FOX anti-Polish slur... and how it relates to hate propaganda

FOX recently aired an episode of the comedy Back to You ("Something's Up There") which outraged Poles worldwide, and for good reason. One character jokingly tells another one, a Pole, "it’s in your Polish blood, like kielbasa and collaborating with the Nazis," which is followed by canned laughter.

Fox initially defended the line, saying that it was uttered by a character that is known to be ignorant. Eventually, under pressure from viewers and the Polish government, they issued a full apology.

Back to You Opening Titles

To most Poles, it is obvious that not only didn't Poles collaborate with the Nazis, but that Poland was the only occupied country never to collaborate (see the the history lesson below this entry, taken from Lucia Sliwa's Open Mike blog).

As Helena Ziolkowska writes, there 'were no Polish SS Divisions, no Polish “Quisling”' (referring to Vidkun Quisling, who ruled Norway until he was tried and executed for treason after the war).

There were Blue Police (Polish police legislated by the Nazis into serving them) and 'Szmalcowniks' (a colloquial term for blackmailers of Jews and of those that hid them)... but the Polish resistance had many double agents working in the former, and made a habit of executing the latter. A case in point is the fact that it was only in Poland that the 'crime' of aiding Jews was punishable by death. Under such circumstances, a person choosing themselves and their family over others (which tragically did indeed happen) can be considered self-serving, but clearly not collaboration.

The most obvious collaborators were the Tripartite Pact countries, of course, and the accusation might be leveled at many of the Allied powers such as France or the US, but Poland? Hardly.

Unfortunately, this lesson is not as well known around the world. As a large portion of the holocaust occurred in Poland, never mind that it was orchestrated by the Nazis, some survivors and their kin have (somewhat understandably) some negative associations with Poles and Poland in general. This spills out into popular culture, and is what makes the ignorant character's comment so insidious. For better or worse, for many people, popular television shows play a considerable role in their education.

For the last several years I've been studying how hate propaganda is manufactured and used to mobilize a group of people against another--in this case, the first group is the Chinese population (and later the global population) at large, and the second is Falun Gong practitioners worldwide. Apart from hundreds of thousands openly hostile news articles (347 articles in the People's Daily in the first month of persecution in 1999, for example), slurs were placed strategically in entertainment and other television programs—implying that everyone in the audience should get the reference.

For example, in conversation, a character might mention, 'why don't you just burn yourself alive, just like those Falun Gong practitioners?' The statement refers to a key piece of anti-Falun Gong propaganda manufactured by the Chinese regime.

It's implied in this statement, as in the one in Back to You, that people should know the details of the issue in question. In the Chinese example, the statement is outrageous because matter-of-factly portrays practitioners as dangerously suicidal. In the FOX example, the statement similarly matter-of-factly paints Poles as Nazi collaborators. Perhaps either could be forgiven if it were in the collective social consciousness that these statements are bizarrely inaccurate. Unfortunately, that is not the case today—though with education, the situation is getting better on both counts, I believe.

We know that there were a few Poles that were Nazi collaborators, and it is certainly possible, though undocumented, that someone identifying as a Falun Gong practitioner committed suicide (despite the teachings arguing vehemently against that). But these would both be fringe, unusual situations. When hate propaganda is manufactured, such anecdotes are commonly used to demonize an entire group.

By allowing such a statement to be broadcast (in prime time to boot), FOX and its writers have unwittingly (surely it cannot be worse?) allowed themselves to become tools of anti-polonists, by spreading the equivalent of hate propaganda. I'm very pleased to hear that FOX has now vowed to never air the clip again. I wish the same for CCTV's self-immolation videos. The debate about whether this is censorship, and of how hate propaganda relates to freedom of speech, we can take up another time—I invite the discussion!

Please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the realities of Polish involvement in World War II and the holocaust, if you are not already in the know. The following letter provides a good launchpad. You can follow the progress of the campaign to get FOX to apologise here.

Comments are most welcome!

November 20, 2007

Mr. Joseph Earley
Executive Vice President
Fox Broadcasting Company
10201 West Pico Blvd.,
Los Angeles, Ca 90035

Dear Mr. Earley:

On Wednesday, November 14, 2007 FOX TV broadcast an unprecedented, incredibly offensive and outrageous lie about Americans of Polish descend and the Polish Nation as a whole (“ it’s in your Polish blood, like kielbasa and collaborating with the Nazis”). That statement is deeply insulting, demeaning and an inaccurate portrayal of history.

It is outrageous that this remark was allowed to appear on a national show.

On September 1, 1939 Poland was brutally invaded by the Third Reich, and later on September 17, 1939 by the Soviets as whole world looked on, leaving Poland to defend for itself. Neither France nor Great Britain stepped in to help like had been promised. Although, the United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany, no direct military action was rendered. During World War II three million Poles and three million Polish Jews perished as a result of German occupation. Poland was the only country in occupied Europe where giving any kind of help to the Jews resulted in execution of the helper and his or her family. Despite such circumstances, thousands of Poles hide the Jews in their homes or helped to find another shelter and provided food for them. More Poles than people of any other nation came to the aid of Jews seeking safe place. The number of “Polish” trees in the Righteous Among Nations Garden in the Yad Vashem speaks for itself. Among 15 thousand trees from 34 nations, 5 thousand are Polish. The collaboration with the Nazis popular in different countries of Europe was unknown in Poland where there was no Polish Militias, no Polish SS Division and no Polish “Quisling”.

As the President of Polish Teachers Association in America, the organization that for 55 years has made a valuable impact on development of future generation of Polish Americans, I strongly protest against such untruthful statement and request full apology from the President of the Fox Network, its management and writers.


Helena Ziolkowska
President of Polish Teachers Association in America
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