Here in Arizona, we certainly have our share of unusual mavericky people and situations and honestly, most of us have a good sense of humor about it. Yes, I'm a transplant, but I grew up in New Jersey so I've taken my share of comments and jokes about where I live.
Reading about a recent episode of Mike & Molly, I had to wonder: why did this particular story miss my radar? Was it lightly reported? I literally first read about this just last night.
The show--which I have never seen--included a "joke" about alcoholism in Arizona, specifically, among the Indians here. This is what was aired on February 25:
"Why would I go to Arizona? It's nothing but a furnace full of drunk Indians."
The show stars Melissa McCarthy of the current movie hit Identity Thief. It takes a somewhat bold stand by featuring actors who are overweight, in particular, McCarthy's costar Billy Gardell, and makes weight a central theme. It seems to have made an impact on the issue of prejudice against overweight people.
Just a couple of weeks ago McCarthy herself was in the news whenvarious media celebrities defended her after critic Rex Reed used just about every fat insult in the book to describe her in his film review. Reed was roundly lambasted for "fat shaming" and other prejudices.
These are fair enough charges. The review is very over the top. And I'm sure CBS appreciated this extra bit of free publicity.
Now where's the outrage about Mike & Molly's stunning insensitivity to alcoholism, Indians, and even Arizona?
Actually, Arizona can take it on the chin. This is the state that inspired Raising Arizona, which I believe should be classified as a documentary, elected Jan Brewer even after the senior moment heard 'round the world and re-elects Shurf Joe every four years.
But alcoholism isn't funny. Nor is the terrible toll that alcohol has taken on Indians in particular.
Ernie Zah, communications director for the Navajo Nation, called the joke "offensive, derogatory, deplorable" in an interview with ABC News. "Ignorance is one thing," he continued, but this must have passed through a lot of eyes before it appeared on a network show."
Note he didn't say "round eyes."
Joking about tragedies is edgy stuff. Joking about ongoing tragedies is, well, rarely funny. I bet they won't be telling jokes in Ohio about the SUV crash that killed six teenagers. Is alcoholism somehow funny, or funnier than this?
Many Indian leaders have asked CBS to apologize for its insensitivity and gross stereotyping. That isn't going to happen. Indian Country Media Network reports that Raven Ross, an Indian activist, received a phone call from CBS to that effect. CBS emphasized to Ross that the show is a comedy, and the writers attend yearly diversity awareness workshops.
Something tells me that an overhaul might be needed there.
At least Ross got a call. Mike Marlin, a Mohawk member from Ontario, also contacted CBS by email after learning about the joke via Twitter. He got an auto-reply--no surprise there--but no follow-up. "I'm not from Arizona," Marlin told the International Business Times. "This felt like a slap to all First Nations and Aboriginal people. I found it amazing that they would air this after all the progress we’ve made.”
Last week, Marlin started a Facebook page asking people to boycott Mike & Molly. Within a week, he had 388 members (The group is now closed.) Some people posted that Marlin and others need to get over it and others vowed to continue watching it.
It doesn't seem like the joke helped the show much. The week it aired, Mike & Molly had its lowest viewership ever. It remains to be seen if it will recover.
Or maybe they just need new writers who can write real jokes.