Why Is It O.K. To Defame the Irish?

Anti-Irish Stereotype

This week NBC ran two prime time shows depicting the same ethnic group as combative, inebriated hooligans. And nobody has uttered a word. Of course, the objects of the ridicule were Irish Catholic Americans, who are categorized in the PC community under the rubrick “white”, so they make an easy target. It still seems unfair to me.

On Monday night, following Heroes, NBC is running The Black Donnelly’s, (tagline: “Family Above All). I went into this show with optimism. The opening credits are stylish. The theme song is a catchy mix of traditional Irish and rock. The cinematography is snappy. The writing is moronic. It’s the type of show that might be good if it were on HBO. On network prime time, it’s just insipid. The four brothers shoot Italians, brawl with each other, sip Guiness, hug, fight, and drive fast.

What’s worse than the easy stereotypes the creators fall into — far below the quality of what Ed Burns would have done with the same material — is the depiction of New York City. I lived in Manhattan for seven years in the 1990s and it doesn’t look like any place I’ve ever been there. Where in present day Manhattan a hardscrabble neighborhood with docks, pubs, and Irish hooligans, but no African Americans or Latinos. The setting is supposed to be Hell’s Kitchen. But even in the days of the Westies, an Irish New York gang that battled the Mafia during the 1980s, the neighborhood was plenty diverse. Don’t get me wrong, there is probably a good t.v. program or movie to be made based on the exploits of Micky Featherstone and Jimmy Coonan, but this cartoonish mishmash isn’t it.

And while Italian-American groups have levelled complaints against the Sopranos, that show is so sophisticated and complicated — depicting a whole range of characters, including an Italian-American therapist, physician, and others — that the criticism fails to resonate.

NBC followed up the Black Donnelly’s this week with an episode of 30 Rock, depicting the grieving family of Alec Baldwin’s family. Again, these relatives are violent, brawling at the drop of a hat, swigging Jameson’s incessantly and grotesque. The problem here isn’t that they’re making fun of an ethnic group so much as the comedy is relying upon such tired stereotypes — see above from the 19th Century.

Look, I don’t want to live in a world where we can’t recognize ethnic differences. But it’s wrong for it to be perfectly acceptable to promote stereotypes in such a pervasive and simple-minded fashion.


One Response to “Why Is It O.K. To Defame the Irish?”

  1. friend-of-fab-dana Says:

    Yes, but 30 Rock is a hilarious show and is equal-opportunity offensive.

    Last week’s show was especially offensive to African-American community.

    Tina Fey is dating a black guy and Alec Baldwin explains how difficult the cultural differences were for him and his secret girlfriend Condoleeza Rice, ”
    “When we dated there were huge cultural differences. Whenever we went to the movies she would sit there yelling at the screen.”

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