by Guest Contributor Jenn Fang, originally published at Reappropriate
A few months back, Miley Cyrus (a Disney Channel ingenue better known for pop-star alter ego, Hannah Montanah, whom she transforms into by donning a blonde wig — wait, isn’t that the storyline of the Jem cartoon?) raised a blogosphere uproar for this picture of her (centre) at a party where she and her friends pulled their eyes back in a ludicrous “imitation” of slanted Asian eyes.
The photograph of Miley Cyrus and other individuals slanting their eyes currently circulating the Internet is offensive to the Asian Pacific American community and sets a terrible example for her many young fans. This image falls within a long and unfortunate history of people mocking and denigrating individuals of Asian descent.
“Not only has Miley Cyrus and the other individuals in the photograph encouraged and legitimized the taunting and mocking of people of Asian descent, she has also insulted her many Asian Pacific American fans,” said George Wu, executive director of OCA.
Cyrus issued an official apology, but also wrote on her blog that she was only “making goofy faces” and was not intentionally “making fun of any ethnicity”. Clearly, Cyrus did not fully grasp the context of her “goofy face” — yellowface makeup, including prosthetics that have purposely slanted eyes have been used in historical and contemporary media to disguise White actors as villainous or buffoonish Asian caricatures.
In the mid-1960’s, British actor Christopher Lee wore yellow makeup and invisible tape on his eyes to portray the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, an infamous character who originated many of today’s modern anti-Asian stereotypes. (Inset shows Lee today, without makeup).
Nicholas Cage, whose latest spate of movies seem to have all been mediocre remakes of Asian blockbusters, resurrected this yellowface tradition – complete with slanted eyes – as Fu Manchu in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse two years ago. (It should be noted here that Tarantino fully intended to don yellowface, himself, to play the role of Master Pai Mai in Kill Bill, Vol. 2).
Similar cosmetic techniques were used in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to transform Mickey Rooney into the offensive caricature of Mr. Yunioshi.
Yellowface (and other forms of color-face) makeup is still evident today, with Rob Schneider donning slanted eyes to play an offensive, stereotypically Asian preacher in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.
Beyond these mainstream media examples, any Asian American can recount how their fellow schoolyard children would pull their eyes back, just as Cyrus did, to taunt us about our Asian features, perhaps even singing about “Chinky chinky Chinese” and “dirty knees” as they did so.
In that light, it’s hard to wonder how Cyrus could argue that her “goofy face” was not meant to poke fun at any particular ethnicity? Then again, Cyrus and her friends are clearly over-paid, over-privileged teen socialites, worshipped by pre-teens for the very qualities that make her ignorant of real life race and race relations: she lives a charmed life never having to face the realities of poverty, privilege and race. She is surrounded by paparazzi and gossip rags who know better than to turn on their Cash Cows of The Moment, and who would rather condemn an “over-sensitive” minority community than to chastise a celebrity for offending millions of non-White Americans.
One has to wonder, though, why Cyrus and her friends made such an obvious anti-Asian gesture in the first place? Is she playing some sort of game of Public Relations Chicken with the American people? Is there a mass “What Race Can I Offend the Most” Facebook Meme out there I’m not aware of? In short, is the celebrity ”slanty eye” photo what’s hot in the streets these days?
Clearly, because just this past week, yet another Disney Channel teen sensation, Joe of the Jonas Brothers, was caught making “slanty eyes” in this photo.
While the Jonas Brothers have yet to officially confirm that the photo is of Joe Jonas, one blogger writes this:
So far, neither Jonas nor his reps have confirmed or denied that the photo is indeed the singer. But a number of clues, beside the stark resemblance, suggest it is him. The person in the photo is wearing a purity ring, just like all the Jonas brothers wear and a name tag on the shirt clearly begins with a “J” as in Joe.
Okay, so I don’t know anything about the Jonas Brothers, except that apparently I can see them in concert, in 3-D! I did a Google Image search, and apparently, this is the guy, Joe Jonas, supposedly pictured above. I admit, I see the resemblance — no one could camoflauge those crazy-lookin’ eyebrows!
This shit is racist and offensive, people. I’m frankly exhausted of this sequel to the Cyrus debacle, with teen pop sensation thinking it’s okay to irresponsibly mock an entire race of people. Beyond the actual examples of Jonas and Cyrus making insensitive, racially-offensive “goofy faces”, I’m insulted by the press’ deliberate and willfull mockery of our community’s attempts to raise awareness about the racism of these acts. Cyrus received notoriety for her “slanty eyes”, with few gossip outlets taking the outrage of the Asian American community seriously. No doubt, the same will be true for Joe Jonas.
Clearly, racism is the new pink. It seems to be all the rage to mock and offend. Shoot, maybe we’ll even see a “Slanty-Eyed Photo” Tent at next year’s New York Fashion Week. Without a doubt Miley Cyrus and Joe Jonas have spent nary a single thought on the millions of young Americans who will look to their “slanty-eyed” example to model their own schoolyard behaviour. I am nearly 27 years old and far out of the Cyrus/Jonas Brothers fan demographic, but it saddens me to think that there might be a group of young boys or girls who might have seen these photos of their teen idols and decided it’s okay to make the same “slanty-eyes” faces and sing the same “dirty knees” songs that I was subjected to in my youth.
(Hat-tip: Eugene Cho. We need a meme wherein Asian American bloggers make the “big eye” photo and post it on our blogs.)