Saturday, December 03, 2005

Do you know the legend of the Queen...?

'Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha, contractually obligated to speak only Japanese in public, even though it's rumored they're just plain old Americans and their English is just fine... she's swallowed a subversive youth culture in Japan and barfed up another image of submissive giggling Asian women'.--Mihi Ahn,

Once there was a young woman named Gwen vying for the title of Queen of Pop Music for her entire homeland. She had very little tangible musical talent, but a band of evil marketeers who were as dastardly as she was ambitious for the throne.

Her main competitors were not exactly musical geniuses either, but some of them at least seemed to have some charisma, singing ability, or physical attributes that would allow them to defeat her. But through some deep-soul searching (deep is relative--if your soul is shallow, "deep-soul searching" can be accomplished in the minute and a half after you finish putting on your clown make-up) she and her team were able to discover a legendary talent that existed deep within her--the ability to ingest culture and love and human accomplishment and vomit out stereotypical images. Now in the climate of her homeland, these stereotypes were currency that far surpassed the value of gold. From their pens, the kingdom's pork supply watched with bewilderment as the people of the land trampled over each other to lap up each new stereotype that Gwen spewed up from her strangely shape orifice at the center of her bizarrely adorned clown face.

Who says that fairy-tales never come true? But why is it that in this world, when they do, it always seems that people of color meet the fate of the wolf or the poor grandmother who did nothing wrong before she became wolf food?

Many have admired Ms. Stefani for her "respect" for Japanese culture. Did (white?) people's mommas never teach them what "respect" is? Respect is sitting down, understanding, empathizing and integrating others' experience into your own. Respect is not twisting up your face, buying some ministrels to decorate your acts according to your specifications and parodying something that other folks have spent their lives developing.

According to the's article, Stefani's management has expressly forbid the four Japanese girls who prance behind her from speaking English. If you must, inspect her website and you will find that they have been given names of "Music", "Love", "Baby" and "Angel", names that could not even be translations of Japanese names (with the exception of "Love"). They are represented in their profiles by pictures, not photographs, and their "profiles" are just the dictionary definitions for their English names. The clothes they wear are not really Harajuku fashion (which is beautiful) but sort of a weird hodge-podge of Lolita-esque clothing and adornment that matches their "owner's" tackiness. While the kanji in their profiles are correct, the whole thing has a weird jingoistic vibe to it echoing behind the blatant dehumanization.

Some defenders have said, that this is simply another case of those crazy minorities being hyper-sensitive. If she had some Irish backup dancers, would we complain? If they were all "Irish", would they have to sign a contract stating that they would have to be drunk 100% time on tour and they would not be allow to speak English, only Gaelic? Would they be forced to wear Frosted Lucky Charms adds and wear fake Leprechaun costumes? If so, I would protest that too--the issue is damaging stereotypes and respectless bastardization of culture, not just the ethnicity of the backup folks.

On some level, I appreciate the inclusion of a few yellow faces. But that is utterly trumped by the dehumanizing lack of respect that Gwen and her marketers have decided to use in their framing of the four. They basically figured out that they could market this no-talent fake-idol act by capitalizing on the current shallow trendiness of quasi-Japanese culture.

It's too bad, if her predecessor were here, he would likely bemoan her affect on American pop culture and ask for a re-do. With Queen Gwen, she seems very satisfied with her superpower and will not stop until every last man, woman and child in her kingdom have a pet oriental girl.

If you would like to learn more about some of the action to depose Gwen, check out this site.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Meeting a celebrity

Last weekend, my wife and I went to grab some milk from the corner store and on the way back to our place, passed a couple on the street. After we were a few yards past them, we both did a double-take and I said, "Isn't that her...?"

Liz's favorite show on TV is WTTW's "Check Please!" hosted by Alpana Singh. She really likes Singh because each show she brings together three Chicagoans from diverse backgrounds and moderates as they share and critique their experiences from each other's recommended restaurants. When things are going well, she fades into the background, but if she feels that one of the guests is dominating the conversation or saying something offensive, she gracefully and powerfully silences them. It's really fun to watch Liz enjoy the show--she becomes kind of giddy.

So anyway, she was sure it was Ms. Singh herself, so I told her, "You have to go get her autograph--you'll regret it later if you don't..." So once we patted ourselves down and found a pen and paper (A bank statement), Liz followed them into the corner coffee shop.

Ten minutes later, she emerges with a huge grin. "I got it!" she said, holding up the bank statement. "I asked her if she was Ms. Singh and told her how much I enjoyed the show! She seemed amused. After she signed the bank statement, she turned it over and read about my account activity!"

When we got home, I thought, "Could we have met anyone better today?" I mean, most of you are probably like, "Who the fuck is that anyway?" But I don't think I'd like to meet most of the people on TV. They seem pretty empty--I don't think it would really improve my life at all to invest any time talking to them. The person next to me on the train probably has more to teach me than Lindsay Lohan or James Denton.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Grey's heterosexual AM role

Last night's Grey's Anatomy finally debuted a heterosexual AM role. The completely uncompelling title character, Meredith Grey, brings home a South Asian guy from their regular bar. After their one-night stand, she kicks him out (as she has done for her past one night stand, including Patrick Dempsey). The guy Steve, played by Sunkrish Bala, later appears at the hospital, since he remembers that Meredith works there.

I got really nervous when it was revealed that he had an erectile dysfunctional problem and Dr. Bailey correctly implied that the most likely explanation was the abuse of penis pills.

But Steve stuck to his story and was ultimately vindicated--he was suffering from a tumor which caused his perpetual erection. Meredith's character treats him poorly--in her typical self-absorption, she is mortified that she has "broken his penis", and once he makes it through his ordeal, she does not pursue a relationship with him. After all, she's still stuck on Patrick Dempsey's married character. This isn't a knock on Steve's character, Meredith is just a self-absorbed ass whose self-pity blights the screen for a (thankfully) shrinking number of minutes each episode.

Sadly, this likely means that Bala will not be returning for future episodes. That's a shame, he was written and portrayed quite empathetically, written as a sexually competent male of Asian descent (a character rarer than unicorns on network TV) and got positive reviews on many of the show internet forums. Also, it should be noted that the character's name: "Steve Murphy" suggests that the role was written for any actor and a choice was made to cast a person of Asian descent in the role. Good stuff.

I'm thankful that the last two episodes have featured positive portrayals of men of Asian descent.
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