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Online ethnic minority comedies no laughing matter

By Long Nguyen   June 2, 2020 | 11:05 pm PT
Many Vietnamese YouTube channels have produced comedy videos portraying ethnic minority life through distorted facts and smutty jokes, causing community backlash.

To attract more viewers, some Vietnamese YouTube channels have focused on comedies on ethnic minority groups, labeling them "foolish," "greedy," or "Luddites," etc.

One of the most popular channels is "A Hy TV" ("Hy" means female genitals in the Tay and Nung languages), which has attracted over 720,000 subscribers with dozens of videos featuring A Hy, a character from northern Vietnam. A Hy is often portrayed to be lazy, naive, and harassing women with explicit jokes.

In the "Anh Toc Di Buon Hoa Gap Co Chu De Tinh" (Ethnic Man Selling Flowers Meets An Easy Owner) video, the main character gropes the woman’s breast, aiming to prolong the experience by obscene conversation. He also forces women to change their clothes in public or use bras as face masks.

A Hy, the main character in many videos of A Hy TV. Photo courtesy of A Hy TV.

A Hy, the main character in "A Hy TV". Photo courtesy of "A Hy TV."

Smutty conversations and arguments among ethnic minority families are also among the main topics on "LS Vlog".

"Muong Thanh TV" labels its videos "folk comedies" for portraying the supposed argumentative, dumb and sexually explicit daily lives of ethnic minorities.

According to the Institute for Studies of Society, Economy and Environment (ISEE), these "unacceptable" comedy videos have a terrible impact on ethnic minority communities.

"Laughter based on distorted truths and hurt is unacceptable and should not be encouraged, especially as ethnic minorities already face large scale negative prejudice," ISEE stated via Facebook.

Dr. Mai Thanh Son from the Institute of Anthropology under the Social Science Institute of Vietnam concurs.

"Facing a lot of stereotypes makes ethnic minorities weary of interacting with outsiders," he maintained.

Many ethnic community members agree these type of videos cast them in a bad light.

Le Thanh Hieu, 26, of Tay ethnicity in the northern province of Cao Bang, said he felt terrible since many netizens mistakenly think these videos correctly reflect reality. "They are only putting more bricks into the wall of prejudice."

Deep roots

According to experts, these comedy videos are driven by widespread, distorted awareness on ethnic culture.

A survey in seven provinces during 2013 showed 57 percent of respondents thought ethnic minorities are easily tricked, 63 percent that they are naive, 63 percent that they are backward and 80 percent that they are alcoholics and support deforestation, according to Nguyen Cong Thao, also from the Institute of Anthropology.

Another survey by the organization pointed out ethnic minorities are usually described as "backward," "lazy," "dependent," and "stupid," etc. Thao said these misconceptions are popular across social media networks.

On April 17, the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs maintained some comedy videos on "A Hy TV" violate the country’s constitution, which states "all the ethnicities are equal, unified and respect and assist one another for mutual development; all acts of national discrimination and division are strictly forbidden."

The committee listed nine videos from the YouTube channel smearing minority groups and causing a distorted understanding of Vietnamese in general.

Several days after the committee called on the Ministry of Information and Communication to tackle the problem, the channel removed all of its videos and changed its name to "A Huy TV". However, many videos had already been spread to other channels and platforms.

As of June 2, there has been no punishment or warning issued. Meanwhile, Son from the Institute of Anthropology told local media these channels could be penalized under the new cybersecurity law.

However, comedies on a video streaming platforms have authorities confused when it comes to fines. Vi Kien Thanh, director of Vietnam Cinema Department, said these short movies are not under their management, so they cannot issue warnings or punishments in their regard.

"In the case of penalties, there should be cooperation between the Ministry of Information and Communication and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism."

Many channels have turned off commenting functions or deleted controversial content to avoid public backlash. Hieu remembered several weeks ago one of his friends asked whether his family had watched some of these videos on YouTube.

"We watched one, then I told them to stop, since the videos could cause hurt, no matter how funny they are."

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