American pop culture has always had an on-again-off-again love affair with East Asian culture. The fascination with the ancient arts of China, the tech-savvy, neon style of Japan and the new film boom in Korea and Hong Kong have sparked new interest in all things "Asian" in the West. Somehow, this reoccurring trend cycle hasn't always resulted in a greater understanding of America's East Asian community. Here's a quick hit list of some of the more recent bumps along the road of the media's relationship with East Asian America.
New York Press publishes a cover story by Melissa De La Cruz with the headline "Gook Fetish." Despite the fact that the title is actually taken from a quote by one of the author's subjects (whom the author, an Asian woman, properly skewers), the cover title incites a tidal wave of hate mail from readers.
Lost In Translation
Sofia "I vacationed in Japan as a youth" Coppola directs a film that is all gloss, starring a bored Bill Murray who smirks his way through the entire film, exasperated that he is forced to endure the "wacky Japanese culture" in order to claim a seven-figure promotional check. The Japanese actors in the film are so two-dimensional, you begin to realize that Sofia is merely recounting her memories in Japan when she, like the film's characters, most likely remained cloistered in an upscale Western hotel, complained about the lack of English-speaking help and smirked sarcastically at everything that didn't immediately make sense. Yoshiro Tsuchiya, critic for Yomiuri Shimbun, wrote, "Sofia's view of Japan is outrageously biased and banal?To make matters worse, all the Japanese characters are portrayed only smiling or bowing." Sofia's tour de farce earned the film an Oscar.
April 16, 2004
Details Magazine Protest
Roughly 200 protesters picket outside the headquarters of Fairchild Publications, the publisher of Details magazine, after the title's release of a feature by Whitney McNally called "Gay or Asian?" A photo of a young Asian man is shown accompanied by a diagram designed to point out the similarities between a gay man and the average Asian man. Details editor Daniel Peres follows with a public letter stating, "There's a line that should never be crossed in any satirical humor, and Details crossed it. I, on behalf of the magazine, deeply regret this misstep, and apologize to those who were offended."
January 27, 2005
New York radio powerhouse Hot 97 airs "The Miss Jones Morning Show," in which a parody of "We Are The World" is played with lyrics making light of the major tsunami disaster in Asia that occurred in December of 2004. New York's Asian community rallies to protest the station resulting in advertiser drop-offs and several firings at the station.
January 29, 2006 Memoirs of a Geisha
Hollywood golden boy Rob Marshall decides that a story set in Japan, about Japanese Geishas and framed by Japanese history, will work perfectly fine if 90 percent of the cast is, in fact, Chinese. Ironically, most Japanese polled don't seem to mind, but the casting decision is met with outrage from the Chinese community. Months after the film's release, China quietly bans Memoirs of a Geisha from playing in Chinese theaters.
April 22, 2006
NY Post "Wok This Way"
The New York Post, attempting to continue its tradition of cover text shock and awe, goes to press with the cover tag "Wok This Way" alongside a photo of president George W. Bush tugging the sleeve of Chinese President Hu Jintao at a White House event. The Asian American Journalists Association launches an initiative aimed at addressing the flap, but The Post offers no apology.
April 29, 2006
Adidas Sneaker Misstep
Adidas releases a line called the "Yellow Series" led by a new shoe called the Y1-HUF, designed by San Francisco artist Barry McGee. Upon hitting stores, the $250 item sells out all over New York City. The problem occurs when it is noted that the shoe's tongue features a stitched-in illustration of a slant-eyed, bowl-cut, bucked-tooth caricature of an Asian man. Once the story gains steam, Adidas pulls all remaining Y1-HUF shoes off the streets.