A 'joke' gone too far?


The Czech commercial TV station Nova is most probably the most popular station when it comes to entertainment. One programme that attracts millions of viewers is a Nova produced show in which the station's presenters or invited celebrities read jokes that have been sent in by viewers. About a month or two ago, I tuned in on a Saturday and heard the following joke read on air:

Fire fighters are called to the scene of a burning building. They pull out one of those safety net things to rescue those jumping out of the top-floor windows. A black person jumps, upon which the fire-fighters pull the net away, angrily shouting to their colleagues in the building: "Hey, stop throwing the burnt ones our way!".

My father is black and though I should have been offended, I actually thought it was quite funny and took it with humour. They tell jokes about dumb blonds... the police... So, a joke simply about one's colour is really not that big of a deal. But when I picked up the papers this week, I thought TV Nova had gone too far. Apparently, in their last show, they read the following: A Czech Gypsy walks into a Czech pub where a football game (between a Czech team and some other team) is on television. The Gypsy asks: "How are we doing?" And someone answers: "Your people aren't playing, are they?"

While the joke about the black person did not bother me, this one has definitely hit a nerve and left me speechless ...and I'm not even Romany! The fact that this is even considered a joke is offensive to all non-white Czechs and openly supports discrimination and xenophobia.

I remember when the Czech ice hockey team returned home after they won Gold in Nagano. I had stayed up all night cheering for the team - after all, I'm Czech - I was born here and I have a Czech mother. So, I was naturally excited to see the team and welcome them home. The place was packed with other enthusiastic Czechs but when they started jumping and shouting "Kdo neskace neni Cech" meaning "Who's not jumping isn't Czech", I didn't know what to do and didn't dare to jump. I wanted to with all my heart, and I certainly had the "right" to, but I didn't just because I knew I would get bad looks... A few days later, I read in the papers that a Czech Romany, who was equally happy about the Nagano victory was beaten up by a group of Czech boys simply because he dared to share his excitement with the people around him.

But back to TV Nova. The station's head of entertainment sees nothing wrong with the apparent joke, adding fuel to the fire by saying he apologises to all Roma who may be offended as much as he apologises to all offended blonds, police officers, etc. I'm not surprised by this attitude but was expecting a little more openly expressed outrage by representatives of other media. The head of the Czech broadcasting council says he has not seen the show, doesn't know whether the council would react to it, but would look into the matter if some complaints come in.

The leading daily Mlada Fronta Dnes featured two articles. One was critical but not critical enough (in my opinion) and the other, an opinion piece, seemed to have missed the point. Its author Oldrich Tichy says there are two options: We either stop telling jokes altogether as they always make fun of someone or something or we take them as jokes and laugh or shrug our shoulders and move on. He would obviously choose the second option but he isn't treated as a foreigner in his own home and doesn't have to live in a country where he has to go through a daily explanation of why he has the same nationality as others but happens to have a different skin colour.