Friday, April 2, 2010

A year later -- The Celebrity Apprentice

Around this time last year an episode of "The Celebrity Apprentice" incited a huge backlash among people of short stature. The Apprentice teams were challenged to develop a viral video to promote a concentrated laundry detergent. Both teams hired little people for the video. During the episode, members of both teams used offensive language when referring to people of short stature. The word midget was used even though contestants acknowledge the word to be considered offensive. Beyond language, team members more than once referred to people of short stature in objectifying ways. For example, one discussion among cast members jokes hanging little people, like clothing, out to dry.

Immediately following the episode, it was clear that many people of short stature felt the same way. The episode was offensive and people were mad. An organized response to the episode was led by a couple that live outside of New York City. They spent hours on the phone with NBC, insisting on an apology. When "The Celebrity Apprentice" creator, Donald Trump, and NBC, refused to apologize, the couple filed an official complaint with the FCC. The complaint asks the FCC to find the content on The Celebrity Apprentice objectionable. Contrary to a few media reports, the complaint does not ask the FCC to ban the word midget.

A few months after the episode of "The Celebrity Apprentice," the New York couple built support for the FCC complaint at the Little People of America Conference in Brooklyn. They passed out copies of their complaint as well as blank FCC forms. They asked others at the conference to use the blank forms to file similar complaints, the hope being that the more complaints filed about the same episode, the better the chances the FCC will respond. I don't know how many complaints have been filed, but the New York couple is very diligent and very persuasive. My guess is that scores of complaints have been lodged. Long after the conference, they continued to urge others to file complaints and they often placed calls to FCC, checking on the status of the complaint.

Though nearly a year has passed since the episode in question aired on television, from what I understand, there is still time to contact the FCC. Many people have probably forgotten about the episode that aired on April 5, 2009, and Governor Blagojevich and Cyndi Lauper have replaced Jesse James and Joan Rivers. But if enough people are angry, NBC should still be held accountable. We can't tell them what to say, and we can't force an apology, but they should at least respond. And if enough people file complaints, and if enough follow up calls are made, hopefully they will. If NBC knows we will speak up, one can only hope the network will produce more of what we want to watch, and less of what makes up cringe.

If you'd like to learn more about the original FCC complaint and if you'd like to support the original complaint, click here.

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