So I was having a discussion about the Nivea ad and the “Re-civilize” yourself. To summarize it features an ad with an Black Male holding a mannequin head and hurling it into the distance. The Mannequin head looks like what a black male would look like if he had worn his hair naturally. There was an uproar at the ad because its presenting the idea that Black hair worn naturally is “Uncivilized”. Nivea Apologized and retracted the ad. There was a huge debate over whether or not people should be offended or not especially because they had run a similar ad but featured a White male holding a mannequin head. However that particular ad had the words “Being in Sin City is no excuse to look like Sin”. There was a friendly debate online with some friends and I and I came to a conclusion that the What male’s ad draws no connections to being civilized or not. I concluded that this is even more unacceptable due to the fact that even though there is a white male version of this ad, it does not draw the same mental connotations as the black male version. This is because white males and females do not have a history of being seen as “uncivilized and unacceptable” by wearing their hair naturally. We live in a country that constantly tells us that these traits are inferior whether its through television, magazines, or in the hair salon.
I’d love to elaborate but I have a feeling this entry is going to be pretty long so please bear with me ^^’. It brought up some questions from other people and myself how come there has been so much dialogue on this ad and none on the latest DirecTV commercials playing all over tv. Especially because it is featuring not only an Asian American but a Vietnamese american. (These discussions were happening between UVSA Midwest and UNAVSA folk)
For those of you who don’t know, the commercial features Dat Phan as a huge Casino “Whale” with a heavy “vietnamese” accent talking about how he gets everything bigger because of his status as being a “Big Whale” Here’s the link if you’d like to see it.
Dat Phan Direct TV “The Whale” commercial - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFDUOfRXP_k
It got me thinking, why haven’t we talked about this? Should we even? Is this a good or a bad thing…?
So when seeing this commercial for the first time I instantly though, oh look Ken Jeong knock off. cool. Then I found out it was Dat Phan and thought to myself, “have some self respect man. ” But why did I think like that? I then thought back to the first time I saw Ken Jeong in the Movie “The Hangover”. When he leaped out of the trunk of that car and started screaming and hitting the other actors with the crowbar I instantly did a palm to forehead. Great another Long Duk Dong I thought.
After the film I did some research on his background and found out that he was a Doctor and it was always his life long dreams to be an Actor. And that I could respect. I tabled the debate in my head whether or not his role in the Hangover would do more harm than good.
Well, as always when Hollywood sees that something sells, they beat it until its dead and here we are with Dat Phan. (For those of you who don’t know, Dat Phan is a pretty well known comedian and one of his more popular bits are when we uses an “asian accent” while speaking english, (often times broken).
When I see these characters in the mainstream this is what first comes to mind, “Great, Asian stereotypes again, now everyone is going to think that I speak english as a second language thus subliminally making me a second class citizen in the minds of anyone who thinks “If you live in american then you should learn how to speak AMERICAN.” And then I think, great now kids (that aren’t used to broken english) are going to think how my parents are speak english as comedic and they’ll never be able to take anything they say seriously.
So I don’t go on too many tangents this next portion is going to focus on the use of the “Fob” as a comedic tool. Now I do admit, I do laugh at some of the things my parents say when they say something incorrectly. (For instance this one time when my sister sneezed my dad said to her “Achee”. She just looked at him and was like “What’s Achee?” and then he responded with “You know, what you guys always say after you guys sneeze, Achee” My sister responds with “You mean Bless you???” It turns out he confused the words Achoo and Bless You.) But I justify this with the fact that I know to not pigeon hold people with these accents like the Majority might/may/have/has.
As i think about this question I’m still at an internal debate. My first reaction is if Asian American’s want to no longer be seen as a “token Asian Comic” then they have to move away from poking fun at the accent and what not. However I think to myself it is a way for them to stand apart from all the other comedians, using their “asian experience” to stand apart, so is it that bad?”
Not wanting to write such a long post and not offer a concise opinion I would have to conclude that at this moment in time, I believe that they should move away from that stereotype for these reasons.
