German TV under fire over ‘environmental pig’ song

Children's choir recording in a radio studio
The video was taken down after the initial backlash

Over 40 TV comedy writers in Germany have written an open letter asking for a satirical children’s song about climate change to be put back on the internet after it was taken down following a public row over its content.

The “solidarity declaration” strongly criticises Tom Buhrow, the director of the public broadcaster WDR that commissioned and broadcast the song, for apologising for it after the initial backlash.

“A media boss whose handling of right-wing propaganda shows so much naivety and ineptitude, and who is unable to face his employees on the simplest questions of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, endangers these freedoms. He should face the consequences,” the statement says.

‘Old environmental pig’

The controversy that ignited #Grandmagate was sparked by a satirical re-make of the children’s song My Grandmother Rides a Motorcycle in the Hen Coop, which went viral over the Christmas period.

The parody version, sang by a children’s choir, seeks to expose a fictional grandmother’s environmentally unfriendly habits – she drives an SUV and fries cheap cutlets every day.

Each verse is punctuated with the refrain “My grandma is an old environmental pig”, and the song is wrapped up by a quote from teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg “We will not let you get away with this.”

Generation wars

The lyrics, perceived to be assigning bad eco credentials to the baby boomer generation, hit a nerve and inflamed culture wars in Germany, according to the Deutsche Welle international broadcaster.

Tom Buhrow
Image captionWDR director Tom Buhrow has faced calls to resign

A heated debate followed on social media, which generated thousands of comments. Many tweets lamented the “instrumentalising of children” and the “disrespect for the older generation” while others made disparaging comments about publically-funded media.

WDR journalist Danny Holleck experienced the wrath of Twitter after he wrote that “grandma isn’t an environmental pig, but a Nazi pig”. He withdrew his “rash” remark in a tweet of apology which, he specified, excluded those who flooded him with threats of violence and death.

Following the outcry, WDR director Tom Buhrow apologised for the video, saying it was a mistake. He wrote that WDR will do its best to protect its employees who’ve been receiving death threats.

WDR deleted the video and apologised to anyone who was offended, saying “We regret that the satire has hurt the feelings of part of our audience. This was not our intention. Rather, it was about tackling the generational conflict… through satire.”

The director of the Dortmund children’s choir Zeljo Davutovic addressed concerns that children had been used as tools to drive the climate change agenda.

There was no compulsion“, he said. “The children who took part were told what the parody was meant to do – to target the conflict between the generations with exaggeration and humour.”

‘Right-wing trolling’

Analysis published by Spiegel magazine on how the debate picked up speed on social media suggests that spontaneous anger by the public was amplified by “controlled outrage” driven by right-wing groups.

Demonstration against WDR broadcaster
Image captionRight-wing groups protested against WDR in Cologne

On 4 January, the online outrage spilled onto the streets. A group of demonstrators gathered outside WDR’s headquarters in Cologne to express their anger with the broadcaster. A counter-protest was held at the same time.

A Cologne police spokesman told Spiegel that out of the 200 demonstrators, 25 were members of the far-right German Brotherhood group, and that investigations are currently under way to determine whether the demonstration was organised or influenced by right-wing extremists.

The TV comedy writers said in their open letter that the scandal was not the song itself, but way it was turned into a scandal through the “familiar pattern of right-wing trolling.”

“The fictional grandma does not discriminate against an entire generation any more than the alcoholic father from Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone declares that all men are unfit,” the letter concludes.

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