Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The powerful and privileged may ignore history and its lessons with impunity. For others, it is not wise to succumb to illusions.

(this title has nothing to do with the post)

this picture got some press from the always morally elevated but more aptly defined as those utilized and paid for by companies to sell products to their readership and consumers, aka the commercial media. the initial reaction was for many, i imagine and confess, one of shock if not a distinct level of outrage. in the vein of, "ah those goddamn spaniards, so backwards, homogeneous, they cant even understand the offense, or are they demasiado arrogant to care?" i thought that and all and then some, and then began thinking about it out loud as i relayed it to a friend. it was as if the verbalization opened up a different, i think deeper, way of understanding.

"ain't it only offensive if there's an implication that there's something wrong, or offensive about, having, or being as represented as having, slanted eyes? isn't there some imputation on the part of the viewer that's required to make the gesture disrespectful/distasteful? can a pure descriptive comment carry any value judgment?" i don't know, i think i'm with the fucking wannabe guineas on this one.

this is the most sensible thing i've read about the olympics thus far.


It wasn't always the case, but these days, in general, public funds spent on Olympic athletes constitute a subsidy for people who have had stable and carefully planned family upbringings, who enjoy inherent genetic advantages over the rest of us and who are likely to go on to success in life whether they win a medal or no. It's the next thing to eugenics, and it makes less sense.


yodler said...

well we are certainly hyper-race conscious in this country. sensitivities grown from national insecurities about our past. would it be as neutral to your friend if the spanish took a picture of themselves in blackface as a promotion for the atlanta games?

Sir Fantastic said...

My east asian buddy says the only two racist jokes that piss him off are making fun of the voice or the eyes. Think sensitivity towards the eyes stems from childhood, since it's one of the more obvious differences and doesn't take much creativity to point out. So kids do it. And maybe childhood insecurities are why it lingers. But that's just him. And I see your point. But the problem probably is that it's just not clever enough, and deep down, people are offended as comedians because there has to be more creative ways to distinguish East Asians from the civilized world.

Neena said...

One also has to wonder, are those angered completely innocent of the crime? Even Jesus hated the Romans, and Gandhi hated the British. Aren't those who hate prejudiced people, just prejudiced against prejudice?

P.S. I've been stalking your blog this summer...for that I'm sorry.

rananda said...

yodler -

blackface was used to a way for white actors to portray blacks as stereotypical caricatures in a demeaning manner. It was used a tool to depict blacks because blacks themselves weren't allowed onstage. or in voting booths, or property registers, or considered human etc. the slanted eyes, by themselves, should not carry that connotation. they only do if you think that there is inherently something wrong with slanted eyes. which of course is preposterous.

i think though not perfect, a more appropriate analogy, would be if american athletes had dressed themselves in dirty rags held pics and shovels and hammers, and ate plain rice and got sick and died in multitudes (as the chinese that worked on the railroads throughout america did a couple centuries ago). that, to me, would be offensive.

blackface, more than being a descriptive attempt, is a symbol of past racism and other sickening behavior. im not sure a symbol of slanted eyes, especially from a country that has not engaged in widespread oppression and subjugation of asian peoples (unlike our own beautiful country), carries with it that connotation.

if the olympics were held on the pine ridge native american reservation and the spanish athletes took a picture wearing native headdresses, would people be up in arms? no, because no sane person thinks there's anything negative shameful about wearing headdresses. i imagine if no one thought it was shameful or negative about having slanted eyes, we would have never heard of this picture.

rananda said...

josh - the eyes AND the voice??? that's like 80% of my stand-up act, what are you leaving me with here?

neena - well, in ghandi's defense, the british are pretty terrible. doesn't everyone hate the british?

Neena said...

Well, many people consider the British terrible, they exploited and stole from countless cultures, banned homosexuality in India and did many other horrible things; however, if not for the British, it's entirely possible that I'd currently be stuck in a Nambiar Tharavadu only to be used as a breeding machine.

Also regarding the Amerindian Headdress analogy, fault could easily be found with that as well. I doubt that according to custom, it's okay for just anyone to wear any type of headdress. It could easily be considered a violation of culture.

