Comedian Pétur Jóhann Sigfússon told reporters he never intended to hurt anyone with his Tong Monitor character, while a Japanese-Icelandic minister says his depiction of Asians is “degrading”. The commercial itself may violate Iceland’s existing hate speech laws.
As reported, Pétur has recently filmed a commercial for television station Stöð 2 in which he plays an Asian game show host. His wears make-up designed to pull back the ends of his eyes, and speaks in broken English with a heavily affected generalised “Asian” accent.
The depiction has sparked a great deal of criticism from Icelanders and immigrants alike, who say the depiction is racist.
Pétur has responded to the criticism, speaking on the Reykjavík Siðdegis radio show, saying that it was never his intention to hurt anyone with his depiction.
“I didn’t wake up one morning and decide I was going to make fun of Asians, and hurt as many people as possible,” he said. “That was not the thinking behind this.”
Pétur added, though, that people having different opinions makes life more fun, and he takes the criticism as a learning experience. He does intend, though, to go forward with the commercial.
Toshiki Toma, a Japanese-Icelandic Lutheran minister who works closely with the immigrant community, told DV that he considers Pétur’s Tong Monitor character to be “degrading to all immigrants” in Iceland.
“I was puzzled as to how the media could not see how this commercial is degrading to immigrants,” he said, adding that he wonders what effect it could have on children. “Could they not misunderstand this and believe it’s alright to make fun of immigrants? If you’re going to make jokes about someone, you should direct it at someone who can defend themselves. How are Asian immigrants in Iceland supposed to take this?”
Claudia Overesch, a student who has been active in immigration issues, has pointed out that the commercial might also violate Iceland’s existing hate speech laws. Article 233a of the Icelandic Penal Code states “Anyone who in a ridiculing, slanderous, insulting, threatening or any other manner publicly assaults a person or a group of people on the basis of their nationality, skin colour, race, religion or sexual orientation, shall be fined or jailed for up to 2 years.” The word “assault” in this instance does not mean physical violence, but rather expressions of intolerance, hatred or degradation.
Below you can see the commercial in question: