Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Using Asian Stereotypes for ‘Satire’? Here’s how not to do it.

Laura Beck of Jezebel recently posted an article commenting on how the anonymous Harvard student who wrote an article entitled, “5 People You’ll See at Pre-Reception Interviews,” just doesn’t seem to understand what satire looks like.  In particular, Beck takes issue with the following paragraph:

2. The Asian
You can always spot the Asian contingent at every pre-interview reception. They dress in the same way (satin blouse with high waisted pencil skirt for girls, suits with skinny ties for boys), talk in the same sort-of gushy, sort-of whiny manner, and have the same concentrations and sky-high GPAs. They’re practically indistinguishable from one another, but it’s okay. Soon, they will be looking at the same Excel spreadsheets and spend their lunch talking about their meaningful morning conversations with the helpdesk of Bloomberg. Uniqueness is overrated when you make six-figure salaries.

The point raised by Beck, which I largely agree with, is how the aforementioned paragraph is problematic because it is both racist and just not very funny.  In fact, I’m not sure what’s worse: the tired stereotypes being presented or the fact that reading such so-called satire elicits, well, boredom. As Beck notes, you can express the same sentiments by compressing the arguments into one sentence talking about how all Asians look alike and act the same. 

If you’re going to go there, then do it in the style of Margaret Cho or Russell Peters, with enough self-awareness to make larger social and political points.  I’d even suggest that Christopher Toy’s “Just Because” video, which mildly pokes fun of the trend of White guys going out with Asian girls to the detriment of Asian guys while also presenting tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of Asian guys, is funnier and smarter than the passage above.  Why?  Well, it refers to and cheekily denounces a social trend everyone in North America recognizes by presenting lines such as the following: “You are the best thing that’s ever happened to me…I love you more than I love rice and kimchi…at times I may be timid, at times I may be shy…but just because I’m not a white guy doesn’t mean I’m not the right guy.”

In other words, comics and satirists shouldn’t half-ass it with pathetic, tired tropes of Asians liking Excel spreadsheets and speaking with gushy and whiny voices.  This is similar to making jokes about how women can’t drive or about how blondes are dumb – both jokes are lazy and when comics use them, it shows that they’re not reaching deep enough into their comedic arsenals to think of more creative ways to bring out the funnies.  


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