I am not saying he is doing this on purpose. He is, however, already old enough to take responsibility not just for himself, but for other Romani people as well.
I don't care what led him to create the series in the first place. In my opinion, it was just fun for his friends and loved ones, in the beginning.
That is also where these performances should have come to an end. Nothing of the sort should ever have made it onto TV screens, that's for sure.
I would like to concentrate, in these final paragraphs, on criticism per se. We Roma must learn how to criticize each other.
I don't mean backbiting people to others in the kitchen after we've escorted them out of our home. If criticism is constructive, there is nothing wrong with it.
Criticism can push you forward, to the next level. We must discuss what is good for Romani people here and what is not.
This doesn't mean that if somebody does something that doesn't correspond to your opinion, it's immediately (insert your favorite vulgarity here). That just leads to useless war.
This is not about the "whites". This is just about us Roma.
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