It’s so easy to be ignorant. All you have to do is act without reason or compassion.
Last week, Suey Park did just that.
The 23-year-old Korean-American activist ordered her more than 20000 Twitter followers to make her hashtag – #CancelColbert – a trending topic by including it in their own tweets. As a result, the campaign attracted massive online media attention. (Salon.com posted no less than seven articles about it on their site alone.)
Now why did Park want to cancel The Colbert Report? Because of this joke posted on the show’s official Twitter account. (Both were eventually deleted.)
She found it offensive, arguing that fighting racism with more racism is still racism. (The joke was taken from a segment mocking Washington Redskins’ owner Dan Snyder and his insultingly named charity, The Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. Native American groups have been trying unsuccessfully to convince him to change the name of the team. His response has been to half-heartedly pander to them in the most insensitive manner imaginable.)
First of all, who made her the spokesman of what is and isn’t acceptable satire? Second of all, if only her simple logic were so persuasive.
Throughout the last several decades, numerous comedians and actors have used the language of racists in order to discredit and make fun of their dangerously false ideologies. It’s always a risky technique. If your pointed barbs don’t get laughs, the audience can easily turn on you. But when done effectively, they’re laughing and thinking simultaneously. Comedic satire is always at its best when it clicks on multiple levels. It’s not meant to be taken literally, obviously. Ms. Park knows that despite struggling mightily to be successfully satirical herself. (Choosing “Angry Asian Woman” as your Twitter name and then proceeding to be just that in interview after interview is clearly missing the point.)
Consider All In The Family. Its lead character was Archie Bunker who regularly insulted his Polish-American son-in-law Michael by calling him a “dumb Polack” even though he was a thoughtful Liberal. Archie made numerous remarks about various ethnicities that were often offensive (his reference to Latinos and African-Americans as “spics and spades” in the pilot, for instance). But because the character was inarticulate and clueless (he frequently misused words and employed distorted reasoning without any self-awareness), and his terminal grumpiness (he was rarely kind to his long-suffering wife Edith), he was a hilarious self-parody, an artificial, uninformed object of deserved derision. Not unlike Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.
Also consider stand-ups like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Sarah Silverman, Dave Chappelle, Patton Oswalt and Chris Rock who’ve often used racially charged language to make broader points in their own comedic social commentaries. Or how about Nigger Hatin’ Hat, a recurring song parody heard on The Howard Stern Show which knocks former rival Don Imus’ awful treatment of black people? Or Throw The Jew Down The Well, the song Jewish-British performance artist Sasha Baron Cohen convinced unsuspecting white Americans in a bar to sing along with as Borat on his old Da Ali G Show?
Stephen Colbert is part of this rich anti-racist comic tradition. The Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report, as Ms. Park also knows, is the satirical version, a know-nothing conservative pundit specifically designed to emulate the closed-minded, anti-science paranoia of Fox News Channel types like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity and longtime radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh. He’s a carefully designed buffoon meant to savagely eviscerate all of their one-dimensional perspectives while being blissfully unaware that he’s even doing so in the first place.
Since the show’s inception in 2005, the fake Colbert has dove headfirst into race. (The Ching Chong Ding Dong schtick that got him in trouble with Ms. Park and company was one of the first gags he did. It was resurrected in 2011 when Limbaugh foolishly attempted a fake Chinese accent during his radio show while describing the then-Chinese leader Hu Jintao.) It’s one of many complex subjects he and his writing staff have been fearlessly mining for material four days a week for almost a decade to much acclaim and popularity.
So when Ms. Park and her followers decided to take him on for one anti-racist joke they didn’t care for (out of probably many more they could’ve chosen from), it was a clear mismatch right from the start. When Colbert dedicated an entire show to the controversy, he effectively killed off any momentum the misguided campaign had left at that point by cleverly and humourously mixing his real thoughts on Park herself (he wisely told her jerkiest critics to stop harassing and threatening her on Twitter and to let her speak her mind) with the fake Colbert’s obliviousness on his own undetected bigotry (“white American male is neutral”).
