Hyphen TV: Are You Playing Angry Birds?

February 22, 2011

Dale takes what is hopefully a lighter hand with the salt after last week's seasoning debacle

Before we jump into this week in television, can we discuss how massively disappointed I am with the contestants on the new season of Survivor? Seriously, that is one white group of people. I know the show producers have mentioned that they don't get nearly as many applications from Asian American and Latino hopefuls as they do Caucasian and African Americans, but there was SOMEthing happening in the past to get Yau-man Chan, Michelle Yi, and of course, Yul Kwon (though...maybe the race-based tribe thing doesn't need to be repeated). I'm still watching, Probst, but I'm seriously let down!

Meanwhile, "let down" doesn't even begin to describe how I feel about Manila Luzon's performance on RuPaul's Drag Race this week. The girls had to create morning news shows, and Manila was the entertainment reporter, interviewing The Hills' Kristin Cavallari -- or should I say, "Klistin Cavarrari." Yeah. She went there. Big old over-the-top and aggressive Dragon Lady in full force, complete with broken English and, of course, switched Rs and Ls. All that was needed was a little eye pull-back action to complete the re-fried elementary school taunt level of comedy:

"What year you born? 87! Year of cock! I mean, LOOSTAH!"

Release yourself from that cringe your body is in and let's parse exactly why this is not okay. Contrary to what defenders of this type of "humor" would say, it's not offensive because it's an exaggerated portrayal of an Asian woman. Heck, the entire foundation of drag is exaggeration to the Nth degree, taking down whatever haters and stereotypes might be in the way. I love that, I love camp, and that's not why this was offensive. I was offended simply because ... that's not funny!

As previously stated, it's ignorant elementary school mockery at best, and at worst it's an extremely dated and lazy means of comedy along the lines of nineteenth century minstrel shows. As fellow competitor Delta Work put it, "[Manila] was like middle America's interpretation of Asian people, but when they call them Oriental." Couldn't have put it better myself. Shangela also mentioned, "It made me feel uncomfortable." Is any comedy based around race going to make people uncomfortable? Of course not. It's not the topic alone that sets people on edge.

Manila Luzon as a Connie Chung gone terrible

Let's face it: many Asian Americans are immigrants who don't speak proper English, and some switch their Ls and Rs. But simply pointing that out is not funny on its own. Go somewhere with that! In a world where Jon Stewart concisely and intelligently skewers race, religion, and countless other hot button topics nightly and Chris Rock -- to mention someone that Manila herself name-checked in her defense -- can make people of all races laugh at the darkest and most uncomfortable parts of American society, taking the immensely reductive short cut of "people who sound different are funny!" just doesn't pass muster.

I want to reiterate that I understand that stereotypes and exaggeration are a huge part of drag; what bothers me is that Manila's performance lacks the twist or wink that I have come to expect from these skilled performers. Stacy Layne Matthews, for example, could have made her workout routine a few episodes back all about her sitting there and eating, saying something along the lines of, "I'm a big girl, and big people just eat and eat!" Instead, she incorporated fried chicken into her moves, making the snack a part of the exercise. Was it the cleverest thing ever? No, of course not. Did she acknowledge her large size while still recognizing that she, too, could participate in a challenge that she was not particularly equipped for? I feel that she did.

Stacy Layne Matthews doesn't stop short as soon as she hits her stereotype, delicious though it may be

To be fair, Manila did take her character to a slightly promising place: "You don't have boyfriend? ... Oh, I have blotha. You should hook up with him! You should mally! Immigration! Rots of money!" Horrible accent aside, I could imagine something interesting going on with an immigrant reporter obsessed with becoming a citizen at any cost ... but she didn't, at least that we saw.

What really got me down was the judges' reaction to Manila: they loved her act. "It was so wrong that it was so right," Debbie Matenopoulos gushed. "And truthfully, if you're gonna be groundbreaking, some eggs have gotta be broken to make an omelet." What about that was "groundbreaking?" It was the same tired old stereotype delivered with extra drag queen lashes and intensity. What is the eventual "omelet" that the broken eggs of racism will lead to, Debbie? I'm afraid I didn't follow at all. When RuPaul asked Manila how she would respond to people who found her act offensive, she responded, "I don't think we have enough Asian people in pop culture, so I'm here to entertain, I'm here to be farcical, and I'm just trying to do my job." We could break down my questioning of how this was entertaining, farcical (fine, I guess it was a farce in that we were expecting funny and didn't get it), or anyone's job, but I think you get the picture.

I know I've been going on about this for a while, but one last stab to my heart: Raja's defense of Manila, when she said, "It's only offensive if someone not Asian does it." Oh, Raja. Is it funny if I put on a rice paddy hat and exclaim "ching-chong ching-chong?" Only if you have the maturity of a child. Mere stereotype alone does not good comedy make! I thought you, oh arbiter of what I thought was wisdom and realness, would be able to call a spade a spade. Weep.

Enough dwelling in non-comedy. You know what WAS funny? Tina playing Angry Birds while making out with Mike Chang on Glee. Shocked and embarrassed at his girlfriend's lack of interest in him, Mike asked if she wanted him to show her his abs. She responded with a tepid, "If you want to," barely glancing away from her iPhone. Lovely. Also loved seeing Mike Bieb it up with the rest of the guys in The Justin Bieber Experience.

