18 September 2012

Sitcom Diplomacy

"I miss the smell of villages burning. I miss the way they used to run from our tanks in fear."

is a sitcom that takes place at a fictional American community college. Here is a transcript of the conversation from a scene from its 2nd season episode Custody Law And Eastern European Diplomacy:
Britta (female lead): Oh, I'm so sorry, but could you just not tell Troy and Abed that we went out tonight.

Lukka (one-time character for the episode): No problem.

Britta: It's just that they're really worried if you and I, you know... see each other that it's somehow going to affect your friendship with them

Lukka: Hey don't worry, don't worry. I can keep a secret. I'm from the Balkans there are many things I try not to talk about.

Britta: [sighs] Lukka, I know it. I know there is pain in there. Just so you know you can talk to me about anything

Lukka: [sighs] So much killing. The corpses stacked like firewood, the rivers red with their blood. I miss it so much.

Britta: [begins to kiss him then yanks away suddenly] Wait, just to clarify, when you say you miss it it's like you have survivors guilt, like you wish you were back over there defending your motherland right?

Lukka: Yes, I miss cleansing our fields and forests of the unclean people who stole my country. I miss the smell of villages burning. [laughs] I miss the way they used to run from our tanks in fear. [Is interrupted by a trumpet sound] Ah damn it, my neighbor is Jazz musician. Hey Spencer, come on now, I got woman in here. [knocks on the wall of his apartment, but the trumpet keeps going at it] Great, he really knows how to kill the mood.
So then we have a storyline based around a comedic twist where beneath the appealing exterior of a seemingly friendly and outgoing person, lurks the black heart of a Balkan genocidiare. It's pretty punchy for a sitcom, you have to give the writers that. I suppose an appropriate tagline for their plot would be "If you're dating a boy from the Balkans make sure he doesn't enjoy ethnic cleansing".

So that's that. The comic book depth portrayal of a Balkan man with Balkan sensibilities makes an American sitcom. A man with a mindset that is so distinct from the norms prevalent in the normal part of the world that in his mind ethnic cleansing is accompanied with romantic notions. It's done in an appealing way. If you're going to introduce a negative Balkan stereotype you might as well do it with a character who is unapologetic and charismatic.

Of course this being an American product it has to go just the tinniest bit overboard. First of all it has a character (of a Middle Eastern background no less) exclaim that if he ever goes to the Balkans, he is "bringing some serious cheat codes and walkthroughs". As flattering as it is to think the region I hail from is that hardcore I think anyone who survives community college can handle the Balkans just fine.

Furthermore, there is the fixation on some hypothetical genocide. Apparently our Balkan man "makes hats out of babies" which would point to a rather poor sense of fashion I think. Then when the female lead character goes on to assert that our Lukka (BTW, what kind of a name is that, anyway?) is a war criminal and is asked to name the war he is a criminal in she replies with "the genocide in the Balkans". So it is the case also in a situational comedy that other places can have fighting and wars, but the Balkans can have only massacres and genocides. The storyline concludes when the characters agree Britta will not reveal any details about her boyfriends "unless they've committed genocide".

So I'll have to mark the episode as a mixed bag. And as for the series? Well it was very decent early on, but has declined somewhat since they've made the blonde female lead into an airhead. Still probably worth a look though.


  1. The Yugoslav Wars have their own tropes, but I didn't see Unintended Irony anywhere: having a character obviously intended to be a Serb with a name that's obviously Albanian...

    1. Well they never get the names right do they, from 'Victor Drazen' to 'Nic Bellic', and now 'Lukka'. It is almost as if they were not able to tell any of the Balkan nations apart from any of the others, which they are not. So I think what Lukka is first and foremost intended as is a Balkan Monster. But Serbs collectively are a giant pack of Balkan Monsters and so maybe he is one of them.

      What I like about the episode is the eagerness of the Britta character when she believes briefly that 'Lukka' is a Balkan Victim. That is someone from the region who will explain they have been hurt by the fact people in the Balkans do not care to conform to the norms of the civilized world that Greendale College belongs to. They really love their utterly patronizable Balkan Victims (who incidentally tell them that their part of the world is very humane and advanced compared to that cesspool the Balkan Victim is from).

      'Lukka' however, does not go along*, but explains he does not care for their civilized White Man's norms, and throws off the Balkan Victim designation from himself, which I'm sure you'll agree is really pathetic of anyone to be want to be seen as. Of course given who the narrator is not repudiating the Balkans involves praising a lot of nasty stuff and outing oneself as a Balkan Monster, but we can attribute that to an unreliable narrator.

      *What he does is pull a civilization-repudiating Noble Savage on them, but him being a Balkanite rather than a Red Indian, he is an inverted, mirror universe Noble Savage who is not primitive and good, but primitive and corrupted.

    2. Incidentally once Lukka comes out as someone who will not repudiate the Balkans he even begins to speak like a caveman ('Hey, I've got woman in here.') though he had no difficulties with indefinite articles before that.