He also slyly noted that Michelle Malkin, the frequent Fox News contributor who once wrote a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War 2 (she is Filipino, by the way), has enthusiastically supported #CancelColbert, a rather uncomfortable fact Park’s supporters haven’t seemed too eager to mention. Park herself has been silent on the subject.
Shortly after Colbert’s rebuttal, Park was interviewed by Salon.com. Despite what the increasingly out-of-touch Bob Somerby over at The Daily Howler would love to believe, the young activist has no one to blame but herself for her pitiful performance. That said, even he couldn’t deny the “rambling” nature of her often contradictory, nonsensical comments.
Late last year when Park’s #NotYourAsianSidekick Twitter campaign started to catch fire she told one interviewer how surprised she was that it ever became popular at all. I suspect she is even more surprised by all the attention #CancelColbert received this year. As a result, because she now claims she didn’t actually want the show to be cancelled (she says she’s a fan but it doesn’t sound like she’s a regular viewer), when the media asked her what the point of it all was, she hasn’t done a very good job of fully explaining her true motives.
If she didn’t want The Colbert Report yanked off the air, what did she want exactly? Beyond her basic I-don’t-like-it-when-white-liberals-use-racist-language-to-knock-racism talking point, she won’t say. In fact, at least two interviewers have been scolded for even trying to get more answers out of her, most notably Huffington Post Live’s Jeff Zepps. (She told him it was a “loaded question” when he asked her why she singled out Colbert.)
In the Salon interview, she told Prachi Gupta that she was more interested in the “reaction and conversation” she “was trying to create” rather than having her (and us, for that matter) fully “understand my context” which doesn’t make any sense. When someone launches a public campaign to cancel a TV show it’s clear they’re more interested in censorship than actual dialogue. The fact that she couldn’t even be bothered to watch Colbert’s full-show response is very telling, as well.
Indeed, when it comes to this business of having a conversation, Ms. Park would prefer it to be completely one-sided. Anyone who disagrees with her is part of the problem whether it’s those unnamed, evil “white liberals” she frequently rails against or fellow Asian Americans who either thought the joke was funny (in and/or out of context) or were also offended but disagreed with her cancellation campaign. To her, the latter are those unacceptable “good Asians” who act more like “sidekicks” to us dreaded Caucasians rather than independent thinkers like her. So, by that rather rigid logic, the only acceptable Asian-Americans to her are those who are always in line with stunts like this? She’d make a hell of a dictator.
There’s a troubling, fascistic narcissism heavily sautéed with growing defensiveness to her public statements and actions that make you wonder how she attracts so many willing supporters who, for now, are standing by her rampant foolishness. It’s clear that the sheer volume of attention the #CancelColbert campaign received overwhelmed her so much she has thus far been unable to articulate to a satisfying degree why it really matters and where we go from here. (Or maybe she just doesn’t care.)
Nor is she interested in persuasion. Her blatant hostility to white liberals in general (yet curiously, not white conservatives) and her startling inability to accept that not all Asian-Americans think exactly like her is so unbelievably hypocritical, not to mention deeply insulting, one wonders why she doesn’t immediately recognize this bogus double standard. Is she as clueless about her own prejudices as the fake Stephen Colbert is about his own? The evidence isn’t comforting.
On her Twitter account, she recently acknowledged the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., one of the greatest civil rights leaders in American history. While King’s primary goal was to be a big, strong voice for Black Americans and to help improve & secure their rights and freedoms in a country that has a long history of denying them & their humanity, he didn’t do so at the expense of White America who he viewed as allies, not enemies. The Civil Rights Act Of 1964, one of the most important pieces of domestic legislation ever passed, would not have happened without the support of hundreds of Caucasian Representatives and Senators, both Republican and Democrat.
But when Park was asked by Salon, “What is the best way to work with white people, to get them on our side?”, regarding her own causes, she responded, “I don’t want them on our side.”
Martin Luther King gave his life to bring the races together. The divisive Suey Park would rather piss on that proud legacy.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 5, 2014