I've never watched an entire episode of The Colbert Report until this whole thing came to life yesterday. I already have a cynical view on politics as it is, and a liberal playing a conservative in a meta-show just doesn't really hold much interest for me.
However, I felt compelled to say something about the whole issue even though I'm still working on several posts that are more dear to my heart because I think a lot of points were missed in the whole melee. I've also given myself a day or so to process and digest, to prevent myself from making the same kind of instinctive reactions as other sources have raced to be the first to say something about it. Here are some of my thoughts on the issue.
1. Knee-jerk offensive responses don't create dialog, they just create social media wars.
When Suey Park decided to start the whole episode with a "fuck you" there's no mistake that she was gearing for a controversial outcome. Her hashtag, #cancelcolbert, is equally almost clickbait-y, basically calling for an extreme measure to rectify an observed slight.
When a network, Colbert or even Colbert's supporters see this, what are the chances that they will want to engage in a productive, intellectual dialog? They see this for what it is, a full frontal attack on their show and their content, and they will respond as such, on the defensive. And of course while the trolls who came out of the woodwork to hurl insults and such at Suey are not excusable, knowing that such trolls exist on the internet was it really surprising that her campaign wouldn't be met with such ire?
Suey Park calls herself a fan of the show prior to the incident. If that were true, she would've known that the Ching Chong Ding Dong character and others like it was a pre-existing character and would've commented on it a long time ago. I think it's a bit laziness when she says she wouldn't have gotten the amount of attention if she didn't use such extreme language to start the topic trending, but perhaps the issue doesn't deserve the attention it has gotten. If she took a breath, and dug deeper, she might realize that Colbert is someone on our side, and although his comments could still be offensive, maybe there's a better way to approach it.
2. Stephen Colbert is on our side.
There is a segment where Stephen Colbert rips into Rush Limbaugh for his Chinese impression in 2011, and uses the same segment to satirize his comments. Rush Limbaugh, an actual conservative talk radio host, rants in an unintelligible tirade imitating the Chinese president in an attempt to mock and berate an entire language. Colbert takes the time to make fun of Rush as well as call to attention the way Asians are stereotyped.
It's clear that Colbert's agenda is to make fun of people that are racist in nature, as is evidenced by the point he is trying to make with the Redskins idea. So where does he go wrong?
3. The Ching Chong Ding Dong character as satire is highly confusing, especially in comparison to some of his other caricatures.
When I first saw the tweet, I was like, "Hmmm, let's see the footage to get what everyone's talking about." As someone who's reasonably intelligent and actually makes and appreciates satirical content, I believe that I could "get it".
I saw the clip about the Redskins, which was well done, and then it went into the whole CCDD bit. I remember when I first watched it through I thought, "So he's comparing the racism of Redskins with the racism of this character, but the connection is a bit lost and executed somewhat poorly." But then again, I thought to myself, ok, let's give ol Stephen the benefit of the doubt, for those who claim you have to watch 9 years of his show to understand. So I did a bit of research on CCDD.
I've searched for clips of CCDD, and the 2005 segment where he randomly grabs some tea and does a 10-15 second bit is the only one I could find. Before and after his impression, he's Stephen Colbert as Stephen Colbert, so it's not really clear that he's doing an impression or if he's doing it as a character. He out-metas himself in a way that is confusing to me, someone who's taken in and analyzed Asian American portrayals in the media for a long time. There are still many in America (the UCLA student in Asians in the library, the Indiana kid in "Why I'd Hate to be Asian" video and the Duke Kappa Sig racially themed fraternity party, etc.) who actually view Asians in this CCDD light, so for them I can imagine that they wouldn't "get it" as the joke was originally intended.
Colbert has another character he plays, Esteban Colberto. During these segments, it's easier to tell he's playing another type of character, where Colbert actually has a back and forth with him and it's clear that even Colbert thinks he's ridiculous. The segments are executed a lot better because it's a lot less meta and random and you can see that Colbert is laughing at racism.
