Radio-Canada should apologize for an “offensive” skit that belittled the Italian community, a group of businessmen say.
For the second time in as many years, Radio-Canada infuriated an ethnic group in Montreal with skits on a New Year’s Eve television program.
The Canadian-Italian Business and Professional Association has filed a complaint to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission alleging that a sketch entitled, La Guerre des Glands, was offensive to Italians.
The skit parodied the game show Family Feud and featured a French-Canadian family, the Bienveillants, competing against an Italian family, the Jambonis.
When the host asks the Jambonis how to go about winning a construction contract, the family members suggest offering officials a brown envelope, or taking them on a boat ride.
“Imagine sitting around in the salon with your family,” said Giuliano D’Andrea, vice-president and spokesperson for CIBPA. “Suddenly, what was supposed to be a fun evening turns out to be something a little different.”
In 2008, a similar complaint was filed with the CRTC after members of the local black community were offended by sketches that appeared on the Bye Bye program, including one that joked about the assassination of then president&-elect Barack Obama.
D’Andrea said there are certain limits, even when it comes to comedy. That limit is reached, he said, “when the comedy or the comments have an effect of defaming a community, or creating a sense that there’s a lot of truth to what the comedian is stretching.”
The organization is calling for Radio-Canada to publicly apologize to the Italian community. If it doesn’t, the Italian organization said it will lobby federal politicians and Italian citizens in order to correct what they believe to be “erroneous caricatures and misinforming stereotypes.”
Radio-Canada has currently refused to apologize. “La Guerre des Glands was a caricature, in which the protagonist’s traits were grossly exaggerated, and we believe that reasonable members of the viewing public understood it as such,” wrote Francine Allaire, director of arts, variety, and factual programming at Radio-Canada Television, in a letter to the CIBPA on Feb. 17. “It is important to note that it was a parody lasting only a few minutes,” she added.
D’Andrea said he believes that “yacht trips in the Virgin Islands, affluent black tie funding events, Italian cafÃ©s going up in flames and just recently, a grandiose funeral of the son of a presumed Mafia don have all become canvases upon which writers and commentators portray events through the looking glass of mafia stereotypes.”
Mike Gasher, chair of the journalism department at Concordia University, says that stereotyping does two things.
“First and foremost, it makes a group identification which asserts that all members of the group are the same 8212; that they share, by nature or by culture, an essential sameness from which they cannot escape, or help themselves.” This, he said, denies the members any sense of individuality and typically serve to denigrate all members of the group, since the stereotypes are typically negative.
Further, when media engage in stereotyping, they “reinforce and legitimize the group identification, and the negative association with the group,” Gasher said.
The complaint should not be taken to say that Italians can’t take a joke, D’Andrea said, but that sometimes jokes go too far. “We are integrated, we are part of this country,” he said. “And when Montreal gets sullied, it’s a tragedy. When it gets sullied and we’re to blame, it’s a double-tragedy.”