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Thursday, February 03, 2005

Another day in my inbox

I periodically get responses from people questioning the reviews I write for other sites, an angry or skeptical debater who wants to challenge the idea that APIA have valid concerns regarding their portrayals in the media. I got a particularly well-thought out and reasoned response this morning, so I decided to post it here:

Hello, I agree with what Asian Media Watch is doing, but you are pushing things a bit too far in some cases. You seem to be looking for ghosts that are not there. On one hand you are outraged by the lack of roles for Asians (and Latinos) but yet when a role comes by, that has any hint of stereotype you cry foul. Take for example your review of Sky Captain. You say things like since they did not allow Bi Ling's character to speak they robbed her of her opinion and made her an object. Look at the plot; she was an object, a machine. Perhaps they did not show her eyes because she was a MACHINE. You also say that the movie was a science fiction period piece set in the 1930s, and what was thought of Asians in the 30s does not jive with the current view. The thing is any movie not set in modern day, forces minorities to be looked at in a certain way, because that is actual history. Should black people cry foul every time a movie shows them as slaves or subservient, if in fact the movie was set in a time when they were? Look at Driving Miss Daisy; Morgan Freeman played a modern day slave, for lack of a better title, because that is what black people were at the time. You can not erase or change history, just because it was politically incorrect. Any piece that is true to the period it is set in and it is not set in a modern day politically correct environment, minorities will not be shown as the alpha males/females because that is not how it was. Take for example the Law and Order SUV episode that Asian Media Watch is so angry about. Are there some Asian Mail order brides? Yes, if you do not believe me check out www.mythaibride.com . Are there Asian gangsters? Yes, check the local news in New York regarding the buses that run from Boston to New York for a $10 fare. I think it is not if a stereotype is shown on TV but if it becomes the focus of the series. They show black and Latino people in a bad light on almost every law and order (except CI where they always make it crazy white guy, maybe white guys should get angry for being stereotyped as crazies). If every episode, or a majority, or even 2 episodes about Asians like this and I would agree you have a solid case. However, to show one episode that shows Asians in a bad light may just be reality. After all, no person, therefore no "race" of people is perfect and if a show shows that imperfection, is that not reality? You are really hurting your arguments by going after Meet the Fockers for the use of the term chink in the chain. You are crying wolf. Chink in the chain refers to a break in his family unit, no hidden meaning here. Chink in the chain is an older saying that the racial term. This chink in the chain comes from medieval times and the quality of chain mail armor. If the Ben Stiller character was Asian, then I would see your point and call for action, but that is not the case. As a comic writer, I understand the value in choosing words that have funny sounds, words with hard consonants sounds and matching sounds in one sentence get bigger laughs, hence the hard sound of CH used twice. There are no racial slurs even used. Crying wolf. I hope you read my letter and find the time to respond. (A Shocked Student) [name edited to keep this even more anonymous that even this guy intended]
Here is my response to Shocked student.
Dear Shocked Student, I appreciate your taking the time to write to me. Asian Media Watch is a great organization, and while I am a contributor to it, I do not rank among the executive members. My main contribution is to post movie reviews. If you're shocked by what I have to say about Sky Captain, I suggest you check out my Team American review. :) If you're concerned about AMW's other activities, I suggest you contact the president of the organization, Kai, whose contact can be found on the site. However, just being a member, I will try to address the concerns you've voiced fairly. >I agree with what Asian Media Watch is doing, but you are pushing things a bit too far in some cases. You seem to be looking for ghosts that are not there. On one hand you are outraged by the lack of roles for Asians (and Latinos) but yet when a role comes by, that has any hint of stereotype you cry foul. Absolutely. Representations of Asians (and Latinos) are way below national averages of those communities, but even an Asian face in a TV show won't necessarily provide the kinds of improvements that AMW and other politicized Asians are looking for. Consider it this way: underrepresented minorities are not simply looking to swell our numbers in Hollywood, the bottom line goal is to use media representations to improve or end negative stereotypes that affect ALL Asian Americans nationwide. Right now, Asian Americans on TV are a bare 1% or 2% of all characters, and yet those that ARE shown fulfill negative stereotypes that the average APIA must then face and dispell: Asian