Asian Americans can dance

Whenever I see an Asian on TV, either in a program or on a commercial, who’s the brunt of some comedic joke, my first reaction is to clench my stomach in anticipation of some personal embarrassment, as if the Asian on screen could easily be me.

But here’s a TV commercial that makes fun of an Asian guy, that manages to be funny and doesn’t bother me (although the first time I saw it I did clench up, expecting that slap in the face), and respectful of the Asian dude’s dancing ability — that is, until, he screws up.

The commercial, for Southwest Airlines, makes me chuckle every damned time, and I’ve seen the thing a lot. What makes me feel good about the video is that the African Americans in the scene start out skeptical of the Asian guy’s ability to impress the woman (that’s Ellen Cleghorne from SNL, isn’t it?, but then everyone in the club, includig the DJ, give the guy his props and start urging him on. That’s when he knocks over the turntables.. and the tagline for Southwest comes in: “Want to get away?”

Everyone’s been in an embarrassing situation that’s similar to the commercial. A faux pas, a stumble, a fashion disaster, a bad hair day… and yeah, we want to get away when we make these mistakes. That’s not a racial situation at all.

What’s fascinating to me about this commercial is that it reflects the very real interest of young APAs hip-hop music and culture, and how it shows this interest in a humorous and ultimately, non-condescending way.

Speaking of APAs and hip-hop props, kudos to JabbaWockeeZ, a San Diego-based street dance group, for taking home the grand prize last week for the MTV reality series, “Randy Jackson Presents America’s Best Dance Crew.” The group is composed mostly of APA dancers (the series featured another group, Kaba Modern, that is all Asian American, which almost took the prize).

Here’s a sampling of JabbaWockeeZ’s talent on display during the show:

Erin and I took a hip-hop dance class last year through Colorado Free University, but there ain’t no way you’ll catch me doing anything like the Jabbers, or the guy on the Southwest Airlines commercial. I’m happy doing my ’60s rock nerd twitch, thank you very much!

Postscript: I forgot to mention this film because it
ll probably take months before it’s screened in Denver, but I’m looking forward to seeing filmmaker Benson Lee’s documentary, “Planet B-Boy,” which is a look at the international break-dancing movement including troupe from across Asia. You can read about it here in the Pacific Citizen.

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