By: Robert G. Barlow
Parody or Racism?
This parody of PSY’s “Gangnam Style” aired during the 2012 Halloween broadcast of ESPN’s Mike and Mike in the Morning, a live sports talk show simulcast on ESPN Radio and ESPN 2.
As first glance, the parody appears to be a light-hearted take on an equally comical moment in pop culture history but, if you look closer, you might find some disturbing signs.
While the original video, with its scantily clad women gyrating like strippers, could certainly be considered by some as overtly sexist, the parody might be considered racist by some viewers. The original video begins with a woman fanning PSY on the beach to keep him cool but the parody begins with Mike Greenberg, a white man, being fanned by an African American man immediately harkening back to the days of white plantation owners and slavery.
The parody transitions to a Mike Golic accompanying Greenberg in a parody dance routine taken directly from the original video. What’s disturbing about Golic’s performance is that it moves beyond satire of the original music video to a more stereotypical view of Asian culture.
Perhaps more troubling is that the parody continues a recent trend of “whitewashing” (replacing Asian characters with White actors) as if to say that those in the Asian community are so used to being lumped together that we can now just replace them with someone White.
This has become most prevalent in Hollywood where there has been an absolute lack of diversity when it comes to casting.
In a recent article on CNN.com, Kent A. Ono, a professor of Asian-American studies at the University of Illinois said “the practice of casting white actors to play Asians and Asian-American characters has a long history in Hollywood.”
Ono listed Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of I.Y. Yunioshi in 1961’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Rita Moreno as Tuptim and Yul Brynner as King Mongkut in the 1956 film “The King and I,” and Katharine Hepburn as Jade Tan in 1944’s “Dragon Seed” as just a few examples.
This trend continues today as Tom Cruise and Uma Thurman took roles as samurai in the films “The Last Samurai” and “Kill Bill.” Both were portrayed as better samurai than actual samurai.
In these examples, I don’t believe those involved had any intention of making a product that could be considered racist but maybe racism is so ingrained within our culture that we just don’t recognize it when we should.
History Repeats Itself
It does appear that there is still a concerted effort in Hollywood to continue to “whitewash.”