Wednesday, March 7, 2012

"Yumi so sorry": media, masculinity and racism

In the same way that two wrongs make a right, the answer to being offended is, of course, to be even more offensive.

Australia's most-read tabloid showed its true colours again last week when it reported on some objectionable comments made on morning chat show The Circle. Co-host Yumi Stynes and guest George Negus made some regrettable cracks about Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith, a soldier awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery in Afghanistan. Based on his musclebound physique, they implied that he was a meathead and lacking in the bedroom. Cue outrage, strangely out of proportion to the number of people who actually watch The Circle, stoked largely by the Herald-Sun and it's associated News Limited papers. Stynes and Negus duly apologised.

At this point I should also mention that Yumi Stynes has a Japanese mother (she's one of the most prominent people of Asian background on Australian TV). Why is this relevant? Well, actually it's not relevant at all. Although someone at the Herald Sun thought it worth bringing up anyway, as the story was referenced on the front page (pictured below). See if you can spot the racism:

Don't get me wrong; the comments about Corporal Roberts-Smith were classless and uncalled for. I personally don't see why Stynes and Negus would think such a line of conversation was a good idea, even on a program on which light-hearted banter is a prominent feature. But equally, it's hard to see why anyone would think repeating a derogatory Asian stereotype from a bygone era is the appropriate response from any media outlet.

If you're not so sure what "me so sorry" is referencing, here's an example of The Simpsons referencing it:

Except The Simpsons' writers obviously know that it's not actually funny. Whoever writes headlines for the Herald Sun clearly didn't get the memo, and thinks it's hilarious.

To put it in perspective, it was only a couple of weeks ago that ESPN in the US sacked someone for coming up with this headline:

So, cue the massive outrage at the Herald Sun's similar racial insensitivity?

Er, nope. Next to nothing.

Now, I haven't even mentioned yet the ugly nature of the social media frenzy that has been stirring around the program, particularly towards Stynes. Here's an example:


Of course, those are worse than the Herald Sun, but the Herald Sun is supposed to hold to a slightly higher standard than random douchebags on social media.
I understand people taking offense, but there is something really odd about THAT many people taking THAT much offense about comments that, while certainly mean-spirited, were clearly meant in jest, and were about one individual (Roberts-Smith) who most people knew nothing about a week ago.
And while Negus has received plenty of ill-will for his role in all this, it is notable that he seems to have escaped the very worst of it. That has been reserved for Stynes, who clearly deserves it for being (a) female, (b) Asian, and (c) a successful single mother.

Clearly the people making comments like those captured above are not overly sensitive souls who take objection to crude banter on morning television. So why is their rage so palpable?

I take it as a sign that subconsciously, many people feel like the concept of white Australian traditional masculinity is under threat, and has been for a while, and so its defenders are lashing out at someone that represents something strange and different. This is not to say that a certain level of anger at the comments made on The Circle is not justified. Just that a good deal of that anger is about punishing someone who "forgot her place" and dared to poke fun at someone who symbolizes the power of white male masculinity.

For some more context, try these three very good articles:

Why the abuse of Yumi Stynes must stop (covers the sexism angle)

Misplaced outrage: abuse and the army

Exclusive: George Negus isn't Satan


  1. We live in a world where we are controlled by electronic media. We are shown on our televisions which products will let everyone know we keep a clean house. We are told which shampoo is the best for our particular type of hair. We are told that giving this cereal to our child will make them run faster and do better at school. But television stations have to understand that they carry a great responsibility. While their primary job is entertainment they also have the responsibility to teach and educate. They have to understand that when they speak people listen. We look to the news at night to keep us informed, we watch documentaries. Television stations MUST show their audience that they respect and value this responsibility. This means taking action against injustice swiftly and concisely. The only correct action is to terminate the employment of those who abuse this power.

  2. Why should she apologise?

    1) The comments were made during (a very rare!) case of female objectification of a male's body. (and yet it was surely the ADF that approved the footage highlighting his physique. And name me a male commentator who ever got sacked for objectifying a woman?)
    2) It is a show by women, for women.
    3) It was fine to make admiring comments, but the idea that a woman might find a semi-naked muscle-bound soldier to be unappealing because 1) he looks stupid and 2) he is trained to kill people, is not considered valid opinion.
    4) The anger is driven overwhelmingly by men.

