With “February sweeps” right around the corner–one of the “sweeps months” when networks pull out all the stops to juke ratings so that, based on those increased viewership numbers, they can set ad prices for the rest of the year–I wanted to talk about the recent dustup over CBS’ new hit sitcom 2 Broke Girls, which will resume airing new episodes next week.
A few weeks ago at the Television Critics Association’s (TCA) Winter Press Tour, 2 Broke Girls‘ co-creator Michael Patrick King, who’s best known for his work on Sex and the City, became defensive over reporters’ questions concerning the broke-ass racial and ethnic stereotypes on the show.
If you haven’t seen the show, the stereotypes in question involve the show’s secondary characters who work at the same diner as the two broke girls. There’s Oleg, the pervy Ukrainian cook; Earl, the black, jive-talking cashier; and Han Lee, the diner owner, a Korean immigrant who speaks in heavily-accented Engrish and is frequently the butt of jokes because of his “foreign-ness.” Andrew Ti, the razor-sharp mind behind Yo, Is This Racist?, describes Han in a Grantland post as a “tiny, greedy, sexless man-child.” Most of the questions that appeared to anger King at the TCA event concerned the particularly offensive portrayal of Han Lee.
Here are some of King’s choice quotes from the press tour, defending these characters:
- “I’m gay! I don’t find any of it offensive. I find it comic to take everybody down.”
- “[Being a comedy writer] gives you permission to be an outsider and poke fun at what people think about other people.”
- “In the last three episodes, we haven’t made an Asian joke. We’ve only made short jokes.”
- “I think [the show's jokes are] fun, sophisticated and naughty, and everybody likes a good naughty joke. I also think that if the show only existed in naughty jokes without pathos, I would not be happy. So I see no need to pull away from the brand of 2 Broke Girls, which is basically in-your-face girls.”
- “I think that our show is a big ballsy comedy, but it has a bigger heart than it has balls.”
Now here are the problems with King’s defense:
I’m gay, therefore I can’t be prejudiced. GTFOOHWTBS. Just because you’re a member of a marginalized group doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of marginalizing another. Even people within the same marginalized group can’t often agree on what’s offensive and what’s not. You should see our hate mail pile! I wonder if King has ever tried googling “racism in the LGBT community”? Or maybe “anti-Asian racism in the LGBT community”? Not saying racism is more prevalent in the LGBT community–although I’m Asian! So I can say that! Ha. No. See what I did there?–just saying it exists.
Poking fun at what people think about other people isn’t the same as ridiculing other people. “Poking fun at what people think about other people” implies you’re critiquing the stereotypes you’re putting forth. But making an Asian character unable to drive, unable to speak English, unable to grasp any shred of American culture, and unable to deal with anything involving a woman’s lady bits isn’t a “send-up” of a stereotype, it’s just the stereotype.
We’re no longer making Asian jokes. Just short jokes about an Asian man. Is there a difference between a short joke made about an Asian man and an Asian joke? I’ve never known one. Because the idea that all Asians are short is another prevailing stereotype. And it’s going to take 1000 Yao Mings to get drafted into the NBA before that changes.
Stereotypes are just “naughty.” And our show is naughty. That’s our brand. This is my number one problem with how this show is perceived and how it–quite grandiosely, I might add–perceives itself. Because it features two strong, funny women leads who tell “raunchy” jokes involving vaginas and sex, somehow it’s okay that its other characters are weak, outmoded, ethnic buffoons? There are plenty of female-led comedies on television now–30 Rock, Parks and Recreation–that also feature funny people of color who don’t exist just to be the butt of jokes. Also, somewhat beside the point but: women telling jokes about vaginas and sex isn’t really all that edgy, so enough with the self-congratulation already.
The show has a bigger heart than it has balls. Okay, on this point we agree. When I think of 2 Broke Girls, I don’t think of balls. I think of a tiny eunuch named Han Lee who had his balls cut off, and the gaping space left between his legs where they used to be.
And then I think of the even tinier man who created him.
Filed under: 2 Broke Girls, 2 Broke Girls CBS, Asian Americans on TV, Beth Behrs, CBS, Ethnic Stereotypes, GTFOOHWTBS, Han Bryce Lee, Han Lee, Hit Shows, If Everyone's Telling You Something's Racist It Probably Is, Immigrant Portrayals, Kat Dennings, Long Duk Dong, Matthew Moy, Michael Patrick King, Others Otherizing the Others, Racial Stereotypes, Racist Stereotypes, Sex and The City, Sitcoms, This is Bullshit, Tone Deafness
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