The Donger’s legacy

I missed this NPR report a couple of weeks ago, about the impact of the character Long Duk Dong from the 1980s hit movie, “16 Candles.” I had heard a promo for the report while driving but got home before it came on.

I finally went back to check it out and it’s worth hearing.

The link to the report is at the top of the page; the text on the page is the report’s transcript. Be sure to check out the extra interview clip with Gedde Watanabe, the Japanese American actor who played “the Donger” — he doesn’t really have a clue, unfortunately. And check out the comic that’s included, “Donger and Me.”

I was old enough in 1984, when writer-director John Hughes’ movie came out, to miss it. I didn’t see it until several years later, on video. But I feel for the generation of teenaged Asian American students who were called “Donger” or had to suffer through the character’s catchphrases, ”What’s happenin’, hot stuff?,” “”Oh, sexy girlfriend!”” and “”Oh, no more yankie my wankie.” (IMDB has more quotes from the character.)

My generation’s catchphrases included “Ah-sooo,” Bruce Lee kung fu noises and being called “Fooj,” (the POW character from the TV show “McHale’s Navy” was named Fuji). Then there’s the ever-popular taunts of “ching-chong ching-chong” and the various sing-songy Western approximations of how Asian languages sound. There was also Donger’s ancestor, Mickey Rooney’s offensive, perverted character, Mr. Yunioshi, in the 1961 movie, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” In between there were tons of racial stereotypes in cartoons and Jerry Lewis comedy characters.

I suppose it’s progress of sorts that the actor who played Long Duk Dong, Gedde Watanabe, was at least Asian American instead of a white actor in yellowface.

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2 Responses to The Donger’s legacy

  1. Gil, thanks for the reminder for those of us of a certain age that had the Donger had precedecessors with their own catchphrases for another generation.

    I actually really like Gedde Watanabe. I see him at Asian American/arts events around L.A. pretty often; usually he’s sitting next to me or a few rows near me so Yoshi says that he’s my stalker.

    As long as he doesn’t think I’m stalking him!!!

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Yeah, I was probably being unfair criticizing him as not having a clue — I can’t blame any actor for taking a well-paid gig in a hit movie. You gotta eat, after all…. I’m sure he’s a good guy, and hope he gets more gigs, just not stereotypical ones!

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