Racist or Ironic (Part 2)

by H.P.

(note: Yes, I’m a link-happy blogger. I scatter links throughout my blogs. Click away…)

Last week, I posted some clips from movies that had scenes of stereotypically Asian behavior and my question for each one was: Racist or Ironic?

Interestingly, most of the people who had responses e-mailed, facebooked or tweeted them directly to me as opposed to commenting on the site. I understand, too; the responses can generate such vitriol. So, I’m keeping opinions anonymous and continuing the experiment with Racist or Ironic, part 2.

Dude, Where’s My Car? – “And Then…”

When you break the scene down, you have a white man trying to convey a pretty simple message to an Asian (presumably Chinese) lady. The humor, here, lies in the fact that the Asian lady just can’t understand Ashton Kutcher’s desire to close off the order. Or can she? Maybe she’s just messing with him. It’s easy to say that the scene offensively relies on the funny accent to make it funny, but in my humble opinion, until Asian comedians stop using the funny accent to make white people laugh, we can’t really complain about the “And then” lady. Not to mention, director Danny Leiner went on to direct Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, a comedy that spoke to Asian Americans on a deeper level than skin color or accents. It spoke to me…but maybe it was the pot.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – “Knives meets Scott”

Maybe this isn’t fair, since this is a deleted scene. But I remember loving this scene in the book. In the movie, however, it stunts the kinetic pace of the film a tiny bit and was rightly excised. But racist? I actually got no responses for this scene, but I do know of a couple of people who found it supremely racist. I know of at least two people who find the idea of Michael Cera dating a Chinese girl racist, too. I feel like I’m making a jejune point by even saying this, but let’s not forget that the author of Scott Pilgrim is hapa, and drew a lot from his own experiences (The book uses far more Asian-Canadian references than the movie, even calling some people “fobby”). It’s tough to criticize someone for looking fondly on the differences between the experiences of their immigrant parents and their own American (or Canadian) lives. I vote for neither racist nor ironic.

Little Shop of Horrors – “Da Doo”

Yes, it’s the 60’s and we’re seeing three black girls named Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon walking the streets because they “went to school ’til 5th grade then they split.” This trio leads us into a flashback in which Seymour buys an alien plant from an old Chinese man named Chang (Da Doo!). And this plant, after having its first taste of blood, turns into a magical Negro voiced by Levi Stubbs.

I’m sorry, everyone. This is IRONIC. The names of the girls are based on girl groups from the 60’s, it’s set during the Civil Rights Movement, and it’s based on a tiny film directed by Roger Corman during a less than politically correct time. I actually find the movie quite politically correct in that the movie asks you to look back at the time and laugh. People have raised the interesting question of whether or not it’s the place of a white writer/director to make light of a sour era, and yes I understand how sensitive the subject is. But what is irony without a little bit of provocation?

The Goods – “Trailer”

What I find bothersome about this scene is that it’s ignorance in the guise of irony. After the ass-kicking, it’s called out that they just might have taken part in a hate crime. Now, I see where they’re going with this, but in the end, you still beat up an Asian guy for laughs. If you’re going to attempt to make a multi-faceted joke about race, you have to look at the legacy of racist humor and its effect on minority groups before you can callously say “Oh, you’re being too sensitive.” And if you’re going to make a joke ABOUT ignorance, be careful to not make ignorant jokes, yourself. Interestingly, the only people I know who dont’ find this joke racist are non-Asians.

The Adventures of Prescilla – “Filipino Ping Pong”

This chattering Tagalog harpy forced Bill Hunter into marriage during the war. When she speaks English, she speaks in a general “Asian whore” voice (“Me love you long time!”). When she speaks in Tagalog, she exaggerates her pronunciation to the point that it sounds like staccato jungle talk. I always get crap by calling this scene racist to my friends because, for some reason, gays love their Asian jokes, so I will say this: it’s not racist with a capital ‘R’, but it’s damn annoying when we’re trying to prove that our Filipino mothers were not prostitutes during the war.

Team America: World Police – “Ronery”

America! Fuck Yeah! Is this racist? Let’s look at this in context. The movie opens in Paris with a huge aerial shot that reveals Parisians to be nothing more than high fashion cheese eaters and mimes. The evil country is called Durka Durka Stan full of people throwing the word “jihad” around as if it were “dammit”. And at one point, the score has a wailing middle eastern voice (Trey Parker) to signify how foreign this land is. I call complete irony, and I find it funny as hell. The South Park guys may not be clear on their own actual politics (hell, they come across as downright nihilistic, at times), but you can never call their humor unsophisticated.

Bottle Rocket– “Kumar”

Remember when you loved Wes Anderson? Okay, maybe you never did, but I sure loved him. I used to say, “It’s nice to see one man’s vision…one man’s world.” And then you realize that this “one man’s world” is the world of a white hipster whose characters of color are nothing more than novelties – or collected brown baubles, devoid of actual character (and sometimes motivation). What’s the punchline for his characters of color? They’re characters of color. There you have it. It’s like the basic joke of “Vote for Pedro” from Napoleon Dynamite. So, I can still love Bottle Rocket, Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums. But by The Darjeeling Limited, I just had to shake my head and walk away. Not racist like Mr. Yunioshi, but still disappointing.