    This is the message- “When promoting the achievements of a soldier, it is permitted to show his semi-naked body. Women may not comment on this, but if they do, the correct response is “Oh, I want to have his babies.” Any negative response is illegitimate and treason. No apologies or explanations will be accepted. She may be abused, threatened, racially vilified and be systematically driven from her employment (as one of the few women (and fewer of colour) permitted to make regular personal comment on TV). She should be made an example of to all other women, particularly those that don’t have names or skins quite like ours.”


    Background- there had been earlier media coverage of Ben Roberts-Smith including an interview showing him with his family and also it was felt necessary to show him semi-naked in the pool with huge muscles and tatts (presumably cleared for release by the ADF). This image was repeated in the media. On Tuesday, Yumi’s co-host Gorgi said “there’s something that’s been going through my mind all weekend- here it is” and showed the picture of him in the pool, looking sternly into the middle-distance. She then proceeded to gush. Yumi knew little about Roberts-Smith but was not impressed by the picture. She obviously didn’t find him attractive and thought he looked stupid. Negus was asked for comment and first said the whole thing looked like reverse sexism. He then succumbed and said whether people “like that” were up to it in the sack. He was clearly uncomfortable with the whole affair and looked immensely anxious and pleased to change the subject to Mark Arbib’s resignation.

    So- their comments were not driven by a news story or a picture of the soldier with his kids or in combat, but prominent and public footage of a semi-naked soldier. It was one woman admiring a soldier’s semi-naked body, another dissenting and a man uncomfortable passing comment.

    Negus has publicly and personally clarified his remark. He knows the soldier personally and wasn’t making personal reference to IVF or anything else about him. By “blokes like that” he meant tatooted beefheads in pools. My feeling is that the topic was about male sexuality and attractiveness, and Negus, who is very far from a tattooed Adonis, felt the need to reject, first the whole exercise, and second the assumption that only a musclebound hunk can be pleasing to a woman.

    The media has little time for context and every appetite for inflaming passion, indignation and hate (which sells).

    For more context on the hate- check “Yumi and Ben- The Militarisation of Australia and the Democratisation of Hate”-

  3. Fark...Get over it gronks....there are chinks everywhere and japs and wogs, same as honkys, I'ties and white all can fark off outta my country...we nvr wanted any of you in our country..
    Yes, I am a proud aboriginal...get used to it..dont like it?? read above

    yes and you are not white...
    two wongs don't make a white
    but two black fellas make it deadly

    "PLEASE give yourself a name"
    huh?? WTF? yes, hitler.. go n ask the government what my name is and then ask me to my face to leave a name..see how far u get or more appropriately where u end up

    1. Hai there, troll!

    2. Matt Lewis is a racist who is posting vile hate: Here is a like to his facebook profile:

  4. Found this as most of it has been deleted.... "Here is one example of racist and violent abuse towards Yumi and her supporters. I have other screenshot as well. I sent a message to Matt Lewis' employers with this image so they knew who was working for them."
    Unfortunately there are many racists out there, even the best people are.
    This is anon as I don't know how to do the others. :)

  5. Thankfully only a certain aspect of real, and relevant australians actually appreciate or add to this whole debacle. this to me indicates a big pending shakedown for mass media in our country. Let's do it.

    Give it 5 years or less for when technology, innovation and investment emerges and hopefully diminishes the current financial model, forcing current advertisers who probably have no choice but to pay for this rubbished vitreole to reconsider and realise that better money is elsewhere... no matter coming from a fat corporate whore running a commercial tv or news publication or an amazing individual with heart, wit and a camera.

    Heaven forbid, failing that, lawyers may just start opportuning and actively encouraging people to sue the shit out off the people behind the controls. just like what has already happened in other established nations.

    big wigs, just remember, they're your controls, not our controls.

    The people will win so good on you eurasian (and the above anonymous user) for actively highlighting these issues.

  6. jarrod hill @ the1trugod@hotmail.comMarch 7, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    yumi stynes is a dead set MILF!!!! ;), marry me yumi!!! lol

    1. Yeah you might have kinda missed the point of the post there, Jarrod.

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