The CCDD character is a somewhat lazy thrown in segment that if used, should be developed a lot better to hit home and make sense. Otherwise, Colbert really needs to retire this shtick because it just doesn't work comedically and/or satirically. And in my comedic opinion it doesn't really even add to the points he made against the Redskins owner previously in the segment. The fact that he has to explain the character on his show itself in this segment:
proves that it doesn't really work. Good comedy should be able to stand on itself without 'splainin.
4. Racism against Asians is a lot more nuanced than other races.
The most explicit racism in America has been and still is against African Americans. The history of blacks in America have been from being slaves, to being lynch mobbed, to being segregated, to being racially profiled. There has been progress in American history, but to this day the racism against blacks is easy to understand and catalog. Other races like Hispanics and Native Americans have suffered just as much racism as well.
Asians on the exterior seem immune to such racism, they appear socially and economically to be doing just as well if not better than their white counterparts, but there exists this permeating other-ness about Asians within America society. In my mind, I almost see racial hierarchy in America as this hypothetical totem pole, with white on the top and appropriate races populating the bottom, but with Asians almost as a completely separate entity. It's as if the other races, while discriminated against and considered inferior at some level, are still American, but Asians don't possess this intrinsic quality of Americanness and are "other". In other words, it's as if we know its wrong to be racist against other races because they're underprivileged, but Asians should be able to take it since they're "privileged".
But the truth is that racism against Asians is very insidious. More Asians are bullied in America than any other race. Names like Vincent Chin and Danny Chen instantly come to mind about the tangible and tragic effects of racism that essentially treats Asians as outsiders. I believe that there's a permeating but unstated view that it's wrong to kick other minorities to the curb because they've already suffered, but that Asians haven't earned that initiation in order to be included in the overall general American society. In this view, Asians are just coming into America uninvited and taking opportunities away from true Americans. It's more ok to say racist things against Asians because "Really, what have they gone through? It's not like they're actually suffering actual racism. They should just lighten up and take the joke, they're just being overly sensitive."
Imagine if Colbert did Blackface and had some sort of character named DeShawn Johnson with the "Negro Foundation for Sensitivity to Niggers or Whatever". The outrage would shatter not only twitter, but every imaginable media outlet. Colbert would be forced to retract his statement, no matter how satirical it would appear. And case in point if this article:
had the title, "Niggers Don't Get Redskins Joke" to tell blacks to calm down, you sure as hell would have a shitstorm on your hands. Yes, I understand that the title is supposed to be satirical itself, but again it doesn't work.
5. As an Asian American community, we need to stop being so butthurt and reactive all the time.
There is a bit of offhandedness when it comes to racism against Asians for sure, but that doesn't mean that we should be incensed at every small things that come our way and start a full frontal offensive and gather the troops for something as small as an out of context tweet. I feel that a lot of Asian American outlets almost scour the internet and search for any little way Asians are discriminated against and put them on full blast, giving every little offense equal weight.
It also doesn't serve our cause at all and doesn't create effective dialog when you go on blast and do what the racists do, make it an "us vs. them" campaign. Suey Park was on record saying that white liberals don't get it, white men don't know what they're talking about, etc. It doesn't help anyone when you start attacking the people you want to start a conversation with. The problem is you alienate the people you're trying to educate,; the situation is exacerbated and distance is created preventing any sort of peaceful and thoughtful resolution.
All of this adds up. Pretty soon we become the race that everyone rolls their eyes at like the boy who cried wolf. We need to save our collective ammo for the issues that actually matter, the Vincent Chins and Danny Chens of the world, the policies of reverse affirmative action in California, immigration law and the undocumented, etc.
This is not to say that the Colbert segment may not have needed some dialog to begin with. I think understanding and breakthrough needs to be made to prevent that kind of scenario again, but I don't think the response was befitting of the episode. I think everyone can learn to work through the racism that exists and the underlying factors that caused this battle, but that can't be achieved when we take the offensive on the people who are generally for us, not against us.