A little thing that bugs me

Brought up by watching Buffy. I’ve been binging to go along with my Christmas knitting. Little admission here. I’ve never seen most of Buffy. So it’s fun. I’m discovering all sorts of little things that are sort of native to the geek culture. And finding tidbits that amuse me, like two cowboy vampires who are 100% Dusty and Gareth (long story), or how when Buffy turns into a rat at once point she’s a shoe-in for my pal Bartleby.

But I keep noticing this little details. When Angel’s angst issues come up, everyone’s forever discussing his curse in relation to Gypsies. It’s a plot device. This gang of crazy white people, one of whom has an accent like an American actor playing a ruthless Rooskie communist in an old movie, are all about coming up with the most contrived curse ever in search of vengeance for this most beloved daughter of theirs who’s been dead for a good long time. So many things wrong with this, but of course Buffy didn’t originate this little trend. How many Gypsy curses have you ever run into? They’re a staple. One of my GMs was assuring me a couple weeks ago that some generic evil racists in game would figure you were a Gypsy if you were Eastern European, and he seemed to believe it made sense. Not his fault. They’re a trope (see what I did there?).

TV Tropes gives a pretty decent summary of my rant here. Yeah, exotic, curse-happy Gypsies are all over fiction. They used to have more company, though. You never see their old friends much anymore, or when you do, people get pissed. Modern media generally lacks old staples like, say, a conniving, greedy Jew. That’s because, y’know, reducing an entire ethnic group or race into a cheap storytelling trick is wrong and all. But rather than toss out this archetype or even criticize, normally progressive nerd culture embraces it. Usually kindly. I wince a little whenever some cheery strowler-type tells me they’re a Gypsy. I know what they mean. They’re embracing a romanticized image of a happy, scrappy group hanging out with their colorful wagons and cheery songs. But a positive stereotype is still a stereotype. Gypsies are the nerd world’s Magic Negros. And often the usage isn’t even marked by affection, which is where you get the cursing, thieving hags of Wolfman fame.

“Gypsy” is actually rather offensive. It’s “Roma.” They aren’t generically Eastern European. Their genetic and cultural origins are Indian, and while there’s certainly been a lot of amalgamation with European cultures, and there are certainly some Rom who are as Caucasian to look at as the actors who generally play the plot device, your average Rom is fairly dark skinned and speaks his or her own tongue first and foremost. Their language and religion (generally Christianity, some Islam, by the way nothing more mysterious and spooky) are full of ideas and concepts that bled over from their surrounding cultures, but they preserve an incredible amount of tradition considering the centuries the rest of the world has spent trying to beat it out of them. In much of Europe it’s completely okay to use nasty racial invectives in public forums when discussing Roma. Their communities, not nomadic for a while now in most cases,  suffer a lot of the same trouble minority groups do in most of the world, high crime and poverty rates, minimal education, the usual package.

Maybe I’m being an overly PC pain in the ass here. I did go to Smith, and it’s a specialty of ours.  It just bugs me when a real group is tossed into lazy storytelling, and even good storytelling, as though they were a handy bit of adaptable folklore. For full disclosure, I’ve been researching the question precisely because of a character I love with a Roma background. I don’t by any means think that people shouldn’t use Roma characters and communities and stories as much as they use any other ethnic or cultural group. I’m inclined to say that writers have an all-access pass to play with everyone’s ideas and stories. I’d just rather that people keep in mind “gypsies” are a real people with real problems, not a fairytale trope.

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~ by badandfierce on December 17, 2010.

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