Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Racism and the many different Australias (@ Peril Magazine)

I have another post up at Peril Magazine. It's a long screed about the different ways people see racism in Australia, and the difficulty of analyzing it objectively.

If you ask someone who is somewhat right-wing, most of the time they will tell you that Australia is not really racist. Likewise, a left-winger will usually tell you that it is.
Why is that? Well, those on the left like to highlight the evils of “the system” and those they deem to have power and status, and champion the rights of the little guy (in this case, minority groups). So it suits their worldview to see racism around every corner. Conservatives, by contrast, like to imagine that life is one big level playing field where everyone can achieve whatever they want if they work hard enough, and thus they tend to see claims of racism as mere rabble-rousing. Likewise, a conservative point of view likes to defend the idealised traditional Australia of yesteryear, when things were simpler, a time before people with funny foreign names arrived and started trying to change everything.

Check it here.

Racists disappointed by "Hunger Games"

Sometimes, people just suck.
This is why:

Read the full article at Jezebel. Most fascinating.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Even more Awesome Asian Ads: Japan

I sometimes wish I could understand Japanese just so I could understand what the hell is going on in their ads and TV shows. But perhaps it's even better watching them and not knowing.

Want more? Of course you do. Go here, here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Another smoking kid in Indonesia

Ilham, who lives in Sukabumi, located in West Java, started smoking when he was four years old and now smokes around 25 cigarettes a day.
The young boy's habit was allowed to spiral as there are no age restrictions on purchasing cigarettes in the country, while his poor family have little awareness of the health risks involved.
Ilham said his mother, Nenah, gives him a small amount of money that he spends entirely on his smoking habit.
"My mother gives me 5,000 rupiah," he said, and, when asked if all the money was spent on cigarettes, he nodded.
Ilham's mother revealed that he no longer attends school as teachers do not allow him to smoke in class. She said the eight-year-old is liable to fits of rage if he is not allowed to light up.
"I have to let him smoke, otherwise he will get mad. He smashed the windows five times because I told him he could not smoke," she said.
Government statistics show that in Indonesia, cigarettes account for the second-largest household expenditure, after food.
Nearly one in three people in Indonesia smoke, in a population of 239 million.

Forgive me for making a political point about this... but this is why I'm always skeptical of libertarians and the like whose dream is a society of pure capitalism unimpeded by the inherent oppression of government regulation.
Indonesia is an example of such an "anything-goes" place, and kids like Adi Ilham are the result. You can point to poor parenting, obviously, but this kid is the product of a society that puts virtually no restrictions on the tobacco industry.

Two other examples of what I'm talking about:

The famous footage of a two year-old Indonesian kid with a 40-cigarette-per-day habit.

The Indonesian abbatoir scandal.

The ineffectiveness of government and the police force make Indonesia something of a free-for-all. It's no surprise that mob rule is a common part of life. But I actually think it's testament to the Indonesian character that the country is as relatively peaceful, safe and friendly as it is.

The right kind of crap

My friend Marty Lee took this picture somewhere in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Getting excited over "The Raid"

It's a couple of days before the release of Indonesian action movie "The Raid" and I can't wait. And I'm not someone who goes to the cinema that often.

I'm not going to lie and say that there's not some Indonesian patriotism at play here, because there is, and heaps of it. Indonesia is not South Korea or Hong Kong; it does not have an immense track record of making awesome films. (The only one that I've seen and liked is the romantic comedy Janji Joni, or "Joni's Promise".) So when a movie from Indonesia creates a big buzz at various film festivals and gets a 94% rating on RottenTomatoes, that's enough to almost make me have a joyous accident in my pants. Particularly when the trailer brings to mind such excellent movies as Thailand's Ong Bak, Korea's Oldboy and Brazil's The Elite Squad. It's being re-titled The Raid: Redemption for US audiences, presumably because there are sequels in the works.

The reviews are good, and I'm just quoting from those featured on the RottenTomatoes page here:

" of the most stirring action films in eons with The Raid, a relentlessly brutal and endlessly enjoyable flick that never runs out of inventive ways to kill people."
"The combination of a great premise, brilliantly-inventive direction, incredible fight sequences and spirited performances makes it easy for us to already proclaim that The Raid is the action movie of the year."
"An unrelenting, action-packed can of whoop-ass that delivers one of the most fun moviegoing experiences of the past decade."
"It's easy to forget the story altogether in the sheer rush of Rama's fight to the top floor; instead, viewers will wonder how the amazing battle that just ended could possibly be topped. But it is, again and again."

