by guest contributor Ansel
On December 14, the NBC show “The Office” aired its Christmas episode titled “A Benihana Christmas,” written by Jennifer Celotta. As a big fan of the show, I was interested by the previews for the episode which seemed to include a joke about two Asian women looking alike. So would “The Office,” a show known for being ironic and clever and in-the-know, be putting their satirical spin on the old stereotype? To my disappointment, they didn’t. In fact, in my personal opinion, one can argue that the show just played with the stereotype for laughs. It’s a more insidious sort of racial joking– the writers, producers, actors etc know the stereotype is politically incorrect, but they use it for laughs, anyway. They’re supposed to be a “smart” show, but that’s not going to stop them from pandering a little bit, either. I’ll explain.
First, the show has occasionally included references to race and has proven a tendency and talent for skewing stereotypes. The pompous main character, the boss of the office, is Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell. Michael is often seen embarrassing himself by revealing his cringe-inducingly poor understanding of race relations towards minorities; however, the laughs are at Michael’s expense, not minorities. A few episodes ago, Michael’s boorish and dimwitted understanding of Indian culture during a Diwali celebration led to a lot of chuckles at his own ignorance, and not at the expense of Indian culture or heritage. Michael is arguably the embodiment of the Ugly American, and the funniest thing about it is, he doesn’t know it and would be horrified if he found out… because he thinks he’s quite tolerant and well-educated about racial issues.
Hence, the irony, a form of humor “The Office,” like many other smart shows, revels in.
However, what makes the treatment of Asians in “A Benihana Christmas” different?
I’ll provide a recap of what happens, you decide. I can only say that it left me feeling disappointed. I won’t make some statement that the episode was in fact racist or overtly offensive, but I will say something about it seemed a little off and left me puzzled.
Recap: Michael Scott has just been rejected by the woman he thinks he loves and is moping around the office. To cheer him up, office brownnose Andy (Ed Helms) invites him and the other guys to the Japanese restaurant Benihana’s for lunch, which Michael calls “Asian Hooters.” Jim (John Krasinski) and Dwight (Rainn Wilson) accompany them. At the restaurant, the guys get drunk on “Nog-a-sakis” (an eggnog/sake concoction) and Andy and Michael start eyeing two cute waitresses, one of them named Cindy. Andy suggests they invite the two women back to their office, where an office party is starting, offering Michael the prettier of the two women to invite.
Cut to the guys stumbling into the office with two giggling Asian waitresses… except that these two are DIFFERENT Asian waitresses than the two that were seen at the restaurant. The problem… no one makes a comment about it, continuing to refer to the two women as the same two women who were their waitresses in the restaurant.
Hopefully, this is a producers/writers’ gag on the audience. Will the show’s audience realize that these two Asian actresses are different from the first two Asian actresses? Or will the audience not notice, just as the four men don’t seem to notice, thus playing again on the “Asians all look alike” stereotype? Hahaha. Clever, right? Continue reading