Decline of a national icon: Derogatory representations of the Romanian peasant in recent television programs




peasants, popular media, representations, stereotypes, polarization


Intellectuals and artists have been crafting an image of the Romanian peasant as the building block of the nation since the second half of the 19th century. The process went hand in hand with the modernization of the elites, and the peasant was thus mainly ‘discovered’ within the cultural framework of Romanticism, as the ‘eternal autochthon’ (Mihăilescu,2017, p.173), creator of the specific Kultur of the Romanian people.  However, dramatic social transformations such as the difficult transition period of the ʹ90s have shifted the focus from a complimentary representation of the peasant as the national foundation – and all the positive characteristics of his/her habitus in terms of material, spiritual and aesthetic values– to a rather alienated and anachronistic figure coming across as a burden that has to be carried into modernity by the enlightened social strata. This paper uses visual analysis, grounded in Barthesian semiotics, to explore the changes in modes of representation of the peasant in popular media from the depository of national values to a marginal lower class, striving to keep up with the urban lifestyle. Various portrayals of peasants in TV series and sketches, movies and memes point to the degradation of the peasant figure in the public imagination. Images of poverty, bad taste and a lack of hygiene seem to pollute the bodies, garments and home environments of the rural characters, with a toxic effect on their language and behaviour as well. Although there have always been derogatory images of the peasants in the discourse of the elites (Mihăilescu also coined the term ‘domestic primitive’ for the representation associated with the historical tendency to portray the peasants as a backward population incapable of progress), in recent times this tendency has prevailed, especially with the rural-themed successful TV series Las Fierbinți, for mainly ideological reasons which will be discussed. Thus, apart from deconstructing a national myth, I argue that the representation of contemporary peasants and their degenerating habitus also contributes to the polarization in the Romanian society.

Author Biography

Anca Șerbănuță, University of Bucharest

Anca Șerbănuță has a PhD in Cultural Studies from the University of Bucharest, Doctoral School of Letters. Her thesis focused on the emotional content of stereotypes associated with the portrayal of peasant characters in Romania's most successful TV series of the last 30 years, Las Fierbinti. She also works as a journalist for the Romanian Public Television. She graduated in 2004 from the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Letters, Department of Cultural Studies. From 2007 to 2016 she lived in Brussels, where she worked as an assistant to Ambassador and researcher at the Embassy of Afghanistan to the Kingdom of Belgium and the Afghan Mission to the European Union and NATO. In 2011, she obtained a Master's degree in International Conflict Analysis from the University of Kent. Her main interests are social polarization, social imagination, stereotyping and moral emotions.


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How to Cite

Șerbănuță, A. (2024). Decline of a national icon: Derogatory representations of the Romanian peasant in recent television programs. Swedish Journal of Romanian Studies, 7(2), 124–140.