Keep on Wondering...

What are the connections between social and historical forces and the representations we see?
Why is yellowface still acceptable? When and how did yellowface turn into whitewashing?
How do these representations create and/or perpetuate stereotypes that are present in our world? What is the impact?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Slim Chin & The Metro PCS Indian Guys

Advertising by caricatures makes me sick.  

Dear God. Isn't this painful? I feel an overwhelming desire to gouge my eyes out. I want 31 seconds of my life back! "The Beast From The Far East?" MAKE IT STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ignore the funky basketball references. Let's focus on this guy who looks remarkably like Long Duk Dong - like an older-decked-out-in-gold-no-exaggerated-Asian-accent-talking Long Duk Dong. He is awkward and rotund - it's Charlie Chan's body with Long Duk Dong's head and a whole lot of stupid. This is really just riding on the Old Spice commercials, with a character selling a product - only this time, it's not a MANLY black man selling a REAL man's product - it's a slightly emasculated and not attractive Asian man selling... shoes. The gods are smiling upon us though - no horrendously offensive accent. But wait a minute... doesn't he sound... not Asian... but... dare I say it? Black? I guess so. This commercial is progressive in this way (the No Stereotypical Asian Accent way) but slightly regressive in the physical representation of the character - an awkward, rotund, strange-looking Asian guy trying and not succeeding to fit into hip hop culture. In other words - the Perpetual Foreigner. But not in the way you might think. This is an Asian stereotype that while they can assimilate into America, they can't assimilate into the world of Hip Hop Cool. 
It's a lot better than those Metro PCS commercials with the two Indian guys and their awful accents...

Did you just want to barf? I know I did. Does anybody remember these TV advertisements? I wouldn't be forgetting something as horrendous as that in a hurry. 

Dear God, it just got so much worse.
The exaggerated accents. The accents. The funky Bollywood-esque music. The dancers at the end of the Shaming ad.  Dear God, I thought we were above this sort of thing! Apparently not! 
Just so many things wrong... with all of these... So are South Asians the new Poke-Fun-At-Them-Because-They're-The-Model-Minority-And-They-Won't-Say-Anything Group? How disgusting. This is awful. Why is nobody protesting this? I protest! Down with race-based caricature advertising! 

We must begin a new rallying cry - "Slim Chin, Ranjit, Chad, and Charlie Chan are dead!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Mr. Yunioshi

Make it stop!!!!!
"The worst of the worst
The most hated and cursed
Is the one that we call [Mr. Yunioshi]"

Look at his buck teeth. The intense yellowface - hello major darkening of the skin and some scary slanted eyes. The awful, stilted accent. The screechy, "Ah so!" when he pops up out of the bathtub. The yelling of "Miss Gorightry!" The portrayal of a cranky, nearsighted, short and stereotypical Japanese man - a step away from the direction that Crimson Kimono was going in. There is nothing pan-Asian-ist about Mr. Yunioshi. He wears a kimono, and his name isn't exactly one you could apply to any old "type" of Asian - it's specifically Japanese. Oh, the irony. 

Depressingly enough, Mr. Yunioshi was a character in the Truman Capote novella of the same name - and he was referred to as "that Jap." And that doesn't need much explanation, does it? Thankfully, he doesn't make many appearances in the book; however, he becomes a more prominent character in the film version, acting as Holly Golightly's landlord and lighthearted, blatantly racist "comic" relief. 
The fact that this is Mickey Rooney from Babes in Arms and all that Andy Hardy stuff is (for me) absolutely heartbreaking and disappointing. Mickey Rooney. Dear old Mickey Rooney from Night at the Museum 1. The guy who voiced Kris Kringle in that stop-motion version of Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town. Mickey Rooney donned some of the worst yellowface I have seen so far and got praise and recognition for it. The New York Times wrote of his performance: "Mickey Rooney's bucktoothed, myopic Japanese is broadly exotic." Everyone loved it. Everyone thought it was hysterical and funny and... accurate, apparently. Of course, he has since apologized for the portrayal, saying that "It breaks my heart. Blake Edwards, who directed the picture, wanted me to do it because he was a comedy director. They hired me to do this overboard... Never in all the more than 40 years after we made it -- not one complaint. Every place I've gone in the world people say, 'God, you were so funny'... It's terribly sad and I feel bad for the people taking offense." He even said later that he wishes someone had told him about how his portrayal might be a bit offensive, because then he would have changed it. Blake Edwards even said, "Looking back, I wish I had never done it...and I would give anything to be able to recast it, but it's there." But do you see how uninformed Blake Edwards and Rooney were? They wanted to use the "Jap" as comic relief, as a throwaway character with no real importance without thinking of the repercussions this portrayal had. Does their ignorance make them racist? Mr. Yunioshi is undoubtedly a racist caricature, but does this mean that their creators are racist? They both seem to have been expressing remorse for their interpretation and regretting the portrayal - but that doesn't change the fact that thousands of people saw the film, saw the portrayal, and unconsciously (or consciously, take your pick) applied it to all Asians (or all Japanese, take your pick). This film was made in a time when you would not have any blackface whatsoever, but it was apparently okay to make fun of Asians! Why? Is this the model minority thing? We won't raise a stink about an unfavorable portrayal, while other minority races will? Disgusting. 

