January 21, 2007

"So what is it that makes Rosie's 'ching chong' so offensive?"

Language Log gives us the expert linguistic analysis. Aren't you allowed to imitate a foreign language with a simple syllable? The Swedish Chef Muppet did.

24 comments:

vbspurs said...

Chef was white.

He's part of the oppressive, racist, national socialist heart of darkness of the White Man, duh.

Making fun of the Chinese is clearly worse -- they could poke one's eyes out with their chopsticks.

Cheers,
Victoria

Anonymous said...

I'm Chinese American and was only slightly offended. I'd say it's mostly a combination of explanations B and D. I think B (painful weight of history) should be further split into two possibilities - personal history and history in the larger sense. When I was pretty young, in elementary and middle schools, it was pretty much an automatic fight if someone said something like that to me in a taunting manner. Because I have my own personal memories of feeling marginalized, singled out because of my ethnicity, and a few fistfights over such taunts, it does pain me to see someone say this in a public forum. As for explanation D (sensitivity to being labeled something other than a mainstream American), I definitely feel that way sometimes, but not in this case. She is not saying that Asian Americans are not part of American society, since she is actually talking about Chinese people in China. I think the distinction is important, and what ultimately makes her comments largely harmless. My personal history behind the "ching chong" phrases involved comments directed specifically at me, personally.

Even though I didn't really get worked up about the actual "ching chong" dialog, but I was disappointed in the half-assed apology - "I'm sorry for those people who felt hurt" sounds a lot like "It's not my fault you're too sensitive, and I'm sorry that because of you people, I cannot say such things on the air anymore" to me.

Anonymous said...

It is Rosie, she is on television and she is held to a standard of conduct of broadcasting. I can do it in my bathroom and no one cares.

CB said...

I was disappointed in the half-assed apology

At least she didn't say "Me so solly!"

vbspurs said...

Even though I didn't really get worked up about the actual "ching chong" dialog, but I was disappointed in the half-assed apology - "I'm sorry for those people who felt hurt" sounds a lot like "It's not my fault you're too sensitive, and I'm sorry that because of you people, I cannot say such things on the air anymore" to me.

That's precisely the conclusion offered up by the Language Log site.

That and the whole concept of being the lumps in the national American stew:

Chinese (or by inference, East Asians) floating at the top, not having mixed with the rest below.

This is what Rosie O'Donnell's remarks highlighted not by merely the Ching-Chong, but by her disingenuous, "Really, that's considered racist, I didn't know".

You know, in the UK, there is an ENORMOUS row about the whole Celebrity Big Brother fracas.

A famous Indian actress, Shilpa Shetty, was referred to by a series of slurs of the Ching-Chong variety ("There goes the Pappadom"), by her fellow celebs last week, and the lead offender, Jane Goody -- white trash incarnate -- was kicked off this Friday.

(I'm surprised Ann didn't blog about it: or me, come to that)

C4 received over 40,000 letters in protest about her, and Channel 4 -- more lefty a network than ANYTHING that can be imagined here in the US -- lost a £7.5m corporate sponsorship already.

The difference is that Americans are used to these hubbubs about racialised remarks (witness Jimmy the Greek, Fuzzy Zoeller, even Howard Cosell), but we in the UK have never been this touchy about the topic.

Like many people, these types of incidents make me cringe doubly.

A) I don't want cultures to feel constrained by PC nazis, since there is no happy medium when political correctness starts.

B) I can see a backlash in a society as contrarian as the UK, to PCness. And that will only lead to saying "ching-chong" things, not because it's funny, but because it irritates the fuddy duddies.

A la Borat...

Me, I poke fun at everyone, stopping short of using the n-word, which is my own particular bugbear.

If you want to make fun of the British, with our funny teeth and funnier little customs, knock yourselves out!

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Shane, I'm sorry, I forgot to add this to your "She is not saying that Asian Americans are not part of American society, since she is actually talking about Chinese people in China".

But isn't the point, though, that the Chinese are not ONLY in China, anymore?

Cheers,
Victoria

Anonymous said...

Chef was funny!

Victoria, the National Lampoon had the best description of the English: "Cold blood queers with ruddy complexions and bad teeth who once conquered half the world and still haven't figured out central heating."

and other nationalities fared, far, far worse in NatLamp land!

Anonymous said...

Painful weight of history.

