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Mocking Our Neighbor

2009 March 22
by Julie Clawson

Last week Eugene Cho posted his thoughts on how it hurt him and his children when people, especially celebrities, do the slanty-eye thing mocking Asians. His post was simple – basically “hey people, that’s offensive, stop doing it.” One would kinda hope that we are way past the making fun of other people because of their race thing, but no such luck as the subsequent conversation displayed.

Reading the comments there was a bit disturbing. I somewhat expected the comments that told Eugene he was overreacting, but was unprepared for the number of people defending mocking others. Some of them weren’t even saying that the gesture isn’t offensive, but that they know it’s offensive and mocking and that’s okay. Or as one guy commented, “I’m not racist, but I do enjoy my ethnic jokes.”

What sort of messed up world do we live in where our entertainment serves as justification for hurting others? Okay, I’m not naive, and I realize that there is nothing new about it, but I just can’t wrap my mind around Christians defending the practice of making fun of people, much less how God created people to be. I don’t care if it happens all the time, just think about that concept. Instead of loving our neighbor (and enemy), we are destroying them for a moment’s entertainment. We think it’s funny to tear down the image of God in others, and then claim it is our right to continue to do so. Does anyone else see the utter absurdity there?

Growing up missing a limb had me at the butt of many jokes. Kids in elementary school found it amusing to tell “stump” jokes to my face. They were almost as popular as the Helen Keller jokes mocking deaf people. And I’m sure we are all familiar with current phrases and jokes that mock women and gays. It is a strange thing to have someone make fun of you, and then insist that their right to be entertained by hurting you is more important than your feelings and identity. And that their right is more important than the command to love our neighbor. I just don’t get it.  As a child I was too unsure of myself to stand up to those kids and tell them that their jokes weren’t funny.  Sad thing is – none of the other kids, or teachers, or parents sent that message either.  So the jokes continued.

I think it’s sad that when guys like Eugene say “please stop making fun of my family,” people (Christians!) get mad at him.  There seems to be a huge failure of love happening here.  So what do you think needs to be done to change things? Are churches working to change this or are they part of the problem? How can the body of Christ learn to love so much that we can’t fathom mocking the other, much less defending out right to do so?


26 Responses leave one →
  1. March 22, 2009

    So I take it you don’t like South Park??? Thing about that, is NOBODY is safe from them..

    I think there is a line somewhere between something that is hurtful and intended to be hurtful and political correctness in which people cannot even laugh at themselves in a good natured way. I used to work for a Jewish guy who told the best jokes about his particular ethnic group.

    When I was still planning on going to law school, certain individuals kept inundating my inbox with lawyer jokes…now I just can’t imagine why ANYONE might want to poke fun at, um, lawyers…can you???

  2. March 22, 2009

    Am I to safely assume too that the Obamalovefest is over now that our new president has made what I DO consider to be incredibly insensitive and cruel comments about mentally challenged individuals????

    Or does it only count when its a conservative Republican who steps in it like this???

  3. March 22, 2009

    Some of what was said over there I do agree with…people often do stuff without thinking about the impact on others.

    But at the same time you can overreact. The “We are Siamese” song??? Good Lord girl…you DO realize that they are talking about CATS in that song??? Siamese CATS!!! If anything is being put down in that song, it is the particularly sneaky nature of, uh, cats. Perhaps they should lobby a little protest with signs in their little kitty paws, ya think??? Where’s PETA when you need ’em??

    Maybe you should also lobby the Siamese Cat breeders and let them know them know how racist they are and that they need to come up with a new name for the breed. Of course, then people might miss the fact that these particular animals DID originate in that particular country…

  4. Joe Legander permalink
    March 22, 2009

    I appreciate your sentiments, and share you feelings Julie. I thought I’d add a non-mocking comment to your “Mocking your Neighbor” post, just to be original

  5. March 22, 2009

    I actually was rather uncomfortable with what the brothers Jonas and Miley Cyrus pulled. I was trying to separate out my feelings about their horrible music from these actions…

    However, amongst the COMMENTS over there, I found a few zingers of people going overboard. I commented over there to the individual who actually thought that Michael Vick and Chris Brown got more bad press than Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, etc because of race.

