I was telling an old pal of mine the other day about the wonderful pwning of KTVU in San Francisco. You’ve heard the story, though oddly she hadn’t — oddly, because she’s usually pretty au-courant. If you haven’t heard, KTVU called up the NTSB after the Aseana crash to ask the names of the flight crew. They ended up in the merciless hands of some prankish summer intern, were given the list of improbable names shown above, and solemnly repeated them on-air, carefully overpronouncing each one(*).
The best part was when they got to Ho Lee Fuk: they pronounced the last syllable
to rhyme with ‘kook’, that is, with a long yod-less ‘oo’ vowel, the ‘u’ of Italian ‘Udine’.
Naturally I thought this was the funniest thing ever, but my friend did not.
You know what she said, don’t you? Of course you do:
I didn’t argue the point, but I don’t agree. The somewhat juvenile fun of making English phrases that sound vaguely like Chinese (or Korean) names may not be terribly respectful to these ancient and venerable cultures, but it’s not connected with any theory of round-eye superiority, or any practice of keeping Asians in their place.
The Nazis were racist. The Klan were racist. The Zionists are racist. “Ho Lee Fuk” is Beavis and Butthead. The joke is not on the Chinese or the Koreans. The joke is on the station.
This is one of the reasons for my recent dislike of the term ‘racism’: its nebulous over-broadness. It used to refer to something pretty specific. Now it’s been stretched to cover tasteless coarse humor.
Of course this all brings me back — as so much does, these days — to Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. If you’re inclined to see racism underlying the outcome of that story, I’m less inclined to disagree with you than with my friend who was upset by Ho Lee Fuk.
Yet at the same time I feel there’s something perseverative and dug-in about speaking of the ‘persistence’ of racism.
“We’ve come so far, but not far enough.” “We’ve done so much, but there’s more to do”. In one way these are undeniably true observations, but stating the problem in these terms fails to do justice to the severity of the problem. It’s not that we face a weakened, but still powerful, familiar opponent. It’s that we face a new, and very powerful, opponent, and we don’t yet have the right toolbox of terms and concepts to describe what he’s doing, much less deal with him. We persist in mistaking him for his grandfather.
I have a length limit on posts, so I’ll leave it at that for today. More to come.
(*) It’s become rather difficult to find a clip of this wonderful moment online; the station has invoked the DMCA to get the Youtubes of the world to take it down. This too is perfect, isn’t it: censorship through property rights.