Well, it has been a strange start to the new year. The bitter cold, war in Gaza and the fallout from the mean spirited attack on people by Radio-Canada, the French language division of Canada’s national broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aka CBC. This is what happened:
Two popular entertainers in Quebec (the 2nd largest province in Canada) Veronique Cloutier and Louis Morrisette co-produced the annual satirical TV show “Bye Bye” from Montreal (the 2nd largest city in Canada) on December 31st, 2008. The two producers are a couple and have been married for a few years. They performed in the skits and Mr. Morrisette co-wrote the show.
The show Bye Bye 2008, was seen by approximately 4.1 million people and was also filmed before a live audience. Several of the skits were of very poor taste and included the mocking of a popular former Quebec child star Nathalie Simard who was sexually abused by Cloutier’s father who was also her agent at the time. He was convicted many years later, after Ms. Simard courageously spoke out against her abuser and he spent some time in prison.
The show also descended into a vulgar attack on Obama and black people. The comments included referring to Obama as a N—er, (the word used was n?gre which is a literal translation of the word Negro but in French has the same hateful connotation as n—er, and it is common knowledge in Quebec that to address a black person as n?gre is the same as using the word n—er in English), a comment about shooting him, comments about his penis size and reassuring people at home that he would not steal their purses because he was on TV, then stating that he might steal their televisions.
This was the best that Radio-Canada had to offer the world on Dec. 31, 2008? These were their best ideas, the ideas that made it through the discussions that TV writers have when they put a show together?
Fortunately many Canadians were disgusted by these rude and hateful comments and sent complaints to the CBC as well as the regulatory board, the CRTC. Initially, the producers and the CBC said they had done nothing wrong but after a week of complaints, Veronique Cloutier and Louis Morrisette held a Mea Culpa news conference (clips one, two and three) where they admitted to not being funny.
One of the other things I found most disturbing about the racial slurs used in the show is the complicity of the CBC. When they were reviewing the script for content and when the writers were putting it together, apparently no one said that they shouldn’t refer to black people as N—ers. No one sat up and said that a skit that refers to Obama’s ideas as “N—er Plans” isn’t funny and is just wrong, no matter what the context…
It is very disappointing that the CBC chose to be so insensitive and vulgar. It seems that those who wrote and supported the script choices should be sanctioned or fined in some way. The USA is our largest trading partner and our closest cultural and social influence. Almost the entire world is celebrating the intelligence, measured tone and potential of the President Elect Barack Obama, the first African-American elected to the Presidency and the CBC’s response to all of this goodwill, hope and optimism that Obama’s election has brought is to refer to him as a N—er!?
There is something very wrong in Canada right now if people in power think that the words N?gre or Nigger are funny. They are not. They are words of hate and ugliness. They are words meant to subjugate blacks and an attempt to reduce them to the status of slaves, of property, of something not human. It is not a joke. It is not credible that adults working at the CBC and their francophone affiliate Radio-Canada do not know that.
The response from the Union des Artistes (aka UDA, the francophone actor’s union) was to challenge the criticisms as attacks on free speech. The UDA accepts the limitations on language when it comes to swearing or using sexually explicit language but thinks that its performers and writers should be free to insult blacks and use racial slurs whenever they want? That is simply not acceptable.
The response from the Conservative Party of Canada was to say, “c’?tait insultant, mais ce n’?tait pas le fin du monde”, which translates to: “it was insulting but not the end of the world.” I wonder what he would have said if the group attacked by Radio-Canada was part of another minority group that the Canadian government wants to have good relations with. The comments from the Conservative Heritage Minister James Moore might have been slightly less vague.
The hateful words used on Bye Bye 2008 and Radio-Canada are not the only that have been made about black people by Quebec comics. Another so-called comedy team Les T?tes ? Claques produced this where they mock blacks again, using the name of the main character from the story Roots, depicting him as a cannibal. It seems to be a trend with Canadian comics in the province of Quebec.
This is the letter from Radio-Canada regarding Bye Bye 2008. They are words that are basically defiant and it seems as though the CBC/Radio-Canada thinks that the audience has a problem if they do not like racial slurs used against them. It is not a very thoughtful or sincere effort to recognize the hurt that has been caused and how the words used undermine efforts of everyone to move past hatred and intolerance towards a common sense of purpose and an acknowledgment of our shared destiny.
The letter is weak and speaks ill of the administration of the CBC.
Let’s hope that this sad episode leads to some serious changes in how blacks are represented in the media in Canada and more respect to all citizens regardless of their cultural and ethnic origins.
Perhaps having more black actors (especially men) in Canadian movies and TV shows in positive roles instead of the butt of racist jokes and news reports, would help to counterbalance the one-sided point of view that continues to be broadcast on Canada’s airwaves. There should be black actors with talk shows or starring in TV series on the CBC, CTV and Global or even on Showcase and Bravo but Canada still lags behind the rest of the western world in depicting blacks as the everyday man in the 21st century.
Did you watch the show? What did you think about it? Do you have any American friends who might have seen the English translation of the clip on YouTube or via digg?
The following article contains some hope and intelligent comments from the media, courtesy of The New York Times.