women as hypersexualized or subservient mutes, Asian men as desexualized or unidimensional criminal gangsters. Part of the reason these stereotypes persist is because of the simple absence of Asians in media, and part of the reason that these stereotypes persist is because those that ARE present perpetuate those stereotypes. >Take for example your review of Sky Captain. You say things like since they did not allow Bi Ling's character to speak they robbed her of her opinion and made her an object. Look at the plot; she was an object, a machine. Perhaps they did not show her eyes because she was a MACHINE. You also say that the movie was a science fiction period piece set in the 1930s, and what was thought of Asians in the 30s does not jive with the current view. The thing is any movie not set in modern day, forces minorities to be looked at in a certain way, because that is actual history. Well, if you read my review, you might have noticed that I actually did place Bai Ling's portrayal in the context of a period, or rather 'homage', piece. (A period piece would suggest that the movie was historically accurate if placed in a different time period, a 'homage' piece indicates that the movie was actually trying to emulate a certain genre, in this case the science fiction black and whites of the 30's and 40's). The Mysterious Woman, as an android absolutely does fit with the genre that the director was trying to emulate, but what I question is the appropriateness of resurrecting the depictions of minorities in a 'homage' genre into an era when such depictioins have a whole new racial meaning. Yes, Bai Ling as an android in a sci fi piece set in 30's and 40's would not have a voice, or might have had her eyes obscured, but what I argue is that Bai Ling AS a machine has a questionable symbolism in today's world, which basically I accuse the director of ignoring. Sure he was being true to a different genre, but it is irresponsible to believe that your characters will exist in a political bubble. More importantly, as the Mysterious Woman, Bai Ling was the perfect representation of what APIAs face in American Hollywood, particularly the fact that each and every negative stereotype that is perpetuated by the media is defended as cannon or ignored for what it is by the populace (even if they buy into the stereotype it reinforces). You, yourself, are trying to argue that Bai Ling, as an android, should not have a voice, but I ask you -- does that mean that thus mean I should disregard everything she helps perpetuate just what she represents fits into the genre of the movie she was in? > Should black people cry foul every time a movie shows them as slaves or subservient, if in fact the movie was set in > a time when they were? Look at Driving Miss Daisy; Morgan Freeman played a modern day slave, for lack of a better title, because that is what black people were at the time. I'm sure you are aware that many academics in African American studies point to the fact that Morgan Freeman won an Academy Award as a modern day house negro, that Halle Berry won an Academy Award for a hypersexualized 'jungle bunny' and that Denzel Washington won his first and thus-far only Academy Award playing the stereotypical 'angry black man' -- all unusual roles in their acting careers -- as an indication of Hollywood's institutional prejudices against the black community. Again, I ask, should minorities just roll over and be happy with anything white Hollywood offers us, or should we not strive for *better* roles as well as more? >You can not erase or change history, just because it was politically incorrect. Any piece that is true to the period it is set in and it is not set in a modern day politically correct environment, minorities will not be shown as the alpha males/females because that is not how it was. Absolutely, there's nothing wrong with making a period piece. In fact, I am upset that in the Patriot, Mel Gibson's character, a slaveowner, was anachronistically corrected to be some sort of owner of free slaves - an obvious attempt to rewrite the history of slavery. However, Sky Captain was not a period piece. If ths had been a true period piece, Bai Ling's character would have most likely been played by a white woman in yellowface. This was an homage piece. And while you can agree that a period or homage piece is true to what it is trying to emulate or resurrect, you can still question it being put into a modern day context. Driving Miss Daisy was good as far as being historically accurate, but you can question why of all of Mr. Freeman's many roles, he received accolades for that particular role -- in that case again we are taking his role and discussing not the justification of the role itself, but the role in a modern day racial climate. >Take for example the Law and Order SUV episode that Asian Media Watch is so angry about. Are there some Asian Mail order brides? Yes, if you do not believe me check out www.mythaibride.com. Are there Asian gangsters? Yes, check the local news in New York regarding the buses that run from Boston to New York for a $10 fare. I think it is not if a stereotype is shown on TV but if it becomes the focus of the series. I *am* a politicized Asian American. I *do* know my community. Absolutely, there are Asian mail order brides and there is an