• Home
  • About
  • Guest Post

    All-American girl

    As a social commentator, Margaret Cho is a great stand-up comic. She writes the following:

    I like Gwen Stefani, she’s alright. She is very stylish and has a nice voice and a really flat stomach. She is a rock star, and quite good at it.

    Now she has 4 things all together, the Harajuku Girls. I want to like them, and I want to think they are great, but I am not sure if I can. I mean, racial stereotypes are really cute sometimes, and I don’t want to bum everyone out by pointing out the minstrel show. I think it is totally acceptable to enjoy the Harajuku girls, because there are not that many other Asian people out there in the media really, so we have to take whatever we can get. Amos ‘n Andy had lots of fans, didn’t they? At least it is a measure of visibility, which is much better than invisibility. I am so sick of not existing, that I would settle for following any white person around with an umbrella just so I could say I was there.

    I think it’s worth gently pointing out that Harajuku Girls–I mean, the real ones and not Stefani’s backup dancers–are not Asian-Americans but actual Japanese. Many of them, I’d wager, would react to Cho’s post along the lines of “Excuse me? We don’t need you to defend us, you stupid Korean bitch.”

    Let me hasten to say that I do not endorse such an attitude. My love for Japan and the Japanese has never stopped me from pointing out, when people here intimate that they think Koreans are lazy and dumb, that South Korea now has some of the highest educational achievement stats in the world. I’m only pointing it out because you constantly hear Asian-Americans complaining about their lack of visibility and the stereotypical way the American media represent them. It always makes me wonder: surely many of them have visited relatives in their ancestral homelands, if they themselves didn’t grow up there part of the time. They must be aware of the jaw-droppingly reductive and stereotypical ways foreigners are frequently depicted in China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. So do they believe in racial equality as a universal moral principle–in which case the Far East has at least as bad a track record as the US–or do they think it’s somehow America’s job to be extra-special inclusive, while Asian countries get a pass if they fall back on local heritage as an excuse for treating people of other ethnicities like crap?

    I’m not playing tu quoque here. I just think some perspective is called for. America is far from perfect when it comes to race relations, but it gives you an opportunity to carve out your own space in whatever place you find most hospitable. You’ll meet hostile, or just plain provincial, people sometimes; but that’s true everywhere. It wasn’t long ago that people of Anglo-Saxon, Irish, Italian, and German descent would not have been indiscriminately identified with each other as equally privileged white people. Lasting social change takes time, even in this media age. I don’t think Gwen Stefani’s annoyingly twee cutesifying approach is all that helpful, but neither is drippy depressiveness.

    (Thanks, Toren.)

    7 Responses to “All-American girl”

    1. Gaijin Biker says:

      What’s at work here is the old rule of “It’s OK to slag off people of your own ethnicity.”

      So, just like Chris Rock can slam certain sub-groups of black people, Margaret Cho gets to comment on Asians, whether they be Japanese, Asian-Americans, Koreans, or what have you.

      For the same reason, Asian-on-Asian prejudice (like Japanese vs. Korean) is not seen to be “as bad” as white vs. Asian.


    2. John in Tokyo says:

      Cho is a serious mental case. I read her blog a few years ago and found it so long-winded and completely emotionally and logically unbalanced. Not funny either, which was a disappointment because I remember seeing her once on TV about a decade ago and laughing. I read her briefly the way you sometimes stop and stare with morbid fascination at the scene of an accident but I quickly grew bored. She’s obviously got more issues than the TIME/LIFE archives.

      Everything about this post of hers is wrong-headed, just the way I remember her stuff when I read it ages ago. What you point out is correct but you’ve only scratched the surface in terms of pointing out what’s wrong about Cho’s petty and twisted belly-aching about the great injustice of Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls.

      The Harajuku girls are not a stereotype – they’re real. I was just in Harajuku last Sat. and they are an accurate picture of reality – not a caricature or modern-day black-face. Stefani may be posing and self serving but it’s obviously done in a positive spirit: Harajuku girls = cool.

      But Cho is one of the perpetually aggrieved and offended and there’s little sense trying to uncover rhyme or reason or trying to contradict a post that is both decrying the portrayal of Asian women and also the lack of portrayal of Asian women in the same breath. Obviously, in Cho’s mind, she ought to be appointed Cabinet Secretary for Proper Maintenance of Positive Image of Asian and Asian-Americans in the Media with the power to inspect, certify or censor all portrayals and the authority to punish any hint of incorrect or counter-revolutionary images.