A lot of comparisons are being made to Ong Bak, which revitalized the martial arts action genre with it's Thai flavour, combined with Tony Jaa's visceral physicality and penchant for elbowing guys in the skull. But here instead of Muay Thai, it's the Indonesian art of Silat which is going to get some worldwide exposure. The martial arts hero here is Iko Uwais, and Welsh-born director Gareth Evans.

It opens this Thursday night, and I'll be there with my ticket humming the Indonesian national anthem.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Why My Mother Wants Me Dead"

Interesting story in The Daily Beast this week by writer Sabatina James about the sort of family environment and mentality that gives rise to honour killings.

To my parents, my rebellion was a source of deep shame. They felt embarrassed among their Pakistani peers in Austria. They became more determined than ever to marry me off and restore the family “honor.”
When I was 16, my family visited Pakistan. I remember walking outside in an outfit I felt was perfectly modest—loose pants and a blouse. Others saw it differently. A crowd of men formed, hooting and catcalling. That day my mother beat me again, in front of a roomful of relatives.
And then she beat herself. I knew there were Pakistanis who flagellated themselves when they suffered, but I never expected to see my own mother doing it. I watched as she struck herself repeatedly in the chest with a rod, saying, “I have given birth to a whore!”

Full article here.

One of the things that constantly fascinates me is how many women often play a part in their own oppression, and the oppression of their fellow women. The behaviour of the mother in this case is extreme but not that surprising.

So is this the fault of Islam? Yes and no. South Asian cultures tend to be incredibly patriarchal anyway, regardless of their religion. The reasoning may differ to this case, but the scale of violence against women in India, across the religious spectrum, is beyond belief. And it's notable that honour killings are virtually unheard of in Muslim Southeast Asia, a region where the treatment of women is comparatively more benign. But unlike most other religions, Islam has very specific outlines governing women's behaviour. Nowhere does Islam ever condone honour killings, but in cultures predisposed to that sort of thing, the Islamic ideal of female purity gives men plenty of ammunition.

(Via Brown Pundits)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Random Italian-ness

Chinese person racist against another Chinese person. I dunno what to think.

Sheeeeet. Man, I just don't know what's funny and what's offensive anymore. Context, irony, satire, political correctness... I need to factor in all these things before I decide whether to laugh or not. No wonder fart jokes are so popular and timeless: they are simple and to the point. No such thing as an ironic fart.

Anyway, that's a roundabout way to say that I'm not sure whether this clip is offensive or not. It probably is.

So that's Sam Pang, on Santo, Sam & Ed's Sports Fever last week, impersonating Chinese-American basketball star Jeremy Lin. Pang is a half-white, half-Chinese Australian.

Why is this offensive? Well, it's rehashing a litany of dumb stereotypes. Pang's accent is a ridiculous mish-mash of Chinese and Japanese accents, despite Jeremy Lin being born in California.

On the other hand...

Given that Pang's portrayal of Lin is so ridiculously stupid, is it actually non-offensive in some hipsterish ironic way? If I conclude that Pang is doing some stupid racist ish here, does that just mean that I don't get it? Am I as dumb as all the people who read my blog but get angry simply because they can't tell when I'm being serious and I'm being tongue-in-cheek? (And yes, there are a lot of them.) Is he making fun of Asian stereotypes, rather than rehashing them?

I'll confess: I have a lot of time for Sam Pang and his various endeavors into radio and television. He's a likable character, and I'm inclined to look favorably on him. That said, I didn't think this skit was funny. Well, I did chuckle at the DDR reference, I admit. But aside from that, it was kinda dumb.

But then again... that's the kind of show Sports Fever is. A LOT of its jokes are extremely lame, and the hosts know it. That their joke success rate is so poor is actually one of the appealing things about the show, if you can understand that; Pang and co-hosts Santo Cilauro and Ed Kavallee seem to enjoy looking stupid in the pursuit of jokes that were only half-funny to begin with.

Here's another way to look at it: Pang is sending up not Jeremy Lin and his Asian-ness... but instead the hype that has surrounded the first Asian-American NBA star. Linsanity, fortune-cookie-flavoured "Lin-sanity" ice cream, and the mindless stereotypes that have been floating around since his emergence. So is it those stereotypes that Pang is making fun of?