    Because of course, overdoing the partying and making a public ass of yourself are just as bad, if not worse, than beating your wife/gf/whatever to a pulp or making dogs fight each other to the death for sport.

    It is ridiculous comments such as the above and Julie’s comment about the Siamese cat song (which is about a breed of CAT…not even people) that serve to make people insensitive to REAL racism when they hear it.

    And yes, I like South Park.

  6. March 22, 2009

    and as I pointed out…this discussion seems to be painfully void of Obama’s recent horrible comments about the special Olympics. I found that to be rather interesting, given that it is quite, quite relevant to the matter at hand….

  7. March 22, 2009

    I think there is a line somewhere between something that is hurtful and intended to be hurtful and political correctness in which people cannot even laugh at themselves in a good natured way.

    Who said anything about being “politically correct”? We’re talking about basic human decency. If someone says “hey, I don’t like you making jokes at my expense,” then the decent thing to do is just to stop.

    Back when I was a Limbaugh dittohead myself I used to make fun of all those “politically correct” liberals too. Then one day I realized that choosing not to use certain words or crack certain jokes had nothing to do with politics and had everything to do with obeying Jesus’ commands to love my neighbor, and treat others as I would want to be treated.

  8. March 23, 2009

    I grew up as an atheist/agnostic. However, the two words we were guaranteed to be punished for when I was a child were “retard” and “nigger.” We were strongly discouraged from making ethnic jokes in my family because my parents felt strongly that people should not be made fun of for things that they have no control over (like skin color or the way they are made).

    Sounds alot more Jesus-like than most so-called Christians I now know. Just sayin’ …

  9. March 23, 2009

    Liz – you are right, Obama’s comments were offensive and he apologized for them like he should have. While I am not pleased he said them, I think he at least demonstrated a correct response. Instead of getting upset that others were offended by what he said or trying to defend his words, he realized he had hurt people and apologized.

    And it might behoove you to realize that there are people who do find the Siamese Cat song offensive because it has very little to do with cats, but was a stereotype of Asians directed at children during a very political tense time when we were trying to justify ongoing involvement in colonialism in Asia. It is easier to indoctrinate a generation to dislike a race if you present them (even the animal representations) as sneaky, ruthless, and selfish. Sorry, but those aren’t lessons I want my kids to pick up on.

  10. Karl permalink
    March 23, 2009

    Is there a role for pointing out a person’s or group’s idiosyncracies in comedy? If so, where is the line?

    Most people can spot (and would condemn) the kind of cruel taunting that can occur on the playground, and the public xenophobia that we see in crude propaganda from the early to mid 20th century. But it gets blurry at the margins IMO, nowhere more so than with comedy. What one person finds funny (the lawyer who likes to tell lawyer jokes) another will find offensive, hurtful or depersonalizing (the lawyer who feels misunderstood, demeaned and judged by lawyer jokes).

  11. March 23, 2009

    It’s more than a little cynical, but I’ve started to take for granted that anyone who has to say “I’m not racist…” probably is.

  12. March 23, 2009

    Karl – I do think there is a place for it. I do like The Daily Show and The Simpsons (not a fan of South Park). I think pointing out differences of opinion and sometimes even culture in ironic ways, or having someone within a group do the “wow aren’t we weird” thing can be okay and helps us not take ourselves too seriously. But I think it should be done carefully, and really shouldn’t be done to mock how people were created (race, disability, size…).

  13. Karl permalink
    March 23, 2009

    I agree humor about individual or group characteristics should be done carefully if at all, and nobody should be mocked for how they are created. And if someone tells you they are offended and you keep on doing what offends them, then you are (almost always) in the wrong even if your initial motive was pure.

