Wassup Rockers

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the serious issues category.

100 °C.

Oy vey.  Here we go again.  I don’t mean to be such a Frankie Boyle apologist… BUT…

Here’s the joke: “I’ve been studying Israeli army martial arts. I now know 16 ways to kick a Palestinian woman in the back. People think that the Middle East is very complex but I have an analogy that sums it up quite well. If you imagine that Palestine is a big cake, well… that cake is being punched to pieces by a very angry Jew.”

Frankie Boyle made this joke on a radio show called Political Animal in 2008.  The official apology from the BBC in the past week.  The individual complained, it was reviewed, and if I understand correctly, the producers agreed and promised to take preventative measures in the future.  The complainant felt that wasn’t enough so he went higher up and whatever official committee they have handling these matters reviewed it and only now did they issue an official apology.  Full details about the hullabaloo here.

Primero: Just from reading the joke I don’t find it very funny.  I wonder how it sounded, but I’m too lazy to dig around and search for the audio.

Segundo: I’m really irritated by the complainant for a very minor reason.  I understand it is commonly accepted that “antisemitic” is mostly used in relation to Jewish people.  If I’m not wrong, however, Arabs are considered a Semitic people.  So saying that Frankie was being antisemitic doesn’t really fly in this occasion.  Besides, there’s plenty of other negative words we could use in regard to Frankie’s brand of humor.  Heh.

Tercero: Regardless of what you think about the complaint situation, Frankie’s open letter in regard to Palestine got me verklempt.  Seriously, READ IT.  Clearly the BBC apology bothered him enough to actually say something, so I don’t doubt he has thought about this long and hard and means everything he says in the letter.  Probably the most impressive statement made about the continuing Palestinian-Israeli conflict since Jon Stewart invited Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti on his show.  (Watch here: Part 1 and Part 2)  I’m not saying Israel shouldn’t exist, it’s not about shitting on Israel.  I recognize that there are way too many complex issues that I won’t delve into, but basically, the current situation clearly is NOT and HAS NOT been working for… well, ever since the state was established.  I think the most important thing I take away from Frankie’s letter is the idea of COMPASSION.

Cuarto: I’m also incredibly irritated by the headlines in regard to his open letter, which are most often quoting Frankie’s statement that “the BBC are cowards.”  I feel like one of the downsides of Frankie being pegged as a rabblerouser and for being known as “controversial” is that so many people are going to be focusing on how this is a comedians versus censorship issue.  As inappropriate as he may be, there is heft in his words and I was very touched by the last bit of his letter.  It would be cool if people would take this as a good starting point to educate themselves and to demand a better, non-violent solution from their governments.

Quinto: That said, what the fuck is going on with the BBC?  The whole Brand/Wossy/Sachs shit sent them spinning into a frenzy–it feels like post-“wardrobe malfunction” United States!  What I don’t understand is how it only takes one person to be offended for the BBC to take some official action (even if it’s just a statement).  What does it take to push people into demand such action anyway?  Whatever happened to people just getting a blog and vaguely threatening the lives of comedy writers anyway?

Even more importantly, why is it difficult to understand that something a comedian says is not a reflection of an entire fucking broadcasting corporation and may, in fact, not be a completely accurate reflection of the comedian’s attitude?  In this case it is, but it’s not always so—I mean, let’s not confuse the persona for the person.  Newsflash!  Humor requires close reading too!  You can’t just take words at face value!

I’m not sure why the BBC is quaking in fear at its own audience.  The biggest problem for me is that it seems like they’re just panicking now, to the detriment of the quality of their programs.  Frankie delves into that too.  The suppression of certain perspectives is troubling.  Of course it’s possible to shrug it off when it comes to a comedy show, but it just makes me question how widespread this self-censorship is.  To what degree, for example, does it affect the real news?  This sort of behavior on their part makes me trust them that much less.

Sexto: so, who’s next in line to be offended by something Frankie says?



Why So Serious?

