links for 2007-04-26

HBO’s “Sopranos” and the VT Massacre

by guest contributor Jenn Fang, originally published on Reappropriate

(Hat-tip to reader A.) Last night on HBO’s Sopranos, an episode entitled “Remember When” aired in which the character of Junior Soprano, who has been institutionalized, befriends a young, mentally-ill Asian American man named Carter Chong, and played by Ken Leung (Quill in X-Men: The Last Stand).

According to the Wikipedia write-up of this episode, Carter ultimately feels betrayed by Junior when Junior decides to take his meds, and attacks him.

In A.’s email, he writes:

The internet is already abuzz with the fact that last night’s episode of HBO’s “The Sopranos” featured a young, mentally disturbed Asian male with violent tendencies. People are drawing all sorts of ignorant “parallels” to the Virginia Tech massacre, all weighted on the fact that the character was an Asian male. If it had been a white male or a black male, of course there would be no such “comparisons” made.

Keep an eye on this story. The episode was written and filmed six months ago, and I guess the broadcast timing is unfortunately coincidental ONLY if the viewer connects ALL Asian males with ONE violent Asian male they’ve seen in the news. A lot of ignorance and racism is coming out from many just because of this one episode. Let’s address this.

Of course, this character has nothing to do with the Virginia Tech massacre last week, and Carter Chong couldn’t possibly be a reflection of Seung Cho; as A. points out, this episode was written and shot several months ago and only aired last night due to a coincidence of timing.

And yet, some viewers seem to insist that the episode and the shooting are related, as an eerie “not connected but I insist they are karmically related” kind of way. On the forum, “Television Without Pity”, one viewer summed up the subplot as ”young Asian man with severe anger management problems and a history of gunplay”, while another commented “[t]he Asian having deep seated aggression problems was just too spooky.” Gotta love how in that second quote, Carter Chong is “the” Asian. One viewer commented, “I think most of us, even with no direct link to the horrific shootings, felt a little uncomfortable watching tonight. Whether fiction or not it was reminiscent enough of what happened to serve as a memory cue for an event that is probably hard to stop thinking about even without direct reminders.” However, a fourth viewer wrote:

A member of my immediate family was taken from us this week in the VATech thing, and I debated on whether or not I wanted to watch Sopranos tonight (ultimately I did since I’m a grown man and can realize that this is fiction). I did find the young asian male to be terrifyingly similar to what I envisioned the man who murdered my cousin to be, so it did weird me out for most of the episode. I just kept telling myself that I was overreacting because it’s barely been a week, so this is one of those episodes I’ll probably have to wait a while to rewatch. I’m sure it was unintentional, just unfortunate timing.

Other than both Seung Cho and Carter Chong being Asian: what’s the connection? Oh yes: a racially Asian man with mental illness is automatically associated with violent mass shooting sprees because Asian craziness is a factor of one’s skin colour, whereas the countless depictions of White men with mental illness are non-threatening because White craziness has nothing to do with Whiteness.

Again we see the inability of mainstream america to distinguish between a person of colour’s race and his actions, be the actions positive or negative. Seeing one Black man dunk a basketball or rap a song is proof positive that all Black men are capable of such feats, and an example of one Korean American man who succumbed to the violent nature of his mental illness is evidence that all Asian Americans with mental illness will be Seung Cho re-incarnated. (Even more telling the conflation of a Korean American with a character who is ostensibly Chinese American). Such irrational connections are never made when the targets are White.

I don’t have to watch last night’s episode of The Sopranos to know that Carter Chong and the Virginia Tech Massacre are not related. But, of course, there are those who see one Asian face and think they’re seeing us all.

links for 2007-04-25

A brief history of racist imagery in advertising

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

That’s a real turn-of-the-century ad, believe it or not. Hat tip to MultiCultClassics for finding this fascinating slideshow on Slate.com, that traces the history of racist imagery in advertising. I would definitely encourage you to click over to view all the examples they found. From Slate:

Nasty stereotypes have helped move the merchandise for more than a century, and the history of their use and abuse offers a weird and telling glimpse of race relations in this country. Not surprisingly, the earliest instances were the most egregious. This circa-1900 ad for a rodent-control product called Rough on Rats doesn’t just exploit the then-popular urban legend that Chinese people eat rats. It also underscores the intensity of American xenophobia of the day. There were anti-Chinese riots at the time, as well as legislation like the Chinese Exclusion Act, a federal ban on immigration passed in 1882. (It was on the books until 1943.) In the ad, “They must go” refers both to the rodents and the Chinese.

links for 2007-04-24

Michael Eric Dyson rocks!

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

I just had to throw a quote from him up here on Racialicious. This is his take on the blame hip hop direction that the Don Imus media circus has taken, from Salon’s Audiofile blog:

So the big point really isn’t to score rap for its vicious sexism — if that were the case the mainstream white media would have been on the bandwagon a long time ago. It is to partially exonerate a racist and bigoted representative of its own ranks, in part to exonerate all those other white journalists who either appeared on his show or stood by in silence while he had his way with whatever vulnerable group he chose to attack that day. The white media has to scapegoat rap now to cleanse its hands of the blood — and to wipe clean its conscience — of the suffering of citizens, like black women, it never cared enough to oppose before Imus put his foot in his mouth. Black women are a footnote — and an afterthought — to the controversy.

Thus, all the hand-wringing and feigned horror over how young black males could ever speak about their women in such hateful tones is the delayed reaction of the partially guilty — not through active discourses of assault as with Imus, but through the passive indifference to the plight of women they didn’t care enough about either to learn their condition or to cry out over it on their airwaves. As we’ve seen in the last week, when white media elites are so inclined, they can use the airwaves to tell stories of black life with far more time and resources in one week than they’re used to spending in a year. If black women matter, they can’t just matter when white men mess up.

It is typical of a media that ignores black life that it also ignores the outrage black folk have felt about rappers spitting invective toward its women since the early ’90s. And it’s equally apparent that the white media has no interest in the fierce debate raging within hip-hop about its future and soul. Hundreds of “conscious” rappers who extol the virtues of black female identity — and who indict the materialism and misogyny of rap — can’t get a word in edgewise on white or black media outlets, from radio to television. There’s a blackout of conscience-driven, racially astute, politically motivated rap that contains progressive gender messages, in large part because such rap also contains poignant and prophetic indictments of white supremacy and social injustice, themes that even ostensibly liberal white media is not ready to hear, air or acknowledge. So it closes the mouths of such progressive artists, with the consequence that the women-hating harangues of hip-hop artists drown out the considerable complexity of conscious artists. It does so with the complicity of the very media machine that now wants to point fingers at only half the equation — the rap artists who pour acid on the heads of black women — while failing to self-critically indict its very participation in this unseemly affair. That is utter and naked hypocrisy.