Friday, March 28, 2014

STEPHEN COLBERT'S CHARACTER SAID A BAD THING, AND NOW I HATE EVERYBODY

The longer I follow the Stephen Colbert situation, the more disheartening it seems. I'll get my opinion out of the way: Colbert's character is an oblivious right-wing jerk who thinks he's reasonable and charming, and I feel Colbert sustains that conceit brilliantly most of the time, and successfully skewers people who have a good skewer coming. But it can a delicate task playing an offensive boor without saying offensive things in a way that gives them the power they'd have if you actually believed them -- when I was growing up, I watched Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker on All in the Family get loud ovations for lines that were seemingly meant to offend, and it began to seem as if he'd evolved into the show's hero. But I don't see Colbert having jumped the shark that way.

The bit that's got people upset is, I suppose, close to the line:
... On Wednesday night Stephen Colbert made sport of Washington football team owner Dan Snyder and his plan to undercut criticism of the team name by founding an organization for the uplift of "original Americans." Colbert ran though all the reasons why this was funny, then called back to a skit from one of the show's first episodes, way back from the fall of 2005—a joke about the host being caught on a "live feed" playing a racist Asian stereotype (Ching Chong Ding Dong, from Guanduong), then not understanding why it was racist. Colbert would make amends with his new "Ching Chong Ding Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever." ...

Most of a day later, the official Twitter account of The Colbert Report tweeted a short version of the joke: "I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever." Bad move....
To me, it's not over the line -- it's an oblivious-about racism character mocking a real-life racist. But I'm a white guy. To Suey Park, who's Korean-American, it was over the line, hence the #CancelColbert Twitter storm. I simply don't know how this feels to her, or to other people it offended.

But I also think it's indisputable that Colbert was trying to drop the joke on the right side of the line. I think a campaign that calls for cancellation doesn't take his intentions into account, here and throughout the years he's done this character.

So I disagree with Park -- and I find this all exasperating, because the real person named Stephen Colbert is trying to be on the right side and American society is full of so damn many dangerous, malevolent, destructive bastards that this campaign seems wildly misdirected.

And yet the backlash to Park actually does reek of condescension. Here's Josh Zepps of Huffington Post, in the interview embedded below:
"No one's minimalizing your experiences. No one's minimalizing your right to have an opinion. It's just a stupid opinion.”





Here's Bob Cesca Chez Pazienza at the Daily Banter:
Zepps's bemused incredulity when facing off with Park, who's basically a human umbrage machine, almost makes this entire stupid "controversy"” worth it.

... And while it can be argued that Zepps was indeed somewhat condescending to Park during her interview, it wasn't because she’s a woman, or Asian, or even an activist -- it was because her #CancelColbert crusade is fucking stupid and doesn't deserve to be taken the least bit seriously.
I think Park misses the point when she says in the Zepps interview, "I really don't think that we're going to end racism by joking about it" -- I think humor actually does have a role to play in undermining bigotry -- but Park doesn't come off as someone who deserves smirky, condescending dismissal. Zepps not only calls her opinion "stupid," he talks over her, and mocks her for using the word "Orientalism" -- a real word used for decades to describe the exotification of Asia, a word she's familiar with and he isn't. She and I come down on didfferent sides of this, but she tries to hold to some dignity in this interview, and I respect that.

A couple of months ago, Park started another hashtag tend with #NotYourAsianSidekick -- which struck me as a worthwhile bit of consciousness-raising. She told a Washington Post interviewer this:
Even from the start of kindergarten, I was quickly racialized and made to understand that I was different based on what my mom packed for me in my lunch bag. On the playground other kids would pull their eyelids to their side and run around and chase me. I always thought to myself that someone must have taught them that. What kid would know to put their hands on their eyelids and make their eyes slanted? It’s not like they would look at an Asian girl for the first time if they never heard of Asians and do that. So it really proved to me that racism is taught.
Park is 23 years old. I'm 55, and part of the reason I'm amused by the Colbert joke is that he seems to be mocking not just racism but a dated style of racism, clung to by aging throwbacks. (The bit originated as an attack on some anti-Asian mockery by Rush Limbaugh, who's a decade older than I am, but whose cultural touchstones seem even older.) The eyelid pulling seems like something that should have gone out with Laugh-In's Polish jokes half a century ago. It's depressing that it continued into the childhood of someone who's only 23 now.

So I think Colbert should acknowledge the criticism, and I think he should get back to work. I absolutely don't want him off the air. But I also don't want Suey Park off the Internet. Chances are I'll agree with her next time.

11 comments:

Paul said...

FYI, it was Chez Pazienza, not Cesca. But wholeheartedly agree with you - and him.

Ernest Miller said...

