Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Asian Girlz Update - The Problem with Poking Fun at Racism in North America

Oh man, I thought I was done talking about this . . .

So this was a thing..
Here's an interesting bit of news: Day Above Ground pulled their music video "Asian Girlz" from their Youtube channel and the Internet at large, which is why it can no longer be seen at a the link I provided. Another bit of interesting stuff is this Q&A with the band that Angry Asian Man posted on his Facebook page, available here -> http://www.huffingtonpost.com/derrick-clifton/asian-girlz-day-above-ground_b_3705655.htm

Read it! It's actually kind of interesting, because as Angry Asian Man states, it seems that they haven't learned ANYTHING! Seriously, WTF, guys??

So in my last post I surmised that these guys had to be ignorant of history and culture, stupid, or actually racist and sexist to make such a video. It turns out it was mostly the second one (and possibly all of the above), at least based on what was said in the Q&A. Incidentally, I was more or less right about the intention of this video as well. It was intended to be a parody of Asian fetishes, which is apparently why they used lyrics that were so over-the-top. They thought that everyone would realize how ridiculous the whole thing was and be in on the joke. It's all good, they were just kidding around--those rascals! Oh, wait, what's that? It's still poorly conceived and horribly offensive? WHO KNEW!? *face palm*

Okay, so I can kind of understand the reasoning behind the comedy because I too think exaggeration and going over the top in certain scenarios can be pretty funny. But these scenarios do not include RACISM. Racism is not a funny topic. Remember when Michael Richards (the comedian who played Kramer on the TV show Seinfeld) inadvertently killed his stand-up career by addressing a group of black audience members as "niggers" when they were making too much noise one fateful evening at the famous venue Laugh Factory? He tried to cover it up as part of his routine and then got booed off the stage. The reaction of audience members to that incident can be likened to the reaction netizens had to "Asian Girlz." Maybe Richards isn't a racist person, but the fact remains that he used racist slurs and deeply offended members of his audience; at that moment he was being racist because he was using racist language. In the Q&A Day Above Ground claims the song is not racist because "none of the band members are racist."Guess what, guys, we didn't know that, and how the hell could we? IT WAS YOUR DEBUT SINGLE!

But even so, the lyrics of "Asian Girlz" are racist; therefore it is a racist song. Believe it or not, racism does not exist only in attitude. It also exists in language, which is made even more problematic when there is little or no prior social context for that mode of language. For example, if I walk up to a group of total strangers on the street who happen to be of East Asian ethnicity and say, "Hey, chinks, do any of you japs or charlies have the time?" HOW THE HELL DO YOU THINK THEY'RE GOING TO REACT!? "Oh, you are a random white guy whom we've only just met, yet it is obvious to us that you are not an actual racist white person because your combination of racial slurs is just so ridiculous that we can't help but think you are using them in jest! How novel!" That's totally how it would go down, right?! WRONG.

Another testament to the group's lack of social awareness is this precious excerpt from the Q&A . . .  (DC is the reporter, JA is the front man of the band).

DC: Could you define what racism means to you?
JA: No comment on that one.
(Joe continues after a pause)
It didn't come from a place of hatred. Racism is seeing people for what they are on the outside and not what they are on the inside. It didn't come from a place of hatred. It's satirical. The lyrics are all satirical.
Say it with me, class: RACISM DOES NOT COME FROM HATRED. IT COMES FROM IGNORANCE. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HATE SOMEONE BECAUSE OF THEIR RACE IN ORDER TO BE RACIST.

Yes, there is such a thing as racial prejudice--a.k.a. hating on people because of their race--but this is only one, very specific and very overt form of racism. I think that's all I need to say on that topic for now.

One of the final points that is implied in the Q&A is that "Asian Girlz" was meant to be art, to be rock 'n' roll, to be edgy and controversial and an in-your-face example of free speech, but also satirical and therefore harmless. It's meant to make fun of the Asian fetish, to cast a new light, to celebrate Asian females and the band's relationship with them (according to the group). I have no problem with that idea, but unfortunately, according to the lyrics, what they're saying is that their relationships with Asian women consist of objectifying them, relating them to objects such as food and other miscellaneous paraphernalia, and using them as sex objects. Great job, guys. Believe it or not, this isn't even the biggest problem here, in my opinion.

For those of you who didn't read my "Do I Have an Asian Fetish?" posts, let me just reiterate that the Asian fetish stems from racism and is in no uncertain terms a currently existing, rather common form of racism. How many classic mainstream rock 'n' roll acts have written famous songs in which they poke fun at racism? Not many, right? As I previously stated, racism is not funny. Racism and its various manifestations make people feel frustrated, oppressed, scared, angry, isolated, alienated, and overall unhappy. I remember I got hated on in downtown Toronto for being a white person a few years ago, by some fanatical religious group that I can't remember the name of, and it made me feel frustrated and angry because they were making assumptions about me based on something I had no control over. Later I felt better because I knew their ideas were widely unpopular, but I can imagine that what I felt then was a minuscule--nay, an infinitesimally small--taste of the feelings of those who must deal with racism on a near daily basis, such as (you guessed it!) Asian women in North America. When you make fun of an issue that affects these people, you trivialize it; you take something that affects individuals in a negative way, some very deeply, and turn it into a joke. When you do that, a lot of people are going to get pissed off at you.

Some of you might be thinking this extremely specific thought: "But wait a second, Alex! In the comedy blockbuster Tropic Thunder Robert Downey Jr's character was satirically wearing blackface and everyone had a big laugh! How is 'Asian Girlz' any different?" To you I ask the following question: Have you seen anyone in the past decade appear in a mainstream Hollywood production portraying a black man by using blackface in earnest? No, you haven't. That is because such a film would be universally panned by critics and those responsible for its production subjected to media waterboarding. No one in popular media wears blackface anymore, as the results would be catastrophic. But East Asian women are still commonly objectified, fetishized, and stereotyped. Do you see what I'm getting at? A BAD THING IS HAPPENING AS WE SPEAK, AND YOU ARE MAKING FUN OF IT. Not very tactful, gents.

So in conclusion I have to say that "Asian Girlz" was and is a VERY poorly conceived product. While I don't believe for a second that Day Above Ground is a bunch of raging xenophobes, I can certainly say they come across to me as being pretty damned stupid. I love comedy, I love satire, I love things that challenge the way we look at the world. Unfortunately there was nothing in "Asian Girlz" to indicate it was meant to be a satire, no disclaimer that informed viewers it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. Hence it came across as a song that was about "we like Asian girls 'cause they're Asian and we like to have sex with them too." But I must also say that even if there had been some obvious indication, it was pretty poor satire to begin with. Listing a bunch of stereotypes, sexual innuendos, and superficial Asian cultural cues rates pretty poorly on the creativity and wit scale.

You know what would have been better? How about a song about a bunch of guys who hook up with Asian women thinking they're gonna be all [insert stereotype here] but then find out that they're all [insert unexpected reality here]. That could have been pretty damned funny, creative, and not offensive! Hell, if you'd done that you might even be getting props from the online Asian-American community instead of being flamed by them. Just saying. I'm surprised no one during the making of this had the good sense to say, "Maybe this might upset some people." Regardless, Day Above Ground, for all I know you could be good guys, but you didn't think this through and you ended up doing something stupid. You dropped the ball, so what should you do? Try to understand why people are so angry about all this and apologize. Show people that you're not a bunch of idiots. Sadly, if this Q&A is any indication, I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Anyway, I think I've said more than enough on this topic for now. Join me next time for . . . something else.


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