The difference between the Swedish Chef and Rosie's "ching-chong" bit is the difference between ethnic (anybody remember that thing called "ethnic" humor?) and racist humor. On the one hand, you're using one of the most basic ways of making fun of someone to make light of a people who've traditionally been treated as competitors and neighbors, OTOH, you use the same technique to make fun of people who have been (and some of whom still are) treated as indentured servants. So one is ribbing while the other is a reminder of hard labor, beatings, and generally shitty treatment.

Another problem is that Rosie has set herself up as some sort of expert on PC-ness and Great Moralizer, so having her spew something so obviously racist on national televsision just makes it worse. And then to top it all off, it wasn't even that funny. If she had done the bit in Mandarin or Cantonese, or a close approximation of either, it would have been clever, surprising, and it would have worked. Instead she went about it in the most ham-handed way possible.

Cat said...

When I saw the video and heard the context of Rosie's remarks - mentioning how even in China they are talking about Danny Devito's drunken appearance and the only thing she could understand in Chinese was "the view" and all the other words were "ching chong ching" - I didn't think they were racist. She wasn't making fun of someone. However, I was annoyed by all of the Asian civil rights activist making hay (one particular city councilman is always calling people racist to get on TV and in the papers).

However, I was PLEASED to see Rosie being called out as a racist because as unfair as it was, it was just as unfair of her to call Kelly Ripa a homophobe on the air after Ripa reprimanded Clay Aiken for putting a hand over her mouth during an interview (and Clay isn't out as a gay man, but that doesn't matter to Rosie since she's now out everyone needs to be as "brave" as she is - bravely coming out after making millions as a straight woman on her own show). I felt it was just desserts.

No fan of sanctamonious Rosie here.

Anonymous said...

A) I don't want cultures to feel constrained by PC nazis, since there is no happy medium when political correctness starts.

I'd argue that avoiding "ching-chong" as a way to make fun of the way Chinese people speak isn't PC, it's politeness. Saying that we shouldn't do something because it's just mean-spirited isn't the same as saying we shouldn't do something because it doesn't fit within our worldview of an ordered society where people have to see "identity" trumping everything else.

B) I can see a backlash in a society as contrarian as the UK, to PCness. And that will only lead to saying "ching-chong" things, not because it's funny, but because it irritates the fuddy duddies.

The trouble with backlash is that it gives real racists license to come out of the closet. By all means, there is plenty of reason to poke fun at everyone, but it has to be done with intelligence and finesse--we laugh at the Swedish Chef not because of it confirms the stereotype, but because it makes fun of that stereotype. We don't laugh at Rosie's ching-chonging because, like a bull in a China shop, she's running straight to the stereotype without thinking.

Cat said...

Ann, I don't have an answer to your question other than the Swedes haven't organized.

Victoria, on the news last night - slow news night - they had a few minutes on the outrage in India (people protesting for the cameras) over that Big Brother UK show and the fact that it comes up in news conferences with politicians and Tony Blair had to say something about it on the floor of Parliament (you know, racism is not acceptable anywhere in England, I mean Britain). I mean, can you imagine the POTUS having to make a statement about say, Michael Richards?

The Indian actress on Big Brother is gorgeous.

vbspurs said...

I'd argue that avoiding "ching-chong" as a way to make fun of the way Chinese people speak isn't PC, it's politeness.

I agree with you (who wouldn't agree with this?), Ploorian, but that always fell under the rubric of simple, good manners.

Saying that we shouldn't do something because it's just mean-spirited isn't the same as saying we shouldn't do something because it doesn't fit within our worldview of an ordered society where people have to see "identity" trumping everything else.

Further to this (going off on my own tangent as I do recognise):

Political correctness is an off-shoot of the social relativist observations of Levy and is a direct consequence of the need to control people's thoughts, after the unravelling of world societal norms, post-1960s.

The problem is that politically correct people act as if saying "ching-chong" to a Chinese person was something we've only just discovered as being wrong, and racist. It's not.

Making personal remarks of ANY nature about ANYONE has always been wrong.

That people did it, whether in ignorance or on purpose, didn't excuse it in polite society, then, I would argue (somewhat controversially), even more than now.

Can you imagine if a British High Commissioner of the Victorian Era had met his Chinese counterparts in Hong Kong, making a squinty-eyed gesture upon introduction?

He would've been recalled on the SPOT.

Well, here is Brazilian soccer star, Ronaldo, arriving in Seoul airport -- greeting his welcome-sign bearing hosts.