Play that [chinky] music, [Henry Mancini]? Hear those xylophones and the jazzy "Oriental" music? Every time I hear some sort of cinematic "Oriental" music, it makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. It's so false and situated around gongs and zithers and that stupid little riff - you know, the "dunh-nuhnuhnuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuhhhhh" one. And get this! Most of the time, the scores that sound like this one wee written by white composers! Who knew?! Now is it offensive and annoying because it was written by a white composer? Or is it offensive and annoying because we hear it so often in conjunction with movies that have offending and questionable portrayals of Asians in them? Are the connections and connotations between the acting and the music what annoy us? Or is it the music itself? After listening to the above song, I'm going to say it's a mixture of both.
Some argue that Charlie Chan or Long Duk Dong have been the most damaging stereotypes to the Asian/-American community; however, I feel that the cheap "comic" relief provided by Mr. Yunioshi stands out as an extremely racist portrayal. In case my readers (hello, all!) haven't noticed, I tend to refrain from using the word "racist" to describe certain portrayals because I feel that it's a very strong word to use. Other portrayals I tend to use "stereotyped" or "wrong," and I think that most of those stereotypes are. They definitely have racist undertones, but it depends on whether the portrayal is (I think) a trying-to-be positive portrayal or not. Something may have racist undertones, but it may not be blatantly and negatively racist. If I apply the word "racist" to every portrayal I come across, it will lose it's meaning. That said, I think that Mr. Yunioshi is one of the most extremely racist caricatures - he's right up there with Fu Manchu. He has none of the "Oriental wisdom" that Charlie Chan (detested as he is) possesses. He is not polite or subservient to anyone (that could be a good thing, but then again, no). He is the perpetual foreigner - he has an awfully exaggerated accent and... dear lord the buck teeth. Everything about Mr. Yunioshi is just too much to handle. Makes me want to cry. So awful. He sends the message (loud and clear!) that this was an acceptable way to portray Asians - or, specifically, Japanese people. This was 1961 - you'd think people would have seen this as racist - but did they?? Apparently not! They considered this hysterical! Funny! Comic relief! Blatant racism!!!
If you fast-forward through every Mr. Yunioshi scene, it's a decent movie. It's just the awful stereotype that ruins it. Whoopee. 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Collagin' #10

Progress for progress' sake must be [pretty cool]," Dolores Umbridge.

Long Duk Dong

Everyone describes Sixteen Candles to be this great movie... Do they just happen to forget this guy? This depressingly shameful guy, riding on the coattails of every laughable Asian stereotype? A character so disgusting and offensive he cannot be listed as a son of Charlie Chan, categorized into a model minority section, or just filed away to be forgotten? 
Dear me, he's frightening.
Oh Lordy make it stop!!!
Long Duk Dong is every single negative Asian stereotype rolled into one and baked to perfection. He's got an accent. Gong noises mysteriously accompany him wherever he goes. He has a strange attraction to white girls but is found unattractive by most of them - he is horny yet emasculated by his obviously foreign horniness. Not a pretty combo. He doesn't know what quiche is. He uses a knife and fork like chopsticks. He unsuccessfully tries to pick up Sam, and ends up with a horsy jock girl named Lumberjack. He speaks in pidgin English and laughs. All the time. "Wang the Farmer" anyone? 

He gets raging drunk and passes out on his host family's lawn on his first night in America. Repulsive!

Something about Long Duk Dong is just not... very model minority. He's more of a model minority that has been corrupted by the American Teenage Dream. You know, the smoking, the binge drinking, the sex... You'd think it would be a good thing to see that sort of thing happening to an Asian person - look at the Asians, they can be freewheelin' and partying hard too! Only... This is painfully bad. This is bad for Asians. 

Oh good grief. It just got so much worse. 
Long Duk Dong (yes, yes, the name is a parody within itself) is a Chinese foreign exchange student who wears a kimono, screams "Banzai," and has a vaguely-sounding Vietnamese name. He's even got the funky hairdo that Asian Ken Doll was sporting. Pan-Asianism? Or is it just lumping those three types of Asians (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese) all into one? 

