Friday, January 13, 2012

2 Broke Girls and the Freedom to be Offensive


2 Broke Girls has turned out to be a smash hit for CBS since it first premiered this fall.  The show essentially revolves around the relationship between the ever so sassy and street smart Max, and the now broke heiress Caroline.  They become friends after Caroline is hired to work at the same restaurant as Max, which is owned by Han Lee.  The show seems to pride itself in being offensive, in the effort to promote girl power 2.0.

It really would be nice if we could finally have a show that empowers one group of marginalized people, without actively attacking others, but suffice it to say, 2 Broke Girls is simply not that show. Earl is the cashier at the restaurant, and only appears on camera to say one or two sarcastic lines and occasionally dole out advice like a wise sage negro should. As bad as the weekly reduction of Earl played by Garret Morris is, he is trumped by Han Lee played by Matthew Moy.

Now that we live in a post racial world, it certainly not appropriate to point out racism, or limit the right of White men to enjoy ironic racism.
But a session to promote the series deteriorated into an uncomfortable and messy clash between reporters and executive producer Michael Patrick King, who grew agitated with repeated questions about the continuing controversy concerning the show's lone Asian character, the owner of a diner who speaks in broken English.

Even though King had been expecting questions about the character Han Lee (Matthew Moy) since it has been an issue since the series premiered, he became increasingly defensive as the session wore on, making what amounted to a flat joke about the Irish heritage and sexual orientation of one reporter who continued to press him about whether CBS had asked him to make Han more dimensional and tone down his ethnicity.

The producer's combative demeanor ultimately cast a sour note over what should have been an upbeat session. (source)
This reporter just was not willing to play nice.  He spoiled the fun by putting Michael Patrick King in a foul mood.  He had to expect that they would go on the attack.  When it is framed as a joke, racism isn't racism anymore.  Haven't comedians been repeating this for months now?  The real problem isn't that Han Lee is racist character, because he evokes Charlie Chan, and fits the stereotype of the perpetual foreigner, nope, the problem is that people of colour simply cannot take a joke when aimed at us.  Isn't it time we all recognize how much pain we cause, when we even remotely suggest a White man might be acting in a racist manner?


Besides, Michael Patrick King has a built get out jail card.  Wait for it......
When the subject kept returning to Han Lee, King grew increasingly contentious. "I like Han and the fact that he's an immigrant," King said, adding that he didn't find the character offensive. King added that because he is gay — and a comedy writer — it gave him permission to poke fun at other "outsiders." (emphasis mine)

And even though King maintained that he had received no instructions from the network about toning down Han's more stereotypical characteristics, he noted that the last three episodes had not made any Asian jokes — only jokes about the character's shortness.
Well that answers all of my questions.  Now that we know that Michael Patrick King must negotiate homophobia, of course that gives him an in-depth understanding as a White man of how difficult it is for Asian men. How could I have missed this very important fact?  So I guess that means that if you are White and GLBT you have the right to be as racist as you want and by extension, this applies to those who are White and female, White and disabled, White and poor, and of course White and negotiating ageism.  All of these oppressions cancel out White privilege, because they work to effectively mute the degree to which one can benefit from Whiteness. I feel better now, don't you?  I knew that there had to be a reason why this character couldn't reasonably be called racist, and now that a White man of class privilege has broken it down for my feeble, over sensitive mind, I get it.

The best part is that now we can all go back to watching 2 Broke Girls without any guilt about supporting the oppression of people of colour.  If you have any nagging doubts, just hold onto the fact that this is all meant to be a joke and that makes it harmless. You also have the added bonus of not needing to worry about internalizing anything bad, because everyone knows that Asians represent the good minority. Whiteness would never attack a group that they have been so benevolent to now would they?

H/T Angry Asian Man