Nice one, Ronaldinho.

Of course, being called gaijin in Tokyo was no fun for me either, but I think they know they're wrong too, and that's why people deny it so strenuously when caught out.

Cheers,
Victoria

LoafingOaf said...

cat: I felt it was just desserts.

Yes, I was gonna say what Cat said. I first heard about the ching-chong thing from Michelle Malkin's web site, and I took it as Malkin getting excited for a fake outrage opportunity against a lefty. Nevertheless, it kind of made me happy that Rosie had stepped in some doggy doo because, as Cat mentions, she had very unjustifiably tried to paint Kelly Ripa as a "homophobe" over nothing.

But was Rosie being racist? Of course not. You have to consider how something is intended, instead of acting like poking fun at the way a foreign language sounds to an english speaker's ears is always racist. All the times I've ever imitated Asian lagnuages in humorous fashion has been simply because I watch a lot of kung fu movies and think they're righteous.

vbspurs said...

I mean, can you imagine the POTUS having to make a statement about say, Michael Richards?

There you go, Cat!

I was hoping someone other than I would point that out, since it makes my earlier point about us not being used to it, stand out.

PCness is a relatively new thing in Britain, and if it's new to us, it's VERY new to the rest of Europe.

(Remember what I said about Spain's soccer manager, Luis Aragones?)

We're all just getting into it.

At heart, political correctness is a noble attempt to curb the baser impulses of human beings, based on tolerance and awareness.

Fine and wonderful.

But somewhere along the line (in the 1990s in the US, I would hazard), it transformed itself into something strident, claustrophobic, and nearly as ugly as what it attempts to rehabilitate.

It can be a bully of a doctrine, made worse since its enforcers feel they have the marginalised, downtrodden's rights on their side. They wouldn't be the first, but they have politics as their guide, not compassion.

What you are seeing happen in the UK is what happened to you in microcosm in the US, AT FULL SPEED, without the 30 years as trial-and-error to cushion society's reactions.

Thus, Tony has had to weigh in on the topic that is rending Britain apart this Sunday.

Is Celebrity Big Brother a mirror of British society? Or is this an exaggeration of what happens in daily life, for the benefit of the camera and ratings? How about the Rosie ching-chong incident?

Both, would be my post-modern answer.

And it's as unsatisfying an answer, as was the question.

Cheers,
Victoria

Anonymous said...

I agree with you (who wouldn't agree with this?)

I guess what I was getting at is that PC-types actually don't agree with this; that is that their arguments are concerned with the artficial construct they've created to justify their own type of bigotry. In doing so, they move the focus away from more basic and important rules of social interaction like politeness.

Ploorian, but that always fell under the rubric of simple, good manners.

A rubric which is often ignored these days.

The best type of humor is decidedly not nice (take Basil Fawlty--one of the worst people to have ever been imagined, yet possibly one of the funniest) but it has to walk that fine line between challenging social taboo and breaking that taboo completely. (I know, that's muddy, but then defining why something's funny is always muddy.)

Well, here is Brazilian soccer star, Ronaldo, arriving in Seoul airport -- greeting his welcome-sign bearing hosts.

What an ass. Then again, he's a jock.

IMO, saying "ching-chong" is the same as doing the slanty-eyed thing. I don't know if I can define more clearly why it's racist, it just is. "I know it when I see it," is a lame cop-out, but there you go.

Jennifer said...

I think the reason her comment was so offensive to some people, was that she has always held herself up as being the little guy and very anti-bigotry. So, if even THAT person feels comfortable on live TV spewing something most people could recognize as a fairly well-used racist taunt...well, then who does perceive the Chinese with respect?

As for me personally, nothing Rosie says offends me. She's an idiot with verbal diarrhea. Nothing she says matters.

Joe Baby said...

Rosie can't be racist. She's gay, for cryin' out loud.

Surprised more folks haven't giggled openly re: her slam of the American Idol folks, when she mocked the "three millionaires" among the panel.

There's that many among "The View," and would be four if not for Joy Behar having to spend so much to maintain friends and a tensile-strength face.

Joe said...

This is one of those things that I distinctly remember bothering me as a teenager. When people pulled their eyes up slanted, it bugged me even more. Oddly, I don't recall perceiving it as racist, probably because I didn't think that way, just tasteless.

