“Warsaw Chicago” is a reality show casting right now in the U.S. of A – and happily not sold to any TV network yet. It is supposed to portray a Polish family living in Chicago and to be, according to its website, a cross between “JERSEY SHORE” AND “THE REAL HOUSEWIVES”. Yayps.
Now this isn’t particularly Warsaw-related, but it has to do with the wider subject of stereotypes about immigrant communities. The show’s creators are looking for
a multi generational Chicago Polish family to show their life 24/7 and how the old school of thinking doesn’t always cross over with new school (ie. Dad is old fashioned immigrant ball busting cop or in position of power (ie CEO of company) or successful small business owner, etc.; Mom is traditional old fashioned housewife, daughters are dating someone they shouldn’t, son(s) on radar of court appearances, rehab, or sugar mommas, Cougars or MILFS, grandma and grandpa slinging Catholic prayers in Polish, etc, but if you don’t fit these categories exactly, please still send us what you have, who you are that is an interesting Polish Family.
By education and at heart I am a sociologists and the thing I find interesting is not how (or why) such shows are being made, but why do people want to watch them? Why is would there be a social need to enforce stereotypes, which – as stereotypes tend to – often have some basis in reality (I’m sure there is a one old-fashioned housewife of Polish origin in the Chicago area), but other than that are no food for thought what so ever?
The fundamental problem with reality shows seems to be that no one “in their right mind” wants to participate (unless maybe it’s a somewhat documentary project in the vain of Channel 4’s 2008 production The Family). Participants are not chosen based on statistical representatives, but on their willingness to create drama in front of a TV camera. As a result Jersey Shore tells us nothing about common traits of people from New Jersey (or US citizens of Italian origin for that matter). Can a current viewership of Jersey Shore being about 9,5 million per episode (September 23rd rating according to tvbynumbers) tell us something about some parts of us tv audience aged 18-49?
The other problem is – how to extrapolate from a group of individuals to a community of emigrants, not to say the entire nation?
What are the characteristics of Poles? They drink a lot, for example.
According to the WHO the consumption of pure alcohol in liters per capita was at 13.3. This as average for adults (aged 15+), who form 84% of the nation. 25.8% of that have not drank alcohol in the last 12 months (at the time of sampling), the word average being about 13%. However according to PARPA, state agency dealing with alcohol related problems, 7,3% consumers account 46,1% of the total consumption. The other 53,9% is spread among the remaining 92,7%. The same agency estimates 2% of population is clinically addicted to alcohol.
This is not to argue the case one way or the other. But having been an immigrant myself I appreciate the force of stereotype. I have never been Polish until I moved to London. Polish origin does not set one apart from 38 million of other Poles. I also experienced next to none unpleasantries because of my nationality (other than several ‘Poles stealing our jobs’ comments and few ‘Go back to Poland’ uttered by drunken gentlemen after I refused their by-the-bar advances).
In case of emergency, breath, switch the telly off, go out there and take it back. At the end of the day Savage Chickens will see us through –
Doug Savage, author of the comics recommends: “For a really good cry, watch Jersey Shore while listening to Satie’s Gymnopédie #1 on repeat”.
I found the “Warsaw Chicago” story via Feet in 2 worlds, a rather compelling platform for immigrant stories with its own podcast. While it’s rather USA-centric, you might wanna check it out – if only to fight the stereotype.