Mike and friends channel Bieber in spirit and hair

Also in my good graces: Dale, who's back on the Top Chef dominance track with double wins in the Quickfire with his pretzel and potato chip shortbread cookie with salted caramel chocolate ganache (making cookies for Sesame Street Muppets is now my life's goal) and the Elimination with a ribeye grilled cheese sandwich with spicy tomato soup. Dale was the only chef who was truly resourceful in the Target store they had to work in, MacGyvering a double-cooker for his grilled cheese sandwiches with a small grill and a couple of irons. Guest judge Ming Tsai joked that Dale was trying to be an "Iron" Chef, which was met with the requisite groans. Anthony Bourdain asked whether Dale ought to be given a drug test, given all the stoner food he's made this season. But hey, whatever works. They may be meals inspired by the munchies, but they look pretty darn delicious.

The size of this bowl makes Dale look like a little cookie sprite

Not doing so hot? My pals over on Top Shot. Jay, who won the very first challenge and got to pick his team, has taken it upon himself to be the group's captain, telling everyone what to do and even standing behind his teammates during their practice session, giving tips while an expert stood right next to him. Of course when it came to be Jay's turn to practice, he ignored the pistol expert, who described Jay as "a know-it-all" who was "continuing to make mistakes." Stand down, Jay! And call me crazy, but I would shy away from telling a bunch of weapons-trained military dudes and national/world-ranked marksmen what to do, especially when you are a golf instructor. You, uh, maybe don't want to piss off people on a GUN SHOW?

Athena, meanwhile, continued her bad streak, missing all her targets and getting voted to go to elimination by her teammates. While it was kind of awesome to see the petite woman handle a huge Tommy machine gun (oh man, am I seriously learning some gun knowledge right now?), the weapon was clearly too large for her to handle properly, and she was sent home. Better luck in your next competition, Athena!

And finally, there's American Idol. We got only the merest glimpse of a new (to us) competitor named Dan Noguchi, learning that he's a 21-year-old student from Los Angeles before watching him not make it past the group round of Hollywood week. Sorry, man! It wasn't until the following episode that we got confirmation that the adorable Thia Megia is still safe and singing in a bright Cosby-y sweater. Her version of "What a Wonderful World" didn't have the unusual pronunciations she deployed earlier, and J.Lo commented, "She's amazing." In the end, Thia's room of hopefuls made it to the next round, and by the looks of things, she is the last Asian standing. Fingers crossed for you, girl! Stay sweet, but maybe look into some alternate sweater choices!

Hello and good-bye, Dan. Is that a sweater you can lend to Thia?


Dianne Choie


Dianne Choie's TV is in Brooklyn, NY. She has a cat, several reusable shopping bags, and other mildly annoying stereotypes of youngish people who live in Brooklyn.



Am Idol Clint Gamboa is half Asian

I saw some mentions of his being of half or entirely Filipino background, but I couldn't find anything definitive. I don't doubt that it's true, but is there some confirmation out there that I'm not seeing?

Your comments about Manila are pathetic, absurd, and imbecilic. Where were you when Yara Sofia was presenting a caricature of Latin Americans that was far more "elementary" than Manila's. But you don't care. Why? Because Manila was making fun of Asians, and you're Asian, so it offends you in a way that Chris Rock, Carlos Mencia, et al. do not. You're claim that you "understand that stereotypes and exaggeration are a huge part of drag; what bothers me is that Manila's performance lacks the twist or wink..." is perfidious. Why don't you just come out and say it?You understand that stereotypes and exaggeration are a huge part of drag; what bothers you is that Manila was applying the stereotyping and exaggeration that you like and applying to your people, which is offensive. I'm Asian, and I found her skit hilarious. The most disingenuous part of the criticism of Manila's performance is the whole "she's Filipino, not Chinese" put forth by Shangela, an illiterate and uncouth buffoon who always has something to say even stupider than the last. Seriously? Do we need the Filipino, not Chinese qualification? I suppose if an African-American whose ancestry is Rwandan makes fun of a an African-American with South African ancestry, that's racist? Or if a Columbian makes fun of a Peruvian, is that racist? Give me a fucking break.

There's a lot to unpack here. Let me address your issues one by one:

You equate not mentioning something with "not caring." I direct you to
the About section of Hyphen's website, which explains that Hyphen is
an Asian American publication -- the Hyphen blog follows suit. If
you're interested in reading in-depth analysis on race and racism of
all types, I suggest you check out the fine blog Racialicious. If
you're looking for full discussion on all parts of RuPaul's Drag Race,
may I suggest Entertainment Weekly or Logo's own blog. You will not
find either of those types of discussion here; the entire purpose of
the "Hyphen TV" posts is to highlight some of the Asian Americans on
television. That means that the focus will naturally include any kind
of stereotyping or other characterization of Asian Americans. So yes,
you are correct when you say that I brought Manila's performance up
because it "appl[ies] to [my] people," since that is the point of my

I would also like to underscore that I did not find Manila's behavior
"offensive" because of racism, but because of what I perceive as
comedic laziness: "...it's not offensive because it's an exaggerated
portrayal of an Asian woman...I was offended simply because ... that's
not funny!" However, I'm glad you found humor in Manila's act. Humor
is just about the most subjective thing out there; I know what makes
me laugh and what doesn't, and so the best I can do is to try to
describe what I like or don't like and why.

You then shift to criticizing one of the other contestants on Drag
; I also had a problem with Shangela's comments and wrote about it
here, in my latest post.

I appreciate you bringing your differing (and shared) opinions to this
blog, but in the future, know that I will not allow comments from you
or anyone else that include personal attacks. The Hyphen blog is a
place where anyone can feel welcome to disagree, discuss, or just
chime in on any topic, and I intend to keep it that way.