I have tried to understand my reaction, but have no clue. The Swedish Chef didn't bother me. Jacques Clouseau didn't bother me. I realize, though, that blackface also made me uneasy. The "n" word made me squirm, even when black comedians used it.

I think part of it may be that it's such a cheap and base attempt humor. There was no thought, just attempting to entertain using stereotypes. (This is one thing that bugs me about many ethnic, especilly Latino, comedians [and even redneck comedians]--many are very funny, but they resort to just throwing out cliches in attempts at getting a laugh.)

vbspurs said...

I guess what I was getting at is that PC-types actually don't agree with this; that is that their arguments are concerned with the artficial construct they've created to justify their own type of bigotry.

Yes. :(

In doing so, they move the focus away from more basic and important rules of social interaction like politeness.

Right, because implicit is the fact that once the rules of social interaction broke down in the '60s (in large part, due to their generation's doing), they were left with lack of the niceties which oil social interaction -- they can be fake, sexist, etc. but they are there to avoid conflict and smooth daily life (part of being educated, is to be courteous, after all), like a man opening the door for a woman.

A rubric which is often ignored these days.

Yes, but I'm always pleasantly surprised how nice people are, especially in this country -- outside the big cities.

Metropolises do something to people, and that something isn't nice.

The best type of humor is decidedly not nice (take Basil Fawlty--one of the worst people to have ever been imagined, yet possibly one of the funniest) but it has to walk that fine line between challenging social taboo and breaking that taboo completely. (I know, that's muddy, but then defining why something's funny is always muddy.)

Hmm.

It seems to me that part of both Rosie and Celeb Big Brother in the UK is that talk shows and reality shows mimic real life.

Whereas with performances (such as in movies, or sitcoms, e.g.), we suspend belief and enter another level of social consciousness.

You can imagine a Jewish person laughing uproariously at Borat the one minute, but decking a guy the moment they step out of the theatre, if someone calls them a "cockroach".

Talk and reality shows blur that perception, but there is still a fair amount of "performance" expected.

What an ass. Then again, he's a jock.

Ploorian, this happens all over Brazilian, from people who are not jocks...

Not that you were saying this, but I often get the impression that people in America beat themselves up over such things, thinking they're the worst, or the only ones to do these things.

Furthermore, that magically because a person is black or what-have-you, they don't do this.

"They're a minority! They know how it feels to be made fun of!", which Joe Baby joked about below.

IMO, saying "ching-chong" is the same as doing the slanty-eyed thing. I don't know if I can define more clearly why it's racist, it just is. "I know it when I see it," is a lame cop-out, but there you go.

Nah...well, for me. :)

Not being Chinese, I don't know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such a gesture, and frankly, people making fun of the British has ZERO effect on me (probably a superiority complex we have about ourselves...), with gestures or not.

But it seems to me that slanty-eyed thing, wow, that's really below the belt.

P.S.: Don't worry about Ronaldo.

When he and his Brazilian teammates (who consider themselves white in Brazil, but to their rude amazement they find out others don't think so) travel around Spain, playing at different venues, Spaniards throw bananas at them, whilst making monkey noises.

I hate that crap, and I don't condone it one white, and believe it or not, Ronaldo is a down-to-earth guy who is NOT a jerk -- but you know what? Serves the bastard right.

What goes around, comes around.

Cheers,
Victoria

paul a'barge said...

Folks, Sid Caesar. Or, if you like Sid Caesar.

Please. This guy has been doing the ching chong schtick for literally years. No one had a cow.

Can't we all just get along?

Anonymous said...

What makes Rosie O'Donnell's comments so offensive is she so adament that no one make any comments regarding gay marriage or gay adoption. She is very politically correct on issues facing her but isn't consistent in her treatment of other groups.

If the creators of South Park made the same dumb joke, people would not have been as upset because South Park offends everyone equally. Rosie, however, believes she can just pick on certain groups and doesn't see how anyone could possibly object.

Finn Kristiansen said...

The problem with Rosie is that she is hypocritical. She comes down on others for what they say and do, ignoring her own flaws or variations on the same behavior.

Second, she is particularly ulgy in the process. Those hideous faces she makes are neither cute or funny, but only further enhance her ugliness. And what could be a pleasant, happy, visage is overwhelmed by a flood of just beastly smugness. Her soul written across her face is quite nasty.

As for the comments themselves, it represents a rather low level of humor that might offend some Chinese Asians and others.