Many of the attacks on Park are atrocious. It is very sad that many of those who disagree with her are condescending (or worse). But, Park is social media savvy and I believe that she was trolling. It is arguable whether Colbert crossed the line. Even if he did, however, it is clearly not a reason to cancel his show, such as for the reasons you mention in your post. But why #CancelColbert? #CancelColbert is alliterative, catchy and more likely to trend than #ApologizeColbert or #ColbertScrewedUp. It is also clearly meant to be inflammatory to Colbert fans. Park shouldn't be forced off the internet (#ProscribePark ?), but she should be called out on her trolling. If Colbert's bit offended, then let's discuss it reasonably. But, apparently, reasonableness doesn't get as many retweets and favorites.

Steve M. said...

Thnks, Paul. Fixed now.

Philo Vaihinger said...

"when I was growing up, I watched Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker on All in the Family get loud ovations for lines that were seemingly meant to offend, and it began to seem as if he'd evolved into the show's hero."

It was like that from the first day. For people who were Archie Bunker, the hero was Archie Bunker. For the rest of us it was the most biting satire and mockery of Archie and all like him.

Philo Vaihinger said...

Let me know when liberals stop saying "Pardon my French."

Then I'll take your anti-racism a bit more seriously,

Victor said...

Philo,
"Pardon my French," but fuck you, you condescending prick!

Victor said...

I thought Colbert's bit was spot-on, mocking Snyder and his Redskins team.

I can't speak for Ms. Park, so I won't. But I think I can understand why she thought it was over the line.

Being 1st generation Ukrainian-Russian, I've seen and heard more than my share of people doing bad Slavic accents, and mocking people like me.
Especially back at the height of The Cold War, when I was a kid, and young adult.

For instance, my late father hated, HATED, that Wendy's ad from about 25 years ago - or more - where they have this Slavic beauty pageant with overweight women - the famous "Svimvear" commercial.

I laughed my ass off the first time I saw it, but I could see how offensive it could seem to him, and my beautiful mother.

Colbert was mocking Snyder, and his indefensible team's name - Redskins.
And we all know the argument about Blackskins, Brownskins, Yellowskins, etc...

What truly was offensive, was NY's Senator Al D'Amato on Imus's show, back during the O.J. Simpson trial, mocking Judge Ito, with his bad impression of an Oriental accent.

Here's the difference:
Colbert is a brilliant comedian and satirist.
D'Amato was a sitting US Senator.

There is NO chance Colbert's show will be cancelled because of this.
He's a national treasure.

And, like you, Steve, I'm sure that I'll agree with Ms. Park most of the time, and hope she doesn't feel the need to be silenced, permanently.

nanute said...

In true conservative fashion, I think Colbert should just double down on this. Remember the outrage on the right when that Duck Dynasty dude was criticized for real life, not satirical, comments? Christ on a cracker, (no pun intended), these people are pathetic. And Phil, do you know how we say have a nice day in Italian? Va fanculo.

Jimi Henderix said...

Suey get over it. It was a comedy routine. It was one of the best take downs of the kind of racism you are against. You are wrong about comedy not being a deterrent to racism. One thing people like Limpballs can't stand is derision.

aimai said...

Its complicated. I agree with Steve that Park shouldn't be attacked for what she said and certainly shouldn't be condescended to. But the fact of the matter is that she is going after an ally when she could be going after real offenders. I think her problem is that anti asian bigotry is quite hidden, at this point, and so she has no clear public figures to go after (this goes to the trolling aspecto f what she is doing.)

Asians are considered a "model minority" by most public figures. The kind of overt Anti Asian stuff expressed by Limbaugh is not only old WWII and Vietnam era anti jap/gook orientalism but is also episodic in US cultural generally. That is: its revived as a touchstone when US/Chinese and US/Asian relations go bad in some obvious way--as when white workers become aware of jobs moving overseas and attack some asian guy because they "thought he was korean" or "thought he was japanese."

In reality most white Americans spend way more time vilifying and parodying African Americans, Muslim Americans, or whoever is the most proximate enemy of whiteness and power of the moment.

So I'd say that Park almost had to seize the moment, opportunistically, when Colbert alluded to white racism against asians because its actually quite hidden and quite rare in terms of its public expression.

I have no doubt that she experienced a caldera of anti asian stuff as a child. Hell, people with jewish children tell me that their children have experienced having coins thrown at them in the playground and all kinds of anti semitic crap to this day. It doesn't go back to Nazi antisemitism it goes straight to modern day evangelical cultural antisemitism. She's right that those kids are being taught this crap but it does bubble along just below the surface of adult interactions in school and playground. Its largely hidden from the view of teachers and other non racist parents.

michael joseph alexius palaia said...

Suey has no problem throwing around the term "white"... "white man, white mother, white liberals..." She makes her platform entirely about generalizing 'whiteness' as a means to ridicule racism. HELLO?! There is no difference between terming people "Redskins" or "Yellow" or "White". I don't know a single person who is WHITE, not even my Albino Asian niece is WHITE. If Suey wants to change the divisive and antagonistic jargon that perpetuates racism, she needs to eliminate the word "white" from her self-centered diatribes. #overher