So, there. There’s Part 2 of Racist or Ironic. Comments and heated arguments are welcome.

7 responses to “Racist or Ironic (Part 2)

  1. theyellowperil

    First off, can “Racist or Ironic?” be a website? Viewers can vote like in Funny or Die, leave comments, etc. It’d be interesting data to gather on what people think!

    I’ve been thinking about the comment made about Dude, Where’s My Car –> “It’s easy to say that the scene offensively relies on the funny accent to make it funny, but in my humble opinion, until Asian comedians stop using the funny accent to make white people laugh, we can’t really complain about the ‘And then’ lady. ”

    It made me think of my own life and how I tell funny stories about my parents. I never do an accent when I impersonate them. This is mostly due to the fact that I’m terrible at accents, and am one of the few Vietnamese-Americans who can’t do a decent Vietnamese accent. Since I usually like to somehow justify my laziness/deficiencies as some sort of socially conscious act (for example: If I’m late, I justify it with saying punctuality being another oppressive American instution, but really I’m just flaky), I began to realize that my punchlines focused more on the ridiculous things my parents said/did, instead of having the accent be the focal point of the humor.

    Not to hate on those who use accents in jokes. They definitely can be funny. For me what I find humorous isn’t that they by nature sound funny, but how accurate the specific accent sounds. A general Asian accent? Fuck that shit, cuz each ethnicity has its own very distinct accent. Like Anjelah Johnson’s nail lady skit. She does one helluva Vietnamese accent (Hers rings more familiar to me than Dat Phan’s impressions surprisingly enough). It’s difficult with racially charged humor, the fine line of it being an insider joke and embracing a community when on the flip side someone else can laugh at the same joke as an outsider mocking/belittling another group.

    Sorry that this ranty comment is as long as a blog post!

    • I have to admit to using the accent when talking about my mother, too. I think it’s residual behavior from wanting to achieve an easy laugh. Although I think the real humor of the “shit my mom says” is in the actual crassness or harshness of her words, not the accent.

      And I am RIGHT THERE WITH YOU on Anjelah Johnson…but Dat Phan is super cute. I’d like to see him with some scruff and a few extra pounds. :)

      Yeah, I’m treading on thin ice with my new screenplay about a Filipino-American family. It can NOT be All-American Girl. I want it to be a comedy, and it’s so fun to make cultural jokes but I NEED to be careful about crossing the line into insensitive parody.

  2. I love both parts to Racism or Irony but I have to say that I disagree with the Team America part. Is it acceptable when everyone is hated equally? I have a problem with no-holds-barred comedians like Larry the Cable guy because they claim to equal opportunity offenders, but they really aren’t.

    Have Trey Parker and Matt Stone ever made fun of black people? No, they’ve only made fun of the racism around black people. But every other ethnicity? Oh, harsh lampoons. Team America is no different. You’re right in citing that they come across as nihilists because that movie certainly proves it.

    • But Trey Parker and Matt Stone DID and DO make fun of black people, both African AND African-American. They used to only make fun of the white man’s ignorance, but they did eventually start lampooning black people, too. Look up Starvin’ Marvin, the Somalian Pirates and the episode in which Stan’s father is on Wheel of Fortune.

  3. The funny thing is that I think this argument will never cease to stop or have closure. And what may be seen as “cheap” shots at a community might make some studio/network a shitload of money. When a community argues that they are not doing enough, said studio will have a “diversity” arm to “cultivate” new talent, but really serve to deflect (and quell guilt) from the collective consciousness of an ongoing problem. At the end of the day, their bottom line is to make money…

    The interesting things that HP talks about is the “accent” and how it relates to how Asian Ams are perceived. What if we did not have to compare that accent to the American accent, how would it be perceived. Only in reflection of the majority do we see that their is a superiority/inferiority. I remember taking acting classes in prepping for a film I did in Vietnam, and I secretly took some acting classes in an Asian American Acting Conversatory. One of the things we had to learn was Transatlantic accent. It kind of took me by surprise as I was already versed in the Queen’s English, but this took it to new levels. That is the standard in world of theater/acting. I just thought it so ironic that a bunch of Asian Am actors had to learn this accent only to be relegated to parts that HP talks about above…while the A-listers who have a team behind them can fail at doing accents and get all the best roles. Go figure…

    Different people will always have a differing views on the matter. What we, as media-makers, can do is create a text that is our own and put it out into the world.

    • Exactly. I love when people create the roles for themselves and others like them. While not my kind of movie, I commend Ice Cube for making dorky children’s movies in which he play a goofy role, knowing that most studios only see him as a gangster. Mind you, I think he’s much hotter when he’s in R-rated material, but I have to give it up to him for creating the role he always wanted to play. In doing so, he ended up creating a new role model for his own children in the face of archetypes and cultural insensitivity.

      I’ve been accused of being insensitive with the characters and/or dialogue in Fruit Fly. Why? Because I cater to stereotypes (both Asian and gay) and perpetuate antiquated notions. I didn’t think I did, yet I’ve been accused of doing so.

  4. Great blog and great discussion!!!

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