Between Satire and Stereotype: Gina Dirawi

Between Satire and Stereotype: Gina Dirawi August 18, 2010

Khadidje, Fadumah, Ruqaya, Fippan and Bettan are all characters created by blogger Gina Dirawi, a Palestinian Swede whose comic videos mocking racial and other stereotypes have become something of a sensation on the Swedish blogosphere. The following her blog has generated is large enough that she is currently blogging in affiliation with Swedish national television to encourage more young people to vote in September. Some of Gina’s characters can be seen here, in an old ‘Halal Hills’ parody.

Through her characters, Gina deal with issues that are becoming central in Sweden’s simultaneously multicultural and yet segregated society, while using stereotypes to make fun of stereotypical notions. One of her most famous characters is Khadidje, a woman who typifies many stereotypes about immigrant Muslim women in Sweden. Khadidje is judgmental and closed-minded, and likes shouting at her children and throwing shoes at her daughter Fadumah. She has a unibrow, a pursed expression and a constant holier-than-thou attitude, declaring everything she disapproves of to be “Haram!” Video below in Swedish:

Bettan, on the other hand, presents a stereotype of a working-class Swedish woman. She is a card-carrying racist, her favorite hobby is drinking, and she is often seen with a bicycle helmet attached to her head. She is also culturally insensitive and has all the intelligence and acumen of a lobotomized Bush.

The danger with satires which claim to mock stereotypes is that they can come off as attempts to have one’s cake and eat it, too; so that what is purportedly intended to mock stereotypes ends up reinforcing them. In these situations, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the satire and the stereotype.

There was an example of this in a recent video created by another Swedish blogger which “satirized” Somali women. In the video a girl in black face says three sentences: “I am Somali! I love Sweden! Social welfare!” and then grins hugely. This blogger claimed that, like Gina’s, her video was intended as social commentary about stereotypes. The problem is that it is the stereotype that gets the laugh. The tired, racist depiction is unchallenged, while any humor or good will becomes irrelevant.

The same could be said of many of Gina’s videos. However, where Gina’s satire succeeds it is because her videos go beyond demeaning humor, confronting her viewers with stereotypical images that become well-loved characters. A metamorphosis happens somewhere along the way. By creating these characters and giving them story lines, the videos increase people’s discomfort with the blatant, simplistic racism of the stereotype. After all, Bettan and Khadidje and their families manage to be friends. Or, at least, frenemies. The stories of the videos are also often so excessive and silly you can only laugh, such as when Khadidje complains about not being invited to Princess Victoria’s wedding, or Bettan declares a burka could come in handy when she sees a pair of pants falling down to someone’s knees.

In her more serious videos, Gina appears sans character, delivering a rant on contentious issues such as the idea that “Muslims will take over Sweden,” and whether or not she is a racist. In a series she calls “Islam School,” she takes up questions her readers post, such what “does Islam says about marrying a non-Muslim?” and less religion-specific questions like “why does God let us suffer?” In more personal videos, she introduces her followers to her father’s cooking hobby and her grandfather, prompting some of her less astute followers to exclaim with some surprise that her family seems more liberal than they expected.

Despite the satiric purpose of Gina’s stereotype characters,  the sensitive nature of the issues she deals with often mean that her posts have to be book-ended by disclaimers which refer back to her blog’s purpose: “Humor to the max!” In negotiating this fine line between satire and stereotype, Gina addresses the idea of clashing cultures through the unifying spirit of laughter and humor.

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