After Sixteen Candles, every Asian boy on the playground would be called "Donger" by the white kids, they would be asked to repeat the lines, "What's a-happening, hotstuff?" After Sixteen Candles, Asian men became the ultimate turn-off - quite a step away from whatever James Shigeta had previously shown in Crimson Kimono. The assumption became that Asian men were all looking for a large-breasted, horsy white woman and incapable of being a normal teen/human being. Long Duk Dong also perpetuates the Perpetual Foreigner stereotype. Gedde Watanabe was born here in the US, but for all you know, he could have been a dude John Hughes found in Asia and brought him over to do an awful slapstick role that would affect how Asian men would be seen forever... ever... ever... 
I just wonder how John Hughes, the voice of the underdogs, could create such a stereotypical character, especially during a time when Asian Americans were finally taking a stand and emerging as a recognized racial group. Sixteen Candles was made a mere two years after the murder of Vincent Chin, whose case became a rallying point for Asian American activists and the beginning of the pan-Asian movement. It was also made in the middle of a trade war between the US and Japan - and many members of the Asian American community felt that this performance and character only kept the negative stereotypes going. Is this something that perhaps John Hughes saw and wanted to recognize? Sure, he pulls out what can be seen as the "token" Asian in an all-white cast, but he makes sure that token Asian is a caricature - was he poking fun at all Asians, knowing full well that there is a very slim chance that anyone fits that stereotype at all? Was this how he saw all Asians, possibly having met none before? And above all, what did Gedde Watanabe think? 
Sixteen Candles would have been a fine and dandy movie if they had just cut these horrendous bits out. 
Cool Comic!
Interview with Gedde Watanabe by

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Most Painful Chan-isms

My goodness... So many...
Young brain, like grass, need dew of sleep.
Wise precaution to accept "applesauce" with large pinch of salt.
Wherever one is not, that is where heart is.
When searching for needle in haystack, haystack only sensible location.
What is to be is to be.
Unwise officer who eat apple not yet ripe get official tummy ache.
Two ears for every tongue.
Truth, like football - receive many kicks before reaching goal.
Trouble with modern children, they do not smart in right place.
To one who kill, life can suddenly become most precious.
Thoughts are like noble animal - unchecked, they run away causing painful smash-up.
There is old saying: "Good wife's place should be at mate's elbow in time of trouble."
Swelled head sometimes give police more cooperation than criminal mistake.
Sometimes very difficult to pick up pumpkin with one finger.
Smart fly keep out of gravy.
Shot in dark sometime find eye of bull.
Remember old saying: "Earthquake may shatter the rock, but sand upon which rock stood still right there in same old place."
Pretty girl, like lap dog, sometimes go mad.
Perfect case, like perfect doughnut, has hole.
Optimist only sees doughnut, pessimist sees hole.
Opinion like tea leaf in hot water - both need time for brewing.
One at a time is good fishing.
Ocean have many fish.
Most fortunate gift to be able to cross bridge to dwelling place of honorable ancestors before arriving.
Man yet to be born who can tell what woman will or will not do.
Man can more safely search for gold if world thinks he dig ditch. 
Journey of life like feather on stream - must continue with current.
In China, mahjong very simple; in America very complex - like modern life.
Honorable father once say, "Politeness golden key that open many doors." 
Hasty man could also drink tea with fork.
Hasty conclusion like toy balloon - easy blow up, easy pop.
Greetings at the end of journey like refreshing rain after long drought.
Fingerprints very valuable if detective can catch owner of fingers.
Every maybe has a wife called Maybe-Not.
Envelope, like skin of banana, must be removed to digest contents.
Do not need brass band to commit simple burglary.
Contents of safe are only secure so long as someone outside watching safe.
Charming company turn lowly sandwich into rich banquet.
Blond hair can be obtained from a bottle - or wigmaker.
A woman not made for heavy thinking, but should always decorate scene like blossom of plum.
Ancient ancestor once say, "As mind is fed with silent thought, so should body absorb its food."
Action speak louder than French.
But wait! There's more!!!!
Why are these so painful? Imagine them being said in a halting, "Oriental" (switcheroo of those "r"s and "l"s!) accent by a tipsy Swedish actor. Now imagine hearing some sort of aphorism like these every 20 minutes in any given Charlie Chan movie. Now imagine that you are an Asian kid on the playground, and some kid who is not Asian goes up to you screeching "Confucius say..." and then proceed to pelt you with even more senseless Chan-isms. Are you done imagining? Aside from the cultural connotations that these "proverbs" have, they're also just... stupid. And bad. And painful. The grammar. The analogies. I dare you to read them out loud and keep yourself from facepalming or gently beating your forehead against your desk. I dare you.