“Somewhere deep down is a decent human being in me—it just can’t be found”
– Eminem (1)

Oh man. I must explain myself a bit. Recently I’ve been obsessing over British comedy, and in particular I’ve been very puzzled with myself as to what makes me laugh. This has been a question I’ve wrestled with a lot since a lot of the comedians I like can be quite offensive. In fact, I love it when comedians can offend me and make me laugh all at the same time.

Take Frankie Boyle.

It really pains me to read all this press he’s gotten recently for some jokes he made about people with Down Syndrome (2). In particular, a woman wrote about her experience seeing him live, and how, as a mother of a child with DS, she felt his jokes were unduly cruel. Of course the whole situation blew up when she called him out on it.

I want to state a few things in his defense. First, the woman knew of his comedy style, she enjoyed him on Mock the Week. She paid for a ticket to this show, which is part of a tour called I Would Happily Punch Every One of You in the Face. I’m assuming she was laughing along just fine until it got to a subject too close to home. It’s like he routinely does jokes about pedophilia, rape, etc. So no surprises, you know?

Second, I have no doubt he felt real shit about it, especially to the point that he felt he had to explain himself. Usually he handles heckles well, but she definitely had enough of an effect for him to admit it was the most excruciating experience he’s had on stage.

I’ve read interviews he’s done and he definitely has an “off” switch. Even though I personally don’t think he has the best command of the stage, at the end of the day, what he does is a performance (3). His onstage persona is not who he is as a whole. If it’s unfair for him to view people with DS in such a two-dimensional way, it’s pretty unfair for us to see him that way, too. If he was as despicable as he makes himself to be onstage, I’d demand that his children be removed from his home. There’s plenty of lines he spews out that don’t seem to have any function other than to offend, but he’s shown just as many flashes of decency and understanding (4). When I first encountered him just a short while ago, I didn’t know what to make of his humor, but reading these interviews really made me appreciate him and understand his thought process.

That said, the nature of the jokes seemed particularly nasty, at least from this woman’s account, and apparently he didn’t do a particularly good job at defending himself (would love to hear an official statement, but apparently Bigmouth Boyle ain’t talking). I don’t mind controversial subjects, but the way they are approached is key. For me, the cardinal rule is: don’t make fun of those who have less power than you (5). It’s unnecessary, cruel, and worst of all, it’s too easy. That’s one of the more annoying things about this whole hullabaloo. Boyle is really funny and really smart, and in the past he’s made exactly that point about his own work, that it targets people worth targeting. I don’t know what happened on the evening this woman attended; because of that Herald Scotland interview I want to say he was just improvising and unfortunately relying on really broad punchlines because he couldn’t think of something better at the moment. Sigh. Regardless, I don’t expect every joke (inappropriate or otherwise) to reveal some fundamental truth about the human condition, but at the very least it shouldn’t be based on such empty stereotypes.

I do see the need to tackle taboo topics. Somebody has to fill the court jester role, and I think it’s more than honorable for an individual to say what others are too afraid to say. But from this woman’s account, Frankie’s jokes weren’t the result of the buffoon speaking truth.

I do want to raise some complaints about the complainers, though. Please don’t act all sanctimonious about Frankie’s sense of humor, tutting away saying crap like “What an outrage! IS THAT ANY WAY TO BEHAVE?!” It’s like some people want a fucking medal for feeling offended. Newsflash, you dipshits, you should feel offended! Calm the fuck down  and stop huffing and puffing about how you want him to be brought down. If anything, I’d be deeply worried about the state of humanity if people weren’t offended by his humor.

Let’s just hope that the people who laughed along weren’t doing it out of malice and that they were laughing nervously. There’s nothing worse than someone who laughs at offensive shit like this because they prescribe to that world view. (For example: the difference between people who loved Archie Bunker because he was bigoted, as opposed to those who loved him in spite of his faults.) Or at the risk of sounding like I’m dripping in schadenfreude, let’s hope they were laughing at Frankie—I seriously wish I’d been at the show just to see the woman cut him down. I mean I love him, I love his sense of humor, but he knows better!

