Last night, in the first return episode after a three-week hiatus, Colbert Report dedicated an entire segment to the recent controversy over Bill O’Reilly’s anti-Asian and anti-Hawaiian comments on the O’Reilly Factor last week.
Just to recap, O’Reilly remarked on-air that Asians aren’t naturally inclined to be liberal because we are generally “industrious and hard-working”, and that therefore it’s surprising that Hawaii and its high Asian population is home to rampant crime and drug addiction. Oh, yeah. He said that.
In typical satirical Colbert Report fashion, Stephen Colbert summarized the controversy in a monologue that contained a flurry of racialized (and generally schoolyard) puns and jokes. The segment ends with Colbert learning from his lawyers that stereotypes, even “compliments”, are insensitive. Check it out (fast forward to 1:48):
Now, I obviously appreciate the sentiment of the segment, and for the most part thought it was a positive take on the controversy. It emphasized the point that “complimentary” stereotypes are still racist stereotypes, and that Bill O’Reilly is a jackass.
However, I also felt uncomfortable watching the segment. Peppered into the segment were some random puns and racialized humour targeting Asians. And while the segment was building to the larger point, the audience laughter felt less like they were in on Colbert’s joke, and more a “hahaha – Asians eat chop suey!” kind of reaction.
And herein lies the danger in dealing with racial topics in a comedic or parody fashion. I am reminded of Tarentino films like Kill Bill and Django Unchained (which my boyfriend has written a larger piece on in Facebook in which he addresses this subject). These films involve revenge fantasies that target specific racial minorities (and in the case of the latter, slavery); how these subject matters are being reacted to by an audience, within whom racial prejudices are ingrained, is relevant. In Kill Bill, is the audience reveling in Uma Thurman and her sword, or the visuals of a thousand Asian people getting cut to bits? In Gran Turino, when the audience laughs at Clint Eastwood, are they laughing at his ubiqutious use of the word “gook” and “zipperhead” or at it? Hell, is there anything funny about a White man calling a person of colour an epithet, ever?
I appreciate that Colbert Report dealt with Bill O’Reilly and his anti-Asian comments. I appreciate the message of his segment. But, “chop suey”? Really?