Gil Asakawa's Nikkei View | Does comedy excuse racism? Trailer for “The Goods: Live Hard Sell Hard”
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Does comedy excuse racism? Trailer for “The Goods: Live Hard Sell Hard”

The Minority Militant blog posted this (R-rated) trailer for the new Jeremy Piven comedy about car salesmen, “The Goods: Live Hard Sell Hard.”

Towards the end of the trailer are two segments showing an Asian character played by Ken Jeong. In the first scene, which we’ve seen in the G-rated TV version of the trailer, he opens a bank bag a customer paid him for a car, and his face gets covered in the blue dye they put in stolen money. Ha ha, make fun of the short Asian dude who can’t catch a clue. I can live with that, though it makes me squirm a bit.

In the second scene, which ends the R-rated version of the trailer, Piven’s character, an uber-salesman, is motivating the sales force (which includes Jeong’s character) by citing Pearl Harbor.

“The Japs… flying in low and fast,” he says. “We are the Americans, and they are the enemy.” Huh? Is this about the art of war applied to the art of sales? Or is it about Japanese cars vs. American cars?

“Pearl Harbor. Never again! Pearl Harbor. Never again!,” Piven screams and gets the others to yell along, even the Asian guy. But one of the older Caucasian guys starts eyeing the Asian guy and then shouts, “Let’s get him!” A free for all ensues, and all the salesmen kick and pummel the Asian guy.

Then Piven stops the fighting and says, “We have all just participated in a hate crime. Let’s get our story straight! Dang came at us with a samurai sword, fire extinguisher and Chinese throwing stars.”

Is this funny? Do white people find this funny? Will Asians laugh at this?

I’m sure there will be people who think I need to get a sense of humor, but in 2009, I have to wonder if any movie — even a comedy that ir probably trying to lampoon American attitudes toward race — would attempt this kind of scene using an African American character and the sales force trying to lynch him, as the joke. I don’t see it.

So, why is it that it’s still OK to make fun of Asians racially, to rely on stereotypes to help make instant associations about Asian Americans? Why are we still invisible, and don’t have a say in how we’re portrayed? I’m hoping with the rise of blogs like Minority Militant and others, that we’ll have a collective voice that can be heard.

Why is it that Hollywood — about as mainstream America as you can get — continues in the 21st century to rely so easily and quickly on these Asian stereotypes, even though similar treatment of other ethnic groups would be considered unacceptable?

You can tell us, “hey, lighten up, it’s just a joke” and add “it’s satire, we know it’s racist but we’re making a point about racism here.” But the Militant brings up a very good point about the impact that even enlightened peoples’ comedy might have:

And we sometimes wonder why there are so many hate-crimes against Asians in this country. Sure, it’s just a movie and it’s harmless. Stupid kids watch this movie and it shapes their world, and we wonder why delivery drivers get mobbed and run-over from time to time.

Like a lot of contemporary comedies that are aimed at younger viewers, I will pass on this one. Not because we’re older and fuddy-duddy (which we probably are) but because just the trailer is enough to offend me, and I don’t need to see the whole movie to get its redeeming point (which it may have).