Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Hate Crimes & Humor

I woke up this morning and ignoring the growling roar that my stomach was making, I went to my favorite website of all time, Angry Asian Man, to see what was up in the Asian/Asian-American community. On one of the author's most recent postings, the Japanese American Citizens League demand an apology from the movie studio Paramount for the "Pearl Harbor" joke that was in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard which stars Jeremy Piven.

- - The movie is about a notorious used car salesman who takes on a big Fourth of July sale. During the scene in question, Jeremy Piven fires up his fellow salesmen with a pep talk, invoking World War II: "Don't get me started on Pearl Harbor. We are Americans and they are the enemy! Never again!"

The scene culminates with an angry mob beating up the only Asian American person in the room, Teddy Dang (played by Ken Jeong). Piven's character also uses the racial slur "Jap" in the scene and, acknowledging it was a hate crime, conspires with employees to say that Dang was attacking them with a "samurai sword" and "Chinese throwing stars." - -
(taken from Angry Asian Man)

When I first saw this scene in the restricted trailer before the movie came out, I wasn't quite sure whether I should laugh or not. While I found the joke to be somewhat humorous, there was a real ugly gut feeling that was forming in my stomach. It had a bitter taste that I couldn't shake off and I realized that after reading AngryAsianMan's post, I was feeling the hurt that I felt all those years ago for being 'different' along with the simple knowledge that hate crimes are incredibly difficult to joke about, let alone joke about at all. If the movie made a joke about lynching black people, would that be okay? Would that be acceptable? Certainly not and the black community would raise a huge voice to protest against it.

The joke that the Jeremy Piven character was referring to came from a real historical source, something I don't quite believe that it can be joked about. Back in WW2, Japanese Americans were heavily discriminated against and the fear and the paranoia eventually led to Franklin D. Roosevelt to pass Executive Order 9066, an act which forced all Japanese and Japanese-Americans on U.S. soil to be placed in internment camps across the nation. It was an act that singled an ethnic minority and treated them like second-class citizens because of their different racial background.

Can we laugh at one of the darkest moments in human history? And when we do, are we admitting that we as humans have evolved since then? Or are we laughing because we will always be ignorant and prejudiced against those who are different from us? Do we laugh because violence against those who are not us are justified? All these questions come into my head and all I can think of is Thien Mien Ly and Vincent Chin, two very real and ugly moments in American history where being ethnically Asian got you killed. All I can feel is concern everytime an ugly racial joke flies my way. All I can hope is that I won't explode into anger but rather I will treat the matter with firm grace and humor.

For the longest time, I felt the radical fire burning inside me, and the source of the fire comes from my grasp of my Asian American identity and my desire to help out the Asian American community through the performing arts, the flame spreads to all who are treated severely for being different. I remember when I read about the hate crimes that occurred to Muslims and anybody who "looked" like a Muslim after 9/11, my blood boils and tears start welling up in my eyes because to me, it is outrageous that a certain ethnic group should be targeted so senselessly for the act of few. It is not fair and it is not just fair and the passion grows within me each time, telling me that I must do something about this. I must yell, I must shout, I must rise up. In doing so, sometimes it'll make my friends and acquaintances look at me in confusion why I'm making so much ruckus and others will ask me to calm down and take a joke once in a while. I thought for some time that maybe I am a little too rowdy for my good but now I understand that I will not apologize for my behavior or my beliefs.

But I'm still blunt and rough-edged. I want to hone my passion into a cutting edge and that cutting edge will be wit and humor, the two things that I have most trouble with when I am in a high emotional state. I understand that if I want to do this, if I want to grow and evolve, I must encounter these stupid ignorant moments not with a frown, but with a smile on my face. A smile that is firm and unyielding, a smile that will make you feel stupid for even saying such a stupid thing in the first place.

I'm still so young and I still have so much to learn. I'm only beginning to understand myself in a social and historical context, and I must do so in order to not be so focused on myself and the harms that were done against me. I must be compassionate, understanding, and know that I am not faultless for being ignorant or prejudiced myself.

There is so much to do!

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