As for the Swedish Chef, he is a puppet. It's within their code of conduct as a species to have wider latitude in how they express themselves, and they are often quite funny in the process. Also, the target of the humor (Swedes) are not considered backwards or particularly stupid.

That is, nobody would never want to a Swede, and racism seems to come closest when one is making fun of people who are in a bad condition to begin with, or mocking people who you, on some internal level, would never want to be.

vbspurs said...

Finn Christiansen wrote:

As for the Swedish Chef, he is a puppet. It's within their code of conduct as a species to have wider latitude in how they express themselves, and they are often quite funny in the process.

LOL! "As a species". Classic.

Also, the target of the humor (Swedes) are not considered backwards or particularly stupid.

Uh, no.

Haven't you ever heard of the phrase, "Dumb Swede"?

(This sadly applies to all Scandinavians, according to popular perceptions of them)

No less an authority as Garrison Keillor has made a career on that phrase.

Cheers,
Victoria

Anonymous said...

Right, because implicit is the fact that once the rules of social interaction broke down in the '60s (in large part, due to their generation's doing), they were left with lack of the niceties which oil social interaction -- they can be fake, sexist, etc. but they are there to avoid conflict and smooth daily life (part of being educated, is to be courteous, after all), like a man opening the door for a woman.

The irony is that they actually do demand those niceties, but only on their terms. They've decided that shame is bad ("If it feels good, do it'), and yet one of their primary tactics is to try to shame people if they've done what feels good but it conflicts with the rules of Identity Politics.

In other words, they want to tear down the oppressive patriarchy and replace it with...something else that's just as oppressive.

Yes, but I'm always pleasantly surprised how nice people are, especially in this country -- outside the big cities.

Yeah, people stil llearn manners, but there seems to be a rise in examples of outright rudeness.

Metropolises do something to people, and that something isn't nice.

Rats in a cage. You cram in too many and they start eating each other.

It seems to me that part of both Rosie and Celeb Big Brother in the UK is that talk shows and reality shows mimic real life.

Whereas with performances (such as in movies, or sitcoms, e.g.), we suspend belief and enter another level of social consciousness.


Yeah, but humor is humor and "reality" shows and talk shows are still performances. (Most people applying to get on "reality" shows are actors and actresses, making their "realness" questionable.) And one of Rosie's defenses for her stupid behavior was that her ching-chonging wasn't any different than the Irish accent she uses in her club. (Because using a quaint accent to tell amusing anecdotes about your relatives and your days at Catholic school is exactly the same as reducing a language with hundreds of dialects down to two syllables.) So I take it that Rosie thought she was doing a "bit"--a bit which she at least thought about beforehand if she didn't actually rehearse it.

So, Joe Baby, her defense was even more lame than claiming immunity because she's gay.

You can imagine a Jewish person laughing uproariously at Borat the one minute, but decking a guy the moment they step out of the theatre, if someone calls them a "cockroach".

That's true. Dave Chappelle tells a story about how after his hilarious "Niggar Family" sketch (about a white family named "Niggar") white people seemed to think that gave them license to walk up to him and casually use the N-word.

Talk and reality shows blur that perception, but there is still a fair amount of "performance" expected.

Take Basil Fawlty again. In "The Germans" he takes on a ridiculous Nazi-esque accent and tops his performance off with goose-stepping through the hotel. What Cleese is doing there is not racist because he makes himself/his character the object of ridicule and goes beyond that ridicule into a critique through parody of English attitudes toward Germans.

Not that you were saying this, but I often get the impression that people in America beat themselves up over such things, thinking they're the worst, or the only ones to do these things.

They do indeed beat themselves up more than others. Somehow the fiction has spread that what we would call racism in this country is mere "sectarian" or "ethnic" differences in others. It even exists here to some extent. Blacks putting down Asians isn't "racism", it's "ethnic differences".

Not being Chinese, I don't know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of such a gesture, and frankly, people making fun of the British has ZERO effect on me (probably a superiority complex we have about ourselves...), with gestures or not.

I don't know how it feels either, but I do know that after Rosie shot her mouth off a Chinese friend of mine said, "I guess this means it's okay to call her a fat d*ke now."

I think a lot of Asians found it offensive, but they're not all going to go running to the ACLU to file lawsuits.

Please. This guy has been doing the ching chong schtick for literally years. No one had a cow.

Different times, different sets of rules, fewer venues available for complaint.