In recent days, a transatlantic storm has erupted following some outrageous slurs on Serbia and the Serbs. US TV host and alleged comedian Chelsea Handler who seems to resort to lame controversy to boost her ratings showed her small-town attitude when she let rip on her E! TV show, Chelsea Lately. Alongside panelists and guests Greg Proops, Chris Franjola and Natasha Leggero, the 36-year-old fired a volley of national insults targeting Serbia, thinly disguised as ‘comedy’ during an easy-target piece about Amy Winehouse. The guests were visibly supportive of the comments in their laughter and applause (video).
Using words that don’t deserve repeating, Chelsea implied that Serbia was a backward country that didn’t deserve to host Amy Winehouse’s notorious car-crash ‘concert’ last Saturday. She inferred the country was “a shame and disappointment” and implied her surprise that they even used Facebook.
This is just the latest case of what could be claimed to be ignorant comments based in apparent xenophobia and playing to stereotypes for cheap laughs rather than deploy some genuinely creative comedy.
What Chelsea and her producers should have realised in this taped show is that these comments masquerading a comedy were not only insulting to an entire nation and its people, they were also in poor taste and, if anyone really listened to her opinions, could have a detrimental impact on the image of Serbia. Hopefully, most people are better enlightened, have a better grasp on international affairs and are less likely to play for cheap laughs than Chelsea appears to be, judging from this little performance.
Past months saw controversy in Britain when TV presenters made seemingly throwaway comments about Mexico and the country’s Ambassador to the UK was so annoyed by these slights on him and his people that he called for an apology from the show and it’s presenters.
It would be good to think that the Serbian Ambassador to the US treated this matter with similar concern and made official moves to correct the record. It is more likely that he was not so surprised at the unwarranted criticism of his country and chose not to dignify the comments with an official reaction. Water off a duck’s back, is sometimes the best response.
People across Serbia were justly outraged by the comments and the temperature on the streets of Belgrade was not so cool. These are not thin-skinned Serbs who cannot take a joke. They are proud people who have been through more than their fair share of strife and finger-pointing and have to bear the burden of past problems on their broad shoulders.
“This girl doesn’t know what she is talking about and she should come to Serbia so we can show her the truth,’ said student Dalibor Jaksic. “Maybe she would not so such stupid words.” Barman Bojan Rakic felt similarly aggrieved: “Serbs are used to hearing lies about us, but it doesn’t make it any nicer to hear. She should be ashamed of what she said.”
Media worker Milos Stankovic summed up the feelings of what many were saying in Belgrade’s kafanas and splavs: “How dare she be so rude about us,’ he said. “I almost couldn’t believe it when I heard what she said.
“How can people think this about us? I have heard that Americans are so uneducated about the world and this seems to prove it. It’s very sad. They are the ones who look stupid when they say such things. Who is Chelsea Handler anyway?”
A Facebook page with 35,000 ‘likes’ has been set up in protest as Chelsea’s comments, proclaiming her comments are hate speech and calling for a boycott of NBC Universal and the shows sponsors Panasonic and Dr Pepper until Chelsea makes a genuine on-air apology. Twitter was also alive with colourful reactions from Serbia and beyond its borders. Greg Proops chose Twitter to make an apology for his part in the outrage: “Dear Serbs, they were jokes. Please accept my apology,” he said. It’s a sad indictment that Chelsea has so far not felt moved to issue an official statement of apology.
Maybe some day Chelsea could consider leaving behind her outdated shopping mall views and visit the modern Serbia to see for herself the truth about an educated country of contemporary culture and art with a people renowned for their energy and hospitality – as well as one of Europe’s highest rising social media infiltrations.
Until then, she would be better advised to stay schtum on matters where she is apparently so lacking and ill informed.