Regarding the reaction to the picture, I'm just wondering who was flabbergasted by it? The international media, or just the United States' media? If the latter, wouldn't it just be a case of American projected guilt? If the former, is it due the cultural dominance of the states? Or is it just due to a progressively cautious and politically attitude that has emerged since 9/11?

"ain't it only offensive if there's an implication that there's something wrong, or offensive about, having, or being as represented as having, slanted eyes?"

The current outrage might not be due to contemporary racist ideals but due to a sensitivity that has remained because of previous racist and scientific ideas. People tend to feel guilty for the sins of their ancestors.

yodler said...

rananda, i hear your response although i disagree on a couple fronts. first, blackface is a dead on analogy for all the reasons you cite. it may be slightly hyperbolic but good analogies often are. i don't know enough about the history of racism against asians in spain, although i would imagine it would not take much more than a few minutes to find poignant examples. i certainly don't know anything about the history of the spanish that would point particularly to racial tolerance. and more than a handful come to mind in the other direction...

the headdress example is an interesting one. but i have no doubt the world would be up in arms (arrowheads?) if the spanish basketball team took a picture in their uniforms with headdresses on to celebrate the olympics hosted by native americans. the offensiveness lays in the simplicity or reduction of the cultural connection to the host nation. we are going to china, look at our funny slanty eyes. we are going to a reservation, look at us with our silly headdresses. it removes nuance and individuality from the cultural experience the team would supposedly experience (should they be engaging in the host nation's culture, which is less than likely given the team's undoubted propensity for staying in the hotel, drinking, and taking more slanty-eyed pics).

the bigger question here may be whether the mere raising of the example of headdresses is as offensive as the spanish picture is itself.

rananda said...

yods - i think we're getting close to the heart of the issue.

we are going to china, look at our funny slanty eyes.

i certainly think that was the imputation on the part of the european and american media, and why the pic got so much press. but it must derive from an inherent assumption or belief that there is something funny about having slanted eyes. if you could never for the life of you imagine a world in which having slanted eyes is funny (tough to imagine for us, i know), there really isnt all that comment-worthy about the photo, except that spaniards are trying to look like chinese, and not coming particularly close. this helps explain why the chinese reaction itself was so muted. their response was basically, "so what." i think this has something to do with the fact they find it hard to believe that anyone would think it's silly or humiliating to be represented as having slanted eyes. save for a little british opium, almost all of china's victims and operators of oppression have had slanted eyes too.

and this is why the blackface example doesnt work. because black people in this country know full well that there damn sure was something wrong with being thought of as having black skin in this country. black people in this country have been discriminated against in this country for a long time on the basis of the very physical trait that blackface highlights. concentrating on the basis of that discrimination is the source of the offensive in conduct.

it removes nuance and individuality from the cultural experience the team would supposedly experience (should they be engaging in the host nation's culture, which is less than likely given the team's undoubted propensity for staying in the hotel, drinking, and taking more slanty-eyed pics).

notwithstanding the rampant and likely unsubstantiated speculation as to the conduct of the team, removing nuance and individuality from a specific culture, while a significant flaw in any serious discussion of peoples or cultures, is certainly not offensive per se, and is, in fact, the basis of some good comedy (and A LOT of terrible comedy). the website "stuff white people like" and its various offspring is a good example of comedy done well but that certainly deprives white people of nuance and individuality. on the other hand, the countless stand up routines of the ilk, "white people drive like this and black people drive like this," do the same thing but very poorly. neither is offensive in the eyes of a reasonable listener because the stereotypes are not consistent with or the basis of any historical political or economic or other oppression. blackface minstrel shows cannot make the same claim. robert downey jr. blackface in tropic thunder, apart from being brilliantly executed, is not offensive, because it has nothing to do with deprivations or demeanings of cultural legitimacy or propriety. the subject matter is frivolous as opposed to the real bases of differential treatment.

these things constantly change. imitations of gays as being effeminate and talking with a lisp, etc, 20 years ago are much more likely to be considered offensive than today, when the listener is less likely to equate a defect with it. context my good friend.