    3. Sean Kinsell says:

      Well, John, Harajuku Girls are real, but I don’t think the potential danger that people could seize on them as representing the Japanese female population more than they actually do is a mere figment of the PC imagination. If you live in western Tokyo, it’s easy to forget that not everyone looks as if he or she belonged in Shibuya or Harajuku. I agree that Cho’s incoherent and somewhat neurotic about her reaction–apparently, the only way to increase the visibility of Asians in a way that would satisfy her would be for a sudden efflorescence in which images across the entire spectrum of possibilities were broadcast. In real life, things proceed in fits and starts, and those images that are ingratiating to the general public because they’re sexier or cuter are likely to lead the way. It’s not as if that were some kind of plot against Asians.

      And Gaijin Biker, you’re right that that’s the way we think about it in the States; my point was just that, if we’re determined to bitch about racial pigeonholing related to Asians, the US is arguable preferable to Asia itself–and part of that is that people here tend not to identify with each other as Asians.

    4. John in Tokyo says:

      No, you’re right, stereotyping is not a “mere figment of the PC imagination.” People generalize quite naturally and there’s nothing you can do about it. But rending ones garments over the existence of this phenomenon and concluding that all portrayals of Japanese women, Asian women or Asians in general must now be inspected and condemned if the slightest whiff of non-progressive values are detected (and obviously someone like Cho can take offense at almost anything) is the twisted outcome of tortured PC fever-dreams.

      When one concludes that the portrayal of real people is wrong, this is lunacy.

      I know you’re concerned about non-Harajuku Girl Japanese women. A friend of mine is going to the States next year to get her MBA and G*d forbid some lunk-head comes up to her and asks her why she’s not dressed like that. But it would be even worse if she were to be taught by people like Cho to throw a tantrum and condemn that guy and possibly all American society as irredeemably racist, rather than seeing the humor and using it as an opportunity to educate. What a way to go through life – constantly taking offense! And how terrible to try and propagate such hyper-sensitivity, grievance mongering. How is it beneficial to women, Asians or anyone to develop a well-honed persecution complex?

      The other week a young guy named Miyagawa on my basketball team asked if it was true that Americans don’t wear underwear. First time for that one! He claimed he heard it on TV. Of course, for me, the temptation to pitch a righteous fit was there even though it’s been over a decade since I graduated from a liberal arts school (i.e. the Temple of PC Social Engineering). But Miya is a good guy and meant no offense, he was only curious about a rumor he’d heard. I only had to peel back my shorts, remind him that you can see everyone’s underwear in America nowadays since that’s the fashion. I had a good laugh and I hope I dispelled one person’s pre-conceived notions.

      Let’s review: Harajuku Girls are REAL, Stefani’s use of them is meant as an hommage to their coolness, it’s not derisive or even satirical (good natured or otherwise) – though, per Gaijin Biker, I’d bet that Cho’s laments would be even if louder some non-minority did poke fun at them. But Cho desperately wants to see this as the same or worse than Jim Crow era black-face minstrelry. Verdict = Cho is a pathetic loser.

    5. John in Tokyo says:

      Oh jeez. I should’ve known I was way late to the party. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to find out that that elsewhere on the web, this thing has already been hotly debated to death. Only after I write 2 long-ish posts do I think to click through a few links and discover that there’s already a blog set up to liberate the Harajuku Girls

      By the way, would it be spoiling the fun to point out that Benihana is…ahhhh nevermind.

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      Dude, there was an article in Salon about this a few months ago that I went off on–can’t believe I forgot about it. Anyway, someone (from that site, apparently) linked to it in the comments. It at least seemed to have more of a sense of playfulness than Cho or the Salon writer.

    7. submandave says:

      The thing that Cho and other self-appointed protectors of the down-trodden forget is that the world and society is not static. People are not locked into midsets that may have been dominant in the past and based upon discriminatory stereotypes, nor are they universally simple-minded to the point of believing everything they’re told and generating new stereotypes based upon the fashions of pop music. Yes, people often entertain unfounded ideas, largely based in ignorance (I can’t recount how many people have expressed the idea that all Japanese food is raw), but to assume Joe Six-pack is predisposed to believe the wost about those who aren’t like them is typical PC bigottry.

    Leave a Reply