1. There is not enough mainstream balance out there -I know that we’re making strives in a positive direction, Especially with the likes of John Cho and Harry Shum Jr, but I have a feeling that they aren’t nearly as memorable to the average consumer than these comedic portrayals are. We need a balance out there in the mainstream so that people know that this isn’t representative! And me being a male also think towards what the repercussions could be for myself an Asian American Male in the dating scene. I seriously don’t think that the likes of Long Duk Dong (16 candles), The Whale (DirecTV) and Leslie Chow (Hangover) had the girls going crazy. (MALE EMASCULATION!? Asian sexuality! ah I could go on forever.)
2. Neo-Yellow Face Ok, I just googled the term “Neo-Yellow Face” and it came back with only results for neon lights and what not so I guess i Just invented this term. But ok, you’re thinking, Neo-Yellow Face? What’s that? Well just Neo is the greek word for young, which turned into newos later on and then to New. So Neo=New. Yellow face? Well yellow face is the term used for when a Non Asian person, often times a white person, is cast for a role that is/should/supposed to be and asian person. Modern Examples; Dragon Ball Evolution, Avatar The Last Airbender, 21. And to go way back, back to the old school; Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charlie Chan, 16 Candles.
So Neo-Yellow Face is something similar to that. Its a different version of Yellow facing. Now this just dawned upon me so I might end up rethinking my opinion on this but isn’t what Dat Phan and Ken Jeong’s characters are doing similar to what Yellow facing is? They are portraying what “asian immigrants” or “asians speaking with broken english” are like, when they themselves are not. (I know that Dat was indeed born in Vietnam but he immigrated when he was a child and speaks english in a way that when first heard would not draw thoughts of a foreigner might sound like) I have some friends that have expressed to me personally that they hate it when our mutual friends “Do the asian accent” because they themselves are not fluent speakers and it makes them feel uncomfortable because it is in a comedic gesture, making fun of the way they speak. I’m not trying to take shots at anyone here, but if you are a person who does that, just think about it, would you appreciate it if someone made fun of how you spoke/dressed/acted/looked?
Ok, just to respond to some things that some people might be thinking.
“Just because they see it on TV. Doesn’t mean that they will stereotype you! or the rest of people! We live in the 21st century, people aren’t that dumb! Racism is basically over!”
Those statements may sound a little over the top, but I have heard the “Racism is basically over” comment very recently from a close friend of mine who is far left when it comes to American Politics. We do live in the 21st century, and blatant racism (active racism) I have found has been definitely taken the backburner in society but is still very much around. But i’ve found that Passive racism (socialized, institutionalized) racism is now what we really have to deal with. Things like “Where are really from?”, “Model Minority”, “You’re really good at BasketBall for an Asian!”. Stuff like that. So racism is not over.
I’ve had 2 instances in my life that people have questioned my english speaking skills. I’ll just tell you about one so that we keep this shorter.. I just moved to Minnesota, Was talking to the school counselor about what classes I should take. I chose choir over band :P. And at first I thought that would be the last question she was going to ask, but she slipped in one last question that would be a dagger and her undoing. ”Do you want to take ESL?” (English as a second Language). What blew my mind was that I’m pretty sure I was signed up for Honors English and that we had just spent the last 15 minutes conversing about my schedule in perfect english.
So ish does happen.
I understand that a brotha’s gotta do what a brotha’s gotta do to make ends meet. I am happy for those who are able to do what they love for a living and those who are able to fulfill their dreams. More power to you. However, I guess all i’m asking is next time you take a role that may exploit these stereotypes, or any stereotype, think to yourself what the repercussions could be not only for you, but the people who you know and love that may share similar features to yourself. Your friends, family, kid. If you believe that the pros outweigh the cons, than take it, its yours. But if not..
This post has been very much a downer for me, especially when I a couple articles about it, but one of those articles pointed to a new commercial by target featuring an Asian American Second Grade teacher not “accenting” her asian-ness but the fact that she’s a teacher. It definitely brought a smile to my face. One step at a time folks, one step at a time…
Second Grade Teacher Target Commercial - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glquKfXhLFo
(I read three articles before writing about this, one on JackFroot.com and two on Channel APA which directed me to the Target Commercial) Also, I think i’m very much in love with this teacher. SHE’S SO CUTE!