organized crime community (althoug nowhere near as present as modern media would like you to believe). These are other things that the politicized APIA community must deal with. What concerns AMW is not necessarily that these depictions are shown, but that these are pretty much the ONLY roles that are shown. The vast majority of characterizations of Asians are in this light -- positive depictions of APIAs are few and far between in modern media. >They show black and Latino people in a bad light on almost every law and order (except CI where they always make it crazy white guy, maybe white guys should get angry for being stereotyped as crazies). Yes, L&O isn't very kind to blacks either. And yes, this should piss the black community off, in my opinion. And white guys aren't being stereotyped as crazy because a) all the main characters are white, pretty much, and b) the bad guys usually aren't white, on that show. >If every episode, or a majority, or even 2 episodes about Asians like this and I would agree you have a solid case. However, to show one episode that shows Asians in a bad light may just be reality. After all, no person, therefore no "race" of people is perfect and if a show shows that imperfection, is that not reality? However, placed into the larger context of how often Asians are depicted at all, that one show represents a huge portion of when we are actually seen on TV. It may only seem like one episode to you, but that's because any time you turn the television on, you'll most likely see your people (and I don't know what race/ethnicity you are) somewhere on every channel. Asian Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are grossly underrepresented, so for these communities, one episode is a *very* big deal. >You are really hurting your arguments by going after Meet the Fockers for the use of the term chink in the chain. You are crying wolf. Chink in the chain refers to a break in his family unit, no hidden meaning here. Chink in the chain is an older saying that the racial term. This chink in the chain comes from medieval times and the quality of chain mail armor. If the Ben Stiller character was Asian, then I would see your point and call for action, but that is not the case. As a comic writer, I understand the value in choosing words that have funny sounds, words with hard consonants sounds and matching sounds in one sentence get bigger laughs, hence the hard sound of CH used twice. There are no racial slurs even used. Crying wolf. Interesting that you are a comic writer -- I did not know such an occupation existed. :) As far as 'chink in the chain', you have to place that into Ben Stiller's existing history against APIAs. He made the movie Dodgeball in which Asians were depicted as 'opium-drugged Chinamen' or something to that effect. Now, he places the word 'chink' in a prominent joke in the film 'Meet the Fockers'. Stiller *loves* double entendres, as the title of the movie implies. Chink in the chain has an innocent primary meaning, but is funny in part because of the titillating epithet that is evoked when you hear that word. The word 'niggardly', which means miserly, has etymologically no relation to the n-word, but it also usually raises a giggle or two because it sounds so much like a stigmatized word, that people try to get a little laugh at the idea that others might be shocked as a so-called 'innocent' word. Similarly, Stiller gets a raise out of you because the word sounds like a stigmatized word, but on the surface has an innocent meaning. >I hope you read my letter and find the time to respond. I did. I hope you don't mind that I anonymously reposted your thoughts on my blog, as well. Jenn
Still, it's nice when I'm getting comments like these, and not the oh-so-articulate responses like:
This is so far from the truth. While I am not racist and did take some offense to Team America, you have to realize that the movie was meant to be offensive, and it had to be offensive to EVERYONE in order not to seem biased.
That one I received as a comment to my Team American review, posted on Yellowworld.org.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sort of off-topic: I've been reading your reviews and wanted to comment on the review of Lost in Translation, which I thought was very insightful. One thing that critics of the movie perhaps don't realise is that the nutty TV personality (Matthew's Best Hit TV) is real. I've seen real episodes of his show (interesting, since I speak no Japanese) and he dresses and behaves exactly the way he does in Lost In Translation. If anything, he's more vulgar and over-the-top.

I agree the movie isn't unproblematic, and certainly one could criticise what it chooses to depict and not to depict...but Coppola didn't invent much, as far as I can tell.

2/07/2005 08:48:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

that's interesting, although i suspected that if he wasn't real, he was based upon a real personality. i've watched some japanese talk shows (they don't differ THAT much in content and format from Chnese talk shows) and remember experiencing a similar culture gap. :)

2/08/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

btw, thanks so much for the kind words about my reviews :)

2/08/2005 07:28:00 PM  
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