    At the same time, is there any country where it is *less* culturally acceptable to stereotype other nationalities and cultures than in the US?

  14. March 23, 2009

    Are you sure about that thing with the Siamese cat song??? Maybe I am dense..but the only thing I saw being portrayed as sneaky and evil was CATS. They were acting like cats. Which of course means they were being sneaky and evil. Because that’s how cats are. At least the cats I know, anyway….

    Of course Obama apologized. He knew he had stepped in it and better do some quick damage control. I imagine if he was of a different political stripe though, his apology would not be accepted so readily and people would not be painting him as sincere.

    Someone with different political ideologies might never be allowed to forget that comment and there would be endless skits on SNL and the like flogging and re-flogging him for his mistake.

    BTW…I can’t stand Rush Limbaugh. Just because someone doesn’t go along with the liberal agenda doesn’t mean they go along with and like everything that conservatives say and do either. I have noticed that a lot of people switch ideologies but still basically have the same MO. So now instead of walking lockstep with conservatives, they are now walking lockstep with liberals. It works vice versa too. Very few people think for themselves anymore.

    I said nothing about people trying not to offend being a bad thing. I do find political correctness, though to be reading stuff into things that is not there or intended to be there. I do think if someone is offended then one needs to look at whether that accusation is justified or not. Because people can be offended by ANYTHING. My husband had this offense business thrown at him over the fact he had some body piercing and that since that offended someone it would be “loving” to remove it. Someone might be offended by the fact I am tired and sat down during worship. That is their problem, not mine. The line about offense and love can be used to manipulate and control people. The whole thing has to be taken in context.

    Again, I don’t think what the Jonas Bros did was OK. Although if they are part Asian, it might put a different spin on it. I also though, wouldn’t blow it into some humongous thing either because we all make mistakes. I was merely observant as well that the same people making a big noise about this were curiously silent about Obama’s recent foot/mouth episode…

  15. Pamela permalink
    March 23, 2009

    Seems like you’re getting more justifications for offensive remarks than Eugene. Tood bad that people think they have to defend themselves in htis.

  16. March 23, 2009

    I was merely observant as well that the same people making a big noise about this were curiously silent about Obama’s recent foot/mouth episode…

    How do you figure? The Sojourners blog hosted Eugene’s article, and the very next day, that same blog had an article criticizing Obama’s comments (and she directly related it to Eugene’s post too). Or did you miss that one?

    And if the supposedly “liberal” media has been silent about it, then how did you manage to hear about it? Apparently someone has been making some noise about it.

  17. March 23, 2009

    Humor is often a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from difference or other confrontations with difference that are by nature disruptive. Police officers regularly laugh and make jokes at even the most disgusting car accidents and shootings. Why? If they did not, the job would be too much. It is a reaction formation – you give the opposite response to a stimulus sometimes before that stimulus is presented. Julie and I have young kids. They will say no to even the thing they want only in an effort to protect themselves. So two things are needed here:

    1) Ask yourself why an ethic joke is funny and accept that you might think its funny as hell. Perfectly natural and often an unconscious moment of giggles you cant control.

    2) Once you have identified why its funny, ask yourself if this is something you need to change. This is when you need to dig deep, be critical, and realize that there are deep patterns in your psyche that are grounding your giggles.

    3) Find creative ways to fix the behavior by exposing yourself more to the thing you thought was funny. Hang out with Asians and ask them why these jokes are offensive. Be honest with them, and accept their criticism. Swim in their seas.

    This is a problem with difference and protection of social boundaries. We simply cannot afford to be so protective.

    Oh, and you might learn a few good Asian jokes while with your new Asian friends. But you will now view them as stereotypes and laugh at that rather than the people at which it is directed.

