By Gin Sexsmith
Campus groups and students work hard to make Ryerson a diverse and accepting place, but a new reality TV show, Lake Shore, threatens those efforts with stereotypes and offensive material.
Come spring 2011, Toronto will have its own version of MTV’s reality TV phenomenon Jersey Shore. The Canadian version (not affiliated with MTV) will be set in Toronto’s downtown core. The show follows eight twenty-somethings living together downtown and the producers are trying to rent a house on Lakeshore Boulevard.
But unlike Jersey Shore, Lake Shore won’t just stereotype Italian–Americans — instead it will show Toronto’s “inclusive” diversity by casting characters from different backgrounds.
The cast will be characterized by their culture. In the trailer, each Torontonian is identified with their name and background: the Italian, the Turk, the Jew, the Albanian, the Pole, the Lebanese, the Vietnamese, and the Czech.
“Why the hell are they putting labels on people?” said second-year child and youth care student, Lillian Gal, “It’s an absolutely wrong representation of our city as a diverse place, it will make a fool out of our city. I understand that they want drama, but this isn’t appropriate drama. Jersey Shore wouldn’t even do something like this,” she added.
Instead of showing peaceful cohabitation between the cast, the trailer played up the drama between the different races portraying an attitude that is offending Canadians, most notably: “I’m not racist, I hate everyone equally — especially Jewish people,” Sibel Atlug “the Turk” said in the trailer.
Although the show was initially supposed to follow eight Persian hipsters, producer Maryam Rahimi and director George Tsioutsioulas decided to make it more diverse — to show, “how inclusive Torontonian’s really are,” Rahimi said in a press release.
But Ryerson, which reflects Toronto’s multiculturalism, is not fist pumping with excitement.
“When shows like this become really popular and everyone is watching them use race and culture as something to make jokes about it can be really dangerous,” said Melissa Peroff, a second-year retail management student.
“Everyone thought Jersey Shore was a stupid show but they still watched it as a guilty pleasure. Some people who watch this show may take the negative opinions away from it,” said Tommy Sasson, a student in Hillel, the Jewish Students’ Association.
Recently, the Ryerson Student’s Union created the Equity Issues Committee to address and stop discrimination amongst our diverse student body. And with Ryerson at the heart of the city, students hope it won’t make us look bad as well.
“I feel like this show will really push those [cultural] groups back. People find the shock factor in reality shows funny. Students are much more likely to watch a show that is amusing and popular than read a pamphlet on culture handed to them on campus,” Peroff said.
But third-year social work student, Amelie Marlin said Ryerson is progressive enough to not take Lake Shore seriously.
“I feel like we’re a strong unified community and we won’t let a pathetic show like this break us down. We as a university know what we believe in and we advocate for acceptance amongst all races and sexual orientations,” Marlin said.
Marlin added that even with the eight nationalities the show represents, it lacks equal representation of Toronto’s diversity.
“Even if the show is drawing on a number of different cultures it won’t mean shit if there is racism and discrimination in the house.”
Ryerson is diverse not only in race and religion, but also in sexual orientation — something the show singles out when Arber ‘the Albanian’ said “You can be gay as long as you’re not anywhere around me”.
Marlin said comments like these on TV stall the fight against homophobia in the public.
“Having a show that openly depicts hate towards the gay community will have serious implications here.”
When second-year photography student Jackson Klie first saw the trailer, he thought it was some sort of deranged parody. “I actually thought it was a joke when I heard that the producers of the show labeled all of the participants by their race,“ said Klie.
President of the Italian Students’ Association, Natalie Ciarallo, said Ryerson won’t waste their time on a show like this. “Who has time to watch such a useless show?”
Rahimi recently apologized in an interview with the National Post for the offensive trailer and is still shopping for a channel to air the series.
Photo courtesy of Lake Shore