Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Where's-a de outrage-a?

Please click on this link, watch the 20-second commercial and then be prepared to spend another five to ten seconds simply being amazed at what you've just watched.
Or, I can only hope you'll be amazed. Because if there's any such thing as political incorrectness, this would classify as such.
This is just one example of the type of TV commercial that Dolmio produces. There are scores of others. But you get the gist. This is going into territory that should not be crossed.
Or should it? It's not really the political incorrectness of the ad that bothers me—I am not known for developing a squeaky wheel on the matter of political correctness, far from it. It's the double standard that frustrates me.
Why pick on Italians? You wouldn't put over-inflated characterizations of Africans, Asians or Latinos on the TV, so how in the name of God's great Western society is Dolmio getting away with this?
I once saw a shirt in Harvard Square that showed three drawn men crawling along the ground and puking above which were the words "Irish Yoga." The Boston Irish community poking fun at itself, no doubt. We've long since accepted that it's fine for people to poke fun at their own ethnicities (blacks do black jokes, Jews do Jewish jokes, etc.). But are Italians doing these commercials? I doubt it; they're British advertisements. Which brings me back to the question of why or how they exist in the first place.
Britain doesn't have a particularly large Italian community—though, being part of the European Union, we have people from all over Europe living here—so maybe the British company directors of Dolmio judged it safe for their Anglo-Saxon kith and kin to laugh at silly, stereotyped cartoon Italians during the commercial breaks that interrupt the latest episodes of Big Brother, Strictly Come Dancing and Simon Cowell Takes A Shit (otherwise known as Britain's Got Talent).
I asked an American of Italian heritage with whom I work about these Dolmio commercials. He replied that he wasn't particularly bothered by them, but agreed with me that they probably wouldn't survive more than a moment in America. The Anti-Defamation League would surely have a field day with them. Either that or the higher-ups at Dolmio would "be swimmin' with de fishes."
I just wish we could all read from the same page and agree on the same language being used here. Either it's acceptable to poke fun of and stereotype ethnic groups or it isn't. A fella named Guiseppe Zaccharri, let's say, can market cartoon characters on the TV and radio like those in the Dolmio adverts as long as Signor Zaccharri makes it clear that he and his people are behind such a thing. (One reason why In Living Colour was so successful and unthreatening was because it was absolutely clear from the get-go that the black comedians running the show were making fun of black culture.) Otherwise, in my opinion, it just doesn't fly.
Dolmio, methinks, has some explaining to do. I doubt they will.

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