'Up In The Air' and the Decline of Racial Jokes

December 10, 2009

So there's that new George Clooney movie out, Up In The Air. The trailer has been out for awhile and in it they try to set the idea of Clooney as the Drifting Corporate Guy with No Emotional Attachments and his attempts to connect with blah blah blah oh here is another Oscar, Mr. Clooney.


Anyways, there's a part in the trailer where Clooney's Drifting Corporate Guy is showing the ropes to the Eager But Determined New Girl on how to get through airport security (about 52 seconds into the trailer). He then makes a racial joke about how you should get behind Asians because we're tidy travelers and "have a thing for slip-on shoes." I guess this joke is enough of a highlight to include it in the trailer.

I'm not mad that there are Asian jokes, but I am appalled at the low quality of the jokes. Is this what America's education system is producing? Sub-par Asian jokes? There was a time when the jokes were so vitriolic that merely saying one in a hushed tone could incite a riot (the Greatest Generation was also greatest at racism). Nowadays, we're left with Asian shoe jokes.

I mean, really? A shoe joke? How old is that? Are our shoes really that slip-on-y? If you're going to be that lazy about it why not make a joke about kimonos since we're apparently getting our jokes from circa 1932? Can't you make fun of how we're really good at standardized tests or how many of us are investment bankers? For God's sake, an Avian Flu joke would have been more contemporary at least.

Racial jokes are always in poor taste, but they're even worse when they just plain old suck at getting a laugh. I suggest we have a contest. Watch the trailer, especially leading up to the point at :52 when the shtick starts. Then fill in with your own rewrite of what would happen if this were real life. Perhaps something like:

GEORGE and COSTAR approach the security check point. He notices three ASIANS in one of the lines

Bingo. Asians. They pack light, travel efficiently and have a thing for slip-on shoes.
The three ASIANS in front of them indeed pack light and we see everyone zipping through the line while the other lines take languish. But then, the last ASIAN GUY has a VIETNAMESE SANDWICH, prompting the TSA OFFICER to blow his whistle and sound a loud alarm. A security dog barks loudly at the pickled vegetables.

Cut to show GEORGE and COSTAR sitting outside on the curb.

See? Easy! Now you try.






Mic Nguyen

social media editor & blogger

Michael D. Nguyen is a writer who grew up and went to school in California and now lives in NYC. When he's not
internet shopping, he works in advertising. Follow him @mic_nguyen