I leave you with the words of another ex-alcoholic Scotsman:

(1) One of the very few hip-hop albums I actually own. Obviously I was one of the millions who bought The Marshall Mathers LP when it first came out. For some reason that line has never left my mind, even though I couldn’t even remember the title of the song. I just re-listened to the track for the first time in like eight or nine years, and it was really fucking good! Too bad Eminem is so irrelevant because the talent was so there.

(2) I was speaking to some of my friends about this situation and someone brought up the whole hoopla about Family Guy recently.

(3) Fuck, the clip from Alan Carr: Chatty Man got taken down, but he literally says “the act is an act.” By the way, he hates doing live shows, which he also mentioned on Chatty Man; this may explain his weird stage presence. From what I’ve seen, he’s not particularly brilliant at doing long-format stand-up. Shouldn’t we commend him for having the sense of retiring in the near future?

(4) See this appearance on You Have Been Watching.

(5) Here’s a great example of this, on the subject of rape.

Playing “What If…?”

Here are some thoughts, unorganized, maybe inflammatory, but sincere and very much based on my own experience growing up.

I was reading this post on Racialicious on Excuse My Gangsta Ways, a documentary short about a young woman who was involved in gang life from the ages of 12 to 17 and her journey to transition out of that subculture and into being a “normal” person.

Oh, and the young woman, Davina Wan, happens to be Chinese-American, so for some reason I just looked at the picture and I really had to wonder if at one point in my life I could have been that girl in the picture.

To elaborate: when my family first moved to the US, one of the things my parents emphasized over and over and over to me and my brother was that we should be careful to make good friends. At this point in my life, I’m still struggling to be a good friend, but the people I’ve chosen and with whom I’ve connected have been, by and large, really positive and inspiring and fun friends. But for a short while there, my parents really worried about whether our adjustment to American life would be a success or a failure. They knew they had to work a lot and couldn’t necessarily guide our every decision the way they did when we were 2 years old.

One of my parents’ concerns was that my brother and I would end up in gangs. Of course anyone who has met me would LOL their hearts out, partly because I could pretty much get beat up by a fucking six-year-old but also because I’m not much of a “joiner.” I don’t blame y’all, it’s easy for me to chuckle about it too.

But I look at the picture of Wan and I’m like, well, she doesn’t seem like the type of girl who’d “attend 35 funerals before the age of 18.” This young woman joined her gang when she was 12! Can you imagine what sort of pressures led her there?

What my parents kept telling me about gangs is that they only pretend to be your friends, that it’s conditional love. For some people, the conditional love of a gang is better than no love, better than no stability. These gang members will tell you they’re gonna be your second family (or sometimes your only family), but ONLY if you succeed in your initiation. ONLY if you carry out whatever tasks the higher ups want you to do and ONLY if you don’t get out of line. And don’t even think about getting out, this shit is X VIDA. My parents would try to scare me straight with all sorts of stories: “You know what they have you do to join? They have everyone in the group beat the shit out of you until you’re barely breathing, and your face is unrecognizable,” and already being so sorry-looking, I was all like, “Erm… yeah, I’ma go back to reading my BSC books.”

Now, you’d think my parents would know me well enough to know that gang life was never gonna be a career move for me or my brother, but if things had unraveled the way they did in Davina Wan’s life, who knows what kind of shit trouble I would have gotten into.

I don’t know. I mean, in my case, the whole issue of growing up in one country and then having to transplant your entire life to another country where you don’t speak the language–that’s a huge deal. And I guess my parents thought that I’d look for a support group with people who looked like me. My parents knew that public school in the Bronx wasn’t gonna be easy-peasy, especially when you were the only Asian kid in the Spanish/English bilingual class. My parents had already heard of other immigrant families who had struggled to have their kids succeed.

