“Single Asians”: a harmless joke or a perpetuation of stereotypes?

On Monday morning I emailed this question and the “Single Asians” video out to the InSight panlist, wondering what the responses would be at the dinner meeting that night.

Obviously, racist jokes based on stereotypes are not cool; but how does this change, if at all, when those who are telling them are part of the satirized—or maybe more accurately, victimized—race? Our consensus was that regardless of the teller’s race, racist jokes are destructive because they perpetuate harmful stereotypes, the long-range effects of which cannot be controlled by the good-natured intentions of the teller. However, looking at the collection of comments under the YouTube and IvyGate posts of the video, the consensus seemed to be that racial self-parody is benign and humorous:

wow. it’s amusing how some people can take jokes so seriously.

whether you are asian or not, it’s supposed to be funny. they

are just making fun of the stereotypes that asians get everyday.

there really is nothing harmful about this. lighten up.

HELLO, it’s a JOKE. Are you familiar with the concept? I am

also a Yale Alum of color and I think this is *funny.* Lighten

UP people. Anyone remember ‘Mean Gays?’ Calm down,

Asians– you’re not the only ones who get poked fun at.
I wonder what bubble all the people offended by this video are
living in. For heavens sake Family Guy and The Simpsons are
more offensive than this on a regular basis! Bad dancing aside
(sorry girls) this is a well written parody by some smart girls
who are willing to poke fun at themselves and not take it too
seriously. Everybody needs to chill out and just appreciate it
for what it is.

(emphasis added)

My first reactions to these comments included the following:

*Of course Asians aren’t “the only ones who get poked fun at”; but that doesn’t mean that any group should be stereotyped!

*One “Yale Alum of color” does not have the authority to speak for everybody!

*Comparing this video to “Mean Gays”, “Family Guy” and “The Simpsons” doesn’t justify it!

*Just because these are “the stereotypes that Asians get everyday”, doesn’t mean they aren’t hurtful—being told that you are a nerd is not pleasant at all, and the image of Asians as overachievers has been used to justify everything from poor working conditions to underpayment!

But more subtly, I noticed that there was a lack of comment from those who found the video offensive, and understandably so: being told to “lighten up”, to “calm down” and to get out of your “bubble” isn’t exactly conducive to dialogue. At the risk of sounding like a killjoy “[un]familiar with the concept” of a joke, I’ll provide the other perspective.

I was offended by this video—not so much by its portrayal of Asian Americans per se, but rather by its demeaning portrayal of Asian American women. We have all heard of the Asian fetish, a term describing an attraction towards Asian women that reduces them to obedient and submissive sex objects. Although this so-called “Yellow Fever” may seem benign at first (perhaps a little creepy at most), it can have real, dangerous consequences: serial rapists have admitted to targeting Asian women precisely because they are see them as more compliant. Sallie Kim and Shannon Stockdale wrote in a 2005 YDN article of the trend in violent Asian fetish incidents on college campuses. Particularly shocking was their description of the abduction and rape of two Asian college women who were videotaped, and “told that if they told anybody what had happened, the videotapes would be sent to their fathers. The three white assailants admitted targeting Asian women precisely because they had a sexual fetish for ‘submissive’ Asian women, but also because they believed that this same submissiveness and cultural shame would prevent the women from reporting the assaults.”*

“Single Asians”—however inadvertently—is a part of the media that includes Family Guy and the Simpsons and that degrades and objectifies Asian women as “geisha[s] just for you”; and this not only leads to popular perceptions of Asian women as passive and docile but to real tragedy and harm. In light of this, the comment made by one viewer (which perhaps wouldn’t have been made on a non-Asian themed song) becomes rather upsetting:

    I’m both turned on and offended at the same time. I want
    an apology…and a date.

With all that said, I wish I knew the perspective of the producers of this video. I wish I knew for sure that it wasn’t meant to be offensive or to say that all Asian women are China dolls and geishas dedicated to bringing “honor to the famiry.” I wish I knew that they had intended to be funny and cute in its light-hearted spoof of “the stereotypes that Asians get everyday,” in the same way that the movies “Bend it Like Beckham” and “Bride & Prejudice” poke fun at stereotypes of South Asians. As one viewer pointed out:

I assumed not so much that it was a parody of Asians, but

more that it was making fun of people who think Asians are

like that. My Asian friends always get annoyed when people

assume that they’re into math and science, or that they’re

Chinese when they’re not.

Unfortunately, for every person who laughs at the video, understanding it to be a clever parody of a stereotype, there will be one person who doesn’t quite understand, and buys into the stereotype itself.

Kavita Mistry is president of InSight: Yale’s Asian American Women’s Forum and Chapter of NAPAWF

Further Reading:

*-http://www.yaledailynews.com/articles/view/14090?badlink=1

-http://www.colorq.org/articles/article.aspx?d=2005&x=deconstruct

-http://www.ivygateblog.com/2009/03/yale-group-releases-racy-or-ist-single-asians-video/

7 Responses to ““Single Asians”: a harmless joke or a perpetuation of stereotypes?”

  1. yaleaasa Says:

    We invite you to sit down with us for a dinner and conversation on Monday night, 8pm, at 275 Crown Street (Asian American Cultural Center). Whether you thought “Single Asians” was harmless, offensive, or funny, we cordially invite anyone who is interested in sitting down with fellow Yalies to iron out what it means for Yale and for ourselves when we perform, joke and use stereotypes.

    Dinner & Conversation: Delving into performance, jokes & stereotypes
    275 Crown Street, Asian American Cultural Center
    8pm, Monday March 30th

  2. Ming Says:

    I agree with the last point (and the entire post) — I personally found it funny, but only because I get the self-satire. There’s a fine line between that and inadvertently propagating stereotypes that is the reason for raising eyebrows, not just because people are sensitive or killjoys.

  3. Philip Shao Says:

    ‘precisely because they are see them as more compliant.’

    All your base, btw, are belong to us. :p

  4. Mari Says:

    You’re right, the Asian WOMEN thing was what bothered me about the video – I thought it was amusing, maybe not brilliant, but not over the a cappella line – until the bj references and the Yellow Fever bit. “Haha, I’m going to be an IRONIC sex kitten!” is a little too subtle for YouTube.

  5. ben Says:

    :)

  6. ben Says:

    :)

  7. Vince Delmonte Says:

    This is very up-to-date info. I think I’ll share it on Twitter.

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