Monday, November 17, 2008


Every now and again, the stuck-in-the-pastness of Romania* catches my attention. I've learned to overlook the horsecarts and the dingy little shops selling communist era tinned goods, and now I more or less forget that they are there. But once in a while I'm jolted back to reality.

TV Comedy in Romania is pretty ropey, and mostly of a sub-Benny Hill style slapstick, but there is one show which has always seemed to me to be a cut above. That show is called Cronica Carcotasilor. The hosts seem to be quick witted, and they lampoon most things that they see in Romania (and as an added bonus, they really rip the piss out of Gigi Becali). It does have this sort of gratuitous scantily clad dancing girls thing going on, but I figure they have to do that just to get the show on TV.

But then yesterday I caught a part of this week's show. Which they did blacked up wearing afro-wigs, and with the name cards Oblada and Obladi in front of them, and occasionally punctuating their lines with 70's style jive talk. What decade are we living in here?

Don't believe me?

The house band: The guy here appears to be, yes, I'm not joking, doing a monkey impression.

For fuck's sake.

(The really sad thing is that they probably felt they were doing this in some kind of spirit of celebration and empathy, and were not attempting to make just a bunch of cheap racist jibes)

*Because I seem to have acquired something of a reputation of being anti-Romanian among some people, I want to make it clear that I don't think this kind of thing is confined to Romania, and I'm guessing similar "jokes" have been made all over Eastern Europe this week. Which doesn't in any way excuse it.


z said...

I accidentally catched this show on TV (accidentally, since I rarely watch tv, much less PrimaTV) and it was every bit as embarrassing as you describe it.

To quote Zappa: Hey, you know something people? I'm not black, but there's a whole lots a times I wish I could say I'm not white. ... like I do live here, but there are occasions like this when I really wish I wouldn't need to feel so embarassed by all the others, who do so as well.

Anonymous said...

I feel both of you are exaggerating. I haven't watched the show and I agree that their sense humour might be at least doubtful. But I also imagine that seeing this kind of scenes can make one feel that he or she is so much more open-minded and tolerant than everybody else around, especially when one lives in a Eastern European country. I also think your reaction to this show parallels the attitude of the two black-coloured faces: not racist / anti-Romanian at all, just superficial at times.
I guess you can't see this kind of show in the US. Not on TV. I just see it every day on the street: black people doing the kind of jobs you never want for your kids (and only black people - believe me, no matter how politically correct I try to be and not look at colour, people who cleam my table in the student cafeteria are still balck). Maybe this is worth your attention more than a TV show that nobody cares about. Or think about miners with dark faces, risking their lives at 1000m under ground so that we have energy to use watching "Cronica Carcotasilor".

Anonymous said...

In Romanian, the universal racial slur for a man of color (usually for Roma/Gypsies, but also used for black people) is "cioară" (crow), and the associated symbolism involves flying and stuff like that. When the word "maimuţă" (monkey) is used as an insult it means man with more body hair than usual, or a big thuggish guy (that's why "gorilă" (gorilla) is a derisive term used for bodyguards for example), or for someone considered ugly, etc, and in all the cases the skin color is completely irrelevant. I must admit I don't hang around people "concerned" with the matter to know if monkey is now a racial slur in Romanian, so I could be wrong, but I think that if they didn't use the word crow and didn't pretend to fly, in their minds and in the minds of their audience they were not racist.

PS I really find "Cronica cârcotaşilor" distasteful and quite unfunny.

Andy H said...

Z - I'm glad I'm not the only one

Anonymous 1 - I'm not really sure I understand your first point - especially the thing about paralleling the attitude. Could you explain a bit more? Are you saying that their humour/racism is superficial, and that my reaction is also? Because, I kind of agree, except that while the "humour" is superficial, racism isn't and never was superficial.

You're right, you wouldn't see this kind of thing on US TV or in much of Western Europe (though in Italy I suspect you might), and yes racism is much more of a problem than just a couple of comedians blacking up on TV, and yes, as you say the real issue is the inequality that racism engenders. And there are many many more things in this world that are worse than this TV programme from mining disasters to global warming. But I'm not sure that this invalidates my criticism of the show (in fact I know it doesn't)

Anonymous 2: Thanks for the information. I'm still not really sure what the monkey gestures were supposed to signify - I mean Obama is hardly hairy, big or ugly, so...

(As of now, I entirely agree with you on the merits of the TV show. I guess I had missed some of its less appealing aspects through not perfectly understanding the language)

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 2 says:

I didn't watch the show, and when you said they did the monkey dance, because there is no such name for a dance here (proof being that a search for "dansul maimutei" on youtube returned 9 results), I believed they actually did some burlesque dance, imitating a monkey on the stage (I lack the English to accurately describe what I imagined, but it was something like Charlie Chaplin's dance in the Modern Times, only with the body more bend down and flexing both arms at the same time). After watching a couple of clips of "monkey dance" on youtube, I can tell you that barely anyone around here knew the name of those moves in English. At least for Romanians, there was no monkey and no racist innuendo, only bad taste.

Soj said...

Personally I hate that show CC and consider it funny about 1% of the time and annoying as hell 99% of the time. The constantly zooming and swooping camera alone makes me nauseous.

But honestly I think this kind of humor has no basis in racism. People in this neck of the woods are often horrendously racist against gypsies but I've known many people of color here (mostly exchange students) and they've told me they've always been treated very well.

There never was any enslavement or heck, even CONTACT with people of color until quite recently here in Romania and so I think this is CC just making yet another one of their sour/crude/tasteless jokes at what to most Romanians is quite shocking (and amazing, in a good way) - the election of a man of color in the much more racist United States.

Props to you for even watching this show as the slang and high-speed patter can be extremely difficult to understand for us foreigners!


Soj said...

Oh I almost forgot to mention, "Oblada" and "Obladi" is both a play on the name Obama as well as the refrain in that old O-Zone song (whose title I forget).

As I said, there's always a million inside jokes and slang references in the damn show. I don't know how you can even understand it :P


z said...

I do not think, that the show had racist intentions. I do find it sad however, that they weren't thinking how lame and tastless the whole approach was. I believe, they didn't realize, that irrelevant of their intentions people would find the show racist and could be genuinely offended by it.

And this isn't on the level of people getting "offended" by calling a chalkboard a blackboard either...

Andy H said...

Hmm, Soj, I don't share your experience of casual racism here. Obviously the Rroma community are at the hard end of racism in this country and there are very few African (or African descended) people in the country - but I've talked to a few that are and they don;t share the experiences that the ones you've talked to do. And I don't mean in small towns like this one, but in places like Bucharest.

(By the way, it's nothing to do with Ozone, it's the Beatles :-))

Z: I am not sure whether their intentions were racist or not. I'm sort of torn between a belief that it was just crass and unthinkingly tasteless, and a suspicion that it was a sort of racism-to-get-a-cheap-laugh (the sort that is still practised by a few old-style comedians in the UK - Jim Davidson, Bernard Manning et al)

Soj said...

Oops! I shouldve known it was the Beatles. My brain is varza :P

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone (almost) in Romania interpreted this as being racist.

As a confirmation for this we could check whether CNCD (National Council for Combating Discrimination) headed by Csaba Asztalos sanctioned them for being racist in the show you're talking about. I don't know this for a fact, but I'm pretty sure they didn't. I know that they did sanction them for presenting gypsies in a bad light in other shows.