    One more thing, South Park actually pokes fun at the stereotype and not the ethnic group. Richard Pryor did this all the time. They are offensive because they force us to see more of ourselves than anything else. They are mocking middle-class white America, and the irony is that so many people miss that point. It’s almost like the less we realize that they are naming fun of us, the more obscene they get.

    And yes the Siamese cat song is about people. Siamese cats’ eyes don’t look like that! C’mon.


  18. Don permalink
    March 24, 2009

    I think Julie is quite right about the Siamese cat song. Just listen to the music. It was composed with east Asian musical styles in mind. Further, almost all cartoon animals are intended to represent people.

    It wasn’t the first time that the Disney folks had engaged in racial stereotyping, either. Do you really think that the crows carrying on after they discover Dumbo in the tree are just crows?

  19. March 24, 2009

    Excellent point about South Park, Drew. It’s the same with all good satire, whether there or in the Simpsons or the Daily Show or whatever. The comedy is not in making fun of others, it’s in the mirror they hold up to let us make fun of ourselves.

  20. Karl permalink
    March 24, 2009

    I feel dumb and unsubtle. How is the Indian convenience store worker in The Simpsons really satire and therefore ok, while other humor that imitates an ethnic look or accent isn’t?

  21. March 24, 2009

    The Simpsons, like South Park, is satirical through and through, and deals in what some philosophers have called “hyper-irony” (cf. Carl Matheson’s chapter in the book The Simpsons & Philosophy: The D’oh! of Homer). In other words, it not only satirizes certain stereotypes, it also undercuts it’s own satire by making fun of itself and its own offensiveness. In other words, both shows clearly utilize offensive stereotypes, but that’s the point, since no one in their right mind would say that things really ought to be the way they are in The Simpsons or South Park. They both show the absurdity of our prejudicial stereotypes by taking them to such an extreme. (Personally, I think South Park does an even better job of this given that it’s even more obviously offensive.)

  22. Karl permalink
    March 24, 2009

    If a huge chunk of your audience doesn’t take it that way and instead thinks its hilarious because 7-11 guy is so much like the guy who owns their local 7-11, are you then excused?

    Maybe the Jonas brothers were being hyper-ironic.

  23. March 24, 2009

    Karl – good point – that’s something I wrestle with. The question it raises is if satire should be permissible if there are people who are too dense to get it. Which of course begs the question if anything deep or controversial should be allowed if there are people who won’t get it or will misunderstand it. What always springs to mind in this debate are the number of conversations I’ve had with people who thought The Matrix was simply an action flick. They had no clue there was a deeper plat with philosophical and religious themes throughout. To them it was just all about violence as entertainment. While I know that was not the point of the movie, it disturbed me that a movie that was trying to even subvert that idea would be taken as such. Same with The Simpsons even as it tries to subvert stereotypes and show their absurdity, some may take it as simply promoting those very stereotypes. It’s a hard call and basically boils down to a relative assessment on the amount of good it may do in the end.

  24. March 25, 2009

    I really think you are reading WAY too much into the Siamese cat song. Maybe I am dense, but when I saw that I thought two things 1) I had the guilty pleasure of admitting I really like the Duff sisters duet of the song and
    2) I laughed hysterically because I was thinking of every sneaky, evil stunt that the various cats I have known in my life have pulled.

    Of course they played Asian music…they are Siamese cats. I think its a huge stretch to read this into it.

    This is PC-ness gone too far. And I think it desensitizes people to real overt racism when people read into every little thing that someone thought to be funny.

    I grew up Jewish and i laugh insanely at Jewish because sadly some of them DO ring a little bit true.

  25. March 25, 2009

    I meant to say Jewish jokes. I was distracted for a moment.

  26. April 3, 2009

    I read this and starred it in my google reader. Now I’ve returned and I’m surprised by the comments. I thought that this post was inspiring and artful, transparent and convicting. Thank you for writing it.

    It’s more about mindfulness than anything else, isn’ it? Being mindful of others, mindful of their struggles, caring for those around us. Which is the heart of it all.

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