Oddly enough, this led me, and I think my brother as well, to set ourselves apart from other immigrant Korean kids. A lot of them tended to run in groups, they would all fall in line and they all seemed to like the same music and all dress the same way and to me it was just such a joke.  I couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to pretend that I liked H.O.T. and S.E.S. and dye my fucking hair red and all that shit that was happening in the late 90s/early 00s. Most of these kids obviously end up fine, because they know there’s so much at stake to have your parents abandon their old lives just so you can have better opportunities. Most of these immigrant kids end up having pretty healthy interests and friendship circles, they join church groups or sports teams bands or, I don’t know, knitting groups. My brother and I fall into that category, but at the same time I think it was very necessary for us to set ourselves apart from other Korean-American kids because we thought that, even though most of these kids are good and not in violent gangs, there was still a group mentality that was stifling to me.

When you’re 12… It’s not even a strictly immigrant kid life narrative, though the immigration situation played a major part in my life story. But at 12, you just want to find a reliable group of friends and you’re looking to define who you are because if you don’t know who you are and what your interests are how are you gonna find friends who connect at your level and blah blah blah. A lot of times you’re not sure of who you are anymore so you wonder where you should turn. So sometimes the whole idealized concept of a gang, of protection and loyalty, can look real fucking alluring. I can see how shit can go really wrong in a kid’s life.

What am I trying to say? This is all so muddled, I’m sorry. Well, reading the Racialicious post, all I could think was, “Damn… I’m really lucky.” I doubt I might have ended up in a rough position like Davina Wan, but who knows if, at a particularly low point, I would have resigned myself to make a decision as drastic as joining a gang. I see how lucky I was, to have a stable home life with overworked but vigilant parents who really made me into a priority in their lives. I’m just acknowledging that I’m really grateful to my parents, that for every times I’ve bitched about them being overprotective, there’s way more times that I’ve felt thankful that they care about my safety and health and that they love me (unconditionally!). That’s a privilege that sadly not everyone gets, and I’m aware of that. C’est tout.

Oh wait, actually–I wrote all these words without even having seen the short.  So obviously this is way less a commentary on the film or on Davina Wan’s life, and more about myself.  I do want to see it on a big screen, it’s the sort of life narrative that you don’t hear about enough…

What’s Left to Say?

So odd, just a few days ago, I was checking out Ta-Nehisi Coates‘s (excellent) blog, where he wrote some posts on Michael Jackson. Inspired, I went on a YouTube binge checking out his old videos.

The sad thing about hearing of Michael Jackson’s death is that not even a minute after finding out, all I want to do is make a shitload of jokes about it. I mean, it’s been so long since anyone has taken him seriously, you know? So it’s kind of hard to remind myself that here was this really influential, talented musician under all the weirdness. I’m trying my hardest not to make fun of him though, because frankly, he had a huge impact in popular culture. He made some fine music.

He was very successful and became very very wealthy, yes, but he didn’t have the easiest life. So all I hope is that he is at peace. Hope his kids are okay, too. Ugh, I’m not looking forward to the tabloids going crazy over this.

Shit, Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett in one fucking day, this is so crazy. I know you’re going to tell me people are dying every minute, but you’ll have to excuse me, my mind is totally blown right now.

Noli Me Tangere.

Much love and respect to Jay Smooth for producing this vid. Que Dios lo bendiga. He’s really gone above and beyond what everyone else has been discussing in the whole Chris Brown/Rihanna abuse situation (and if you go to the youtube page for the vid, there are links to resources on domestic violence). This video was so necessary and it is full of TRUTH.

And to Elizabeth Mendez Berry, I don’t read Vibe so I missed “Love Hurts” when it first came out. But y’all better believe that, when I read the article in the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006 collection, I was captivated and I thought it took mad chutzpah to say what she said. I really hope everyone watches the video and tracks down the article. It’s totally worth it.

Did y’all have a good Valentine’s Day? I am lucky to say that I had a sweet day, and I can only wish the same to you.