Monday, February 13, 2006

Open Letter to Shonda Rhimes

I originally wrote this and sent it to Ms. Rhimes, but unfortuately, it bounced back, so I guess she'll never see it. I've made a few revisions lately.

Dear Ms. Rhimes:

I hope I am not bothering you with this email. I want you to know that this is meant to be "fan mail" or maybe more accurately "friend mail", as I hope it comes across foremost as loving, and secondarily as a little bit critical.

Grey's Anatomy, when you are writing, has the finest writing of any show on TV. That's a big thing, but not what has impressed me the most. When I discuss this show with other people of color, it seems that it really reaches us in an empathic way. We feel that someone like us actually has fought and obtained a platform on prime time television. This might not be the best way to put it, but when Dr. Bailey is on-screen, I feel like a living, breathing woman of color is being portrayed. This sharply contrasts with the few other sightings of folks of color on mainstream TV where it often feels like a face of color is being paraded, but unempathetic writers are still pulling the puppet strings.

But that's not all. The character you and Chandra Wilson have created in Dr. Bailey is so powerful that she can't be "un-written" during the episodes that you are not writing. It almost feels like you are able to FORCE ethnic majority writers to empathize more when they are writing her character.

That's beautiful. I also love the feminist messages of the show, and as an Asian American, it is warming to see how three-dimensionally you have written Sandra Oh's award-winning "Dr. Yang" character.

Furthermore, your writing has only improved. The Super Bowl two-episode story was masterful in your ability to juggle eye-candy to attract the wider audience and still keep the profound human significance in the script. It was your best work yet.

But all of this is why it pains me so much to see the portrayals of Asian American men on your show. The main exception was the episode you wrote dealing with the Hmong family. On my blog, several Hmong posters and other Asian Americans discussed this episode. Most of us agreed that you must have done wealth of research to nail the writing so empathetically (even if there were a few inaccuracies).

However, when you weren't the main writer, there has been a subtle, yet consistent promotion of racist stereotypes and negative images of Asian American males. Most blatantly, there have been several times that fathers of Asian descent have been conspicuously absent (Dr. Yang's father or the father of the special needs teenager). While I understand the wealth of diversity in families, when the norm is the utter exclusion of Asian American father figures, that’s troubling. There have been a have dozen White Male/Asian Female couples. Individually, of course, this is no problem, but in the absence of any portrayals of health AM/WF or AF/AM relationships, this serves to exacerbate current racist/sexist stereotypes in our society.

This past episode featured a negative, stereotypical portrayal of a man of Japanese descent. The man callously mistranslates to the athlete his is coaching in the field of competitive eating. Meanwhile, the female character shoots down Dr. Karov’s flirtations, but is unable to communicate this because of her lack of English ability. Ultimately, she suffers the consequences of smiting this white knight and realizes the error of her ways, as she holds the Karov’s hand after the surgery. This is a classic racist/sexist plot message. In the end, the white knight, Dr. Karov has to be restrained from attacking the evil Asian man. This “good white guy/evil man of color/misguided woman of color who sees the error of her ways” plot is not only upsetting, but at this point practically formulaic for prime time television. I was physically sickened to see this portrayal.

I have tried to be patient about this and have encouraged my friends who have been more critical to do so as well. After all, we have such deep respect for what you have done with three-dimensional minority characters on the show.

But as the disparity of AF/WM couples piles up and some of the few male characters of Asian descent we get are extremely negative portrayals, it just makes begs the questions, "What about us? Why not attack stereotypes of Asian American males too?" The emasculation/fetishization of men and women of Asian descent is as pervasive in our media as the stereotypes of the violent, brutish African American male. These stereotypes attack us and deny us opportunities in our daily lives in the same way institutional prejudices hurt any ethnic minority group. They are strong, racist forces that we must resist at every opportunity, not aid with media portrayals.

Please, we really trust you and believe in both your writing ability and your sincere desire to write for a better society that strongly flows through this work. Is there any chance you might consider addressing this issue of portrayal in future episodes?