So perhaps the skit was not so dumb after all... rather, it was so meta that some of you cats just didn't get it.

Or maybe it was just indeed dumb and racist. I'd welcome your thoughts.

A couple more questions for your pondering:

  • If we accept that Pang is making fun of stereotypes rather than making fun of Asians... does that mean the audience are laughing at the same thing? It is quite possible that many people watching do not see any layer of irony and just find it funny to laugh at Asian people.
  • As someone who is not fully Chinese but Eurasian, does someone like Pang have the credibility to do Asian jokes like this? Would it be different coming from a "full Asian" rather than someone who despite having a Chinese surname, still enjoys a degree of white privilege?

I'll admit one thing - if a white person (eg. Sam Newman) did the exact same skit, I'd probably waste no time in condemning the thing as racist dumbf#ckery. I would not for a second consider that Newman was being "meta". So I'm not sure what that says about me.

My head hurts.

(H/T Yuey)

See also:

Racial humour - is it ever ok?

"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

Saturday, March 3, 2012

From around the interwebs...

Links to fings wot interest me, innit.

Australian students lagging behind Asian students: report
The crucial difference is that teachers in East Asian countries enjoy higher status than their Australian colleagues, he said. "This is an importance difference, and it is the crucial difference between effective teaching and learning in Australia and these systems. In these systems teacher status is high - not because they work hard, not because it is a stressful job, but because it is considered a true profession where the complexities of diagnosing each student's learning and shaping teaching to ensure that each student's learning continually improves is recognised. Resources are put into it so teachers have the time and resources available to engage in improving teaching.

A tiger education: no pain, no gain
If Asia is our focus, then may I – as a first generation Australian-born Chinese (ABC) – humbly suggest that a wholesale cultural shift in our attitude towards education must take place. If we are to seriously compete with Asia, we must adopt an Asian academic culture of intense competition: a tiger education. A tiger education is not content with merely doing well but demands that we do better. It does not stop to celebrate the 90 per cent, but asks what happened to the missing 10 per cent. It pushes us to compete with the very best and demands whatever it takes to improve. Close enough is never good enough. Where the Australian approach to education is almost all carrot, Asian parents prefer to wield the bamboo stick (literally).

Why don't students learn Indonesian?
But, says Hill, Indonesia still has an image problem. Enrolment in Bahasa fell during the late 1990s Asian financial crisis, when students realised that fewer jobs would be available at multinationals in Jakarta until the economy recovered. Interest never really recovered, in part because more recent discussion of Indonesia focused on violence in East Timor and on terrorism, such as the bombing of Bali in 2002.
“There’s a whole raft of employment opportunities that are opening up but many kids in schools are yet to be made aware of that because much of the image of Indonesia is… hanging over from the 1990s, rather than [an image of] the post-Suharto democratising economy that’s projected to be one of the world’s largest,” says Hill.

7 worst international aid ideas
The benefit of involving celebrities in aid work is often that it works to focus the attention of their fans and the media machine more generally on understanding, for however brief a moment, something that is happening somewhere in the world. Out of that can come the kind of empathy and activism that makes things like the Save Darfur campaign possible.
The celebrity’s contribution, though, hinges on whether they can successfully translate attention on them into attention to the issues. When a humanitarian issue becomes a platform for pushing an energy drink on the back of people’s suffering, we should be ashamed.

DNA helps to flesh out Otzi's past
Since Otzi's mummified body was found 20 years ago, speculation about his lifestyle, how he died and even his sexuality have flourished in German, Austrian and Italian newspapers. One rumour was that semen had been found in his anal canal, prompting headlines about his supposed homosexuality. But Graefen set the record straight.
"This comes from the fact that seeds have been found in his intestine. The words for plant seeds and semen are actually the same in German," she laughs. "People still to this day think this urban legend is true. But this is nothing more than a translation fault."

French football quotes of the year 2011
“Montpellier champions of France? If I was Marseille, Paris, Lyon, Lille or Rennes, I’d stab myself in the arse with a sausage! What an embarrassment it would be for them.”
- Montpellier president Louis Nicollin delves into his bottomless bag of weird and wonderful metaphors to express how he’d feel if his side were to win the league.