If it's not too much to suggest an idea, Dr. Karov seems to have been written (intentionally or unintentionally) with a strain of "Asian Fetish Syndrome". Perhaps it might be interesting to see him attempt to act on this (as he did in this week's episode), but be called out on it by either the woman he shows interest in or Dr. Yang's character and an educating moment on what "Asian Fetish Syndrome" is will result. In the end, the woman could be shown to be in a healthy relationship with her boyfriend or husband who happens to be of Asian descent.

Once again, I'm sorry if this is too critical or it seems like I'm trying to snatch the pen away from you. I deeply respect and thank you for creating my first favorite TV show (I've never really watched much TV before your show came along).

I have already taken too much of your time, but if you have any questions or feedback for me, please feel free to reach me at xianb8 at yahoo or (xxx) xxx-xxxx. Please keep on doing what you are doing.
much respect.

Washington Times Plagiarist

Washington Times reporter Eric Pfeiffer ripped quotes and analysis off of Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet.

The Daily Kos responds here.

This is a man who is paid to be a "journalist", and here is an article that he cobbled together without interviewing any of the sources. This is type of journalism that has people repeating news from "The Onion" as real.

The Times ran a lame-ass "correction" once informed of the improprieties. This is bullshit. You can't commit offenses, insincerely apologize when you get caught, and expect everything to be fine.

This guy ripped off other journalists so he didn't have to do any work or confirm anything he was writing and got caught. Now they want to run a "correction"? Please.

This guy needs to be peaced out immediately. Reach the Times online here. Or give them a call at (202) 636-3000.

I sent them an email about the situation:
Correction not enough:
I read Eric Pfeiffer's article on Obama and instantly recognized the similarities to my hometown paper, the Chicago Sun-Times. This is not just "a mistake", this is a guy who committed a major crime against the field of journalism and showed himself to be a negligent journalist. Running a correction is like me stealing a car, and then when caught saying, "I'll make a correction" and giving back what's left of the car.

Please terminate Mr. Pfeiffer immediately. He has committed a huge offense against the ethics of journalism.

Xian Barrett

Shonda Rhimes displays her mastery again

There are different ways to review a work. One is the Richard Roeper way. Basically, he walks into a movie showing with an expectation. He is entitled to that expectation. If the movie doesn't meet his perspective, he is disappointed and trashes the film.

His partner and possibly the greatest film critic living or that has ever lived, Roger Ebert, has the opposite approach--he gets into the film, asks what they were trying to do and then evaluates, "Given what they were trying to do, how was the writing? The acting? What did I learn from it?"

Grey's Anatomy's Super Bowl effort and its follow-up which ran last night, illuminate the joy you can find with the second approach.

This was a cheesy, over-the-top story--it was trying to attract the millions of extra viewers tuning in from the Super Bowl. It worked--according to Nielsen, between 30 million and 40 million folks tuned in.

What was most impressive was how Shonda Rhimes was able to write the gratuitous moments smoothly and effectively into the script. The Super Bowl episode opened with one of the most riduculous shower scenes in the history of media. At the end of last night's episode, Rhimes had not only justified that scene, but grown it into a tremendously emotional, powerful new shower scene that really put the earlier scene in its place.

As Meredith Grey's (Ellen Pompeo) best friends washed from her face the blood and bone of the man who saved her life, a look of realization washed over George O'Malley's (TR Knight) face. There were things in life far more important than foursomes with his beautiful intern colleagues.

Tonight's episode had an almost Japanese Drama-ish feel. Absent the "everything going on at once" quality of last week, Rhimes wrote a constant level of tension and just let her character try to love and survive in the midst of it. She held us viewers on the edge of climax for almost the entire hour and finally when we breathed a momentary sigh of relief delivered a blow that shook us to our core.

How many times do we hestitate in treating those around us how we ought to. How much do those little words of gratitude or love mean? Won't there be a day where we'll try to finally articulate those feelings and it will be too late?

Thank you Shonda, I was entertained. But I think I walked away understanding humanity a little bit more.
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