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).

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27 Responses to Does comedy excuse racism? Trailer for “The Goods: Live Hard Sell Hard”

  1. Joanna says:

    I think any self-respecting person who is against racism and hate crimes should boycott this movie. Anyone who doesn’t know about Vincent Chin should learn about him, and then realize that the juxtaposition of ethnicity and motor vehicle industry is incredibly charged.

  2. Gil Asakawa says:

    Great point that slipped by me when I wrote the post, Joanna — yes, the link between the auto industry and the hate crime murder of Vincent Chin makes this scene doubly irresponsible and unacceptable. His death was 27 years ago: https://www.nikkeiview.com/blog/2009/06/19/vincent-chin-hate-crime-attack-27-years-ago-today/

  3. Lxy says:

    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?

    Because Asian Americans are perceived (sometimes not without reason) as a group that is weak and won’t don’t stand up to this kind of media shyte.

    Asian Americans are relatively easy prey–compared to African Americans or Latinos.

    And, let’s be frank, there are some Orientals who are more than happy to play the White-worshipping model minority in everything but name.

    This kind of White groveling needs to be ended.

    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.”

    There’s actually a name for the type of racial humor the movie engages in: Hipster Racism.

    Hipster racism is all about indulging in racist stereotypes, but then covering your with the alibi that you are just being satirical or ironic.

    Hipster racism is a favorite past-time of White liberals who think they are “more enlightened” than the so-called Southern redneck.

    Hipster Racism
    http://meloukhia.net/2009/07/hipster_racism.html

    Meet the new racism–it’s not that different from the old racism.

  4. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thanks for your comment, and for educating me on “hipster racism.” I appreciate it!

  5. Ted says:

    Hi Gil , it is my pleasure being a part of your excellent Asian American blog.
    I am Canadian btw with a 100 % Japanese ancestry.(3rd generation Canadian, my son is 4th).
    I enjoy your comments on all the unjust media that is being directed at the Asian American people from mainly European Americans(actors and writers) .
    At times ,I could become quite, irritated by the negative comments being said about Americans and Canadians of Asian heritage .
    I could interpret this incident, one of two ways . First way is that it is meant to demean the Japanese as a race for their strategies of the 2nd world war .
    The second way, is to knock down the race as a whole, to justify the Euro-Americans ineptness to compete with the Japanese in the auto industry.
    From any perspective I look at the comments and , see the Green -Eye Monster … Jealousy .
    The writers of this show , writing from an inferior perspective, seems to bring out the worst in them .(the writers)
    They, the writers, in my opinion …are without thought and frankly are not amusing at all.
    That being said …..what goes around comes around ,bad karma for this show.

  6. Gil Asakawa says:

    Thank you, Ted! I’ve always wanted to know more about the experience of being Asian Canadian. Someday I hope to visit Canada (Vancouver being first on my list of destinations!).

  7. Now I know why I don’t go to mvies….especially American Made Movies..Racism like this is not funny and this movie needs to be trashed and burned for that is what it is…if the dialogue and plot is bad they use profanity and racial slurs thinking it will hit home with someone and it does me…it is Trash…not worth making and no one should spend their good money at this so called movie.

  8. Timothy Jay Ota says:

    That trailer tics me off…a lot. Joanna is right on. I immediately thought of V. Chin when I saw it. I’ve had many discussions with self proclaimed liberals and rednecks about V. Chin. Most won’t believe the story or give excuses about “the times” in 1980’s Detroit. Amazing how little the two groups sound when making excuses for murder. Well, things are pretty bad in Detroit, again. Get ready.

  9. Hey Gil,

    Prince Gomolvilas did a great write up of this topic at The Bilerico Project a little while back:

    http://www.bilerico.com/2009/07/bruno_and_the_politics_of_comedy_whats_off_limits.php

  10. Thanks for the plug and spreading the word, Gil. I appreciate the link love. -TMM

  11. Gil Asakawa says:

    My pleasure, MM! You do great work.

  12. *sigh*…again with the goofy, emasculated Asian male in yet another we’re-irreverent-white-guys comedy. So tired.

    But is it racism? My rule of thumb: switch the Asian character in joke/scene/video to an African-American character (i.e., making fun of them eating watermelon instead of using chopsticks). If it’s racist with the black character, then it’s just as racist with an AA character.

    Maybe I should spam Hollywood about the test and see if they use it before writing scenes like the one in “The Goods”.

  13. Gil Asakawa says:

    The second scene in this trailer definitely would be offensive if the character were African American, or Hispanic, or Native American. For me, it’s not even the attack on Jeong’s character, it’s the crap Jeremy Piven’s character pulls out when concocting the group’s alibi: Broad, tired and inaccurate stereotypes of Asian martial arts.

  14. I feel for AA actors such as Jeong: they’re in the classic bind of wanting to work yet finding the only thing available to them are stereotypical rolls. An excellent example of an AA actor shining in a very rare non-stereotypical role is CareerBuilder.com’s “Self-Help Yourself” ad:

  15. Carly Monardo says:

    I’m a white woman and I think this movie looks alarmingly racist.

    I’d also like to point out, though, that Ken Jeong seems to be gravitating towards negative Asian roles lately, which is upsetting. I don’t know if you saw The Hangover, but he played a pretty terrible caricature of an Asian man, and it seemed to me a bit homophobic as well.

  16. Matteo says:

    As a radically socially liberal, racist-despising generally good person, may I make the humble suggestion that you actually *see* the movie in order to see the scene in context, including both its setup and its aftermath (not to mention the rest of the character’s scenes)? Or that you perhaps consider that it’s a **satire** of ignorant white racists? I’ll say without reservation that this is the funniest movie I’ve ever seen, and I think anyone of **any** race who would lighten up enough without mentioning “boycott” would enjoy it. And also, that Mr. Jeong is an intelligent man who’s probably in the position of being comfortable enough to decide what roles he does and doesn’t take? Perhaps you could track down his agent and through him/her solicit Mr. Jeong’s OWN position on the film and this scene in particular?

  17. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Matteo, all fair points, and I appreciate your comment. I won’t rule out seeing the movie, and I assumed (hoped) that the scene in context would be less imflamatory, though even in context it’s probably gonna make me squirm and seethe. I also did think about Jeong taking the role and wondered if there are redeeming scenes for him, or if he wins out in the end as the uber-dude. So yes, I’m riffing off a several-minute preview. But that’s what the studio chose to show to the mainstream public as the “best” scenes to appeal to crowds. So I have to worry about the perspective that assumes people want to laugh at this kind of thing. Plus, Jeong’s a regular in the filmmaker’s group of actors, but in the past, taented Asian Americana actors have taken crappy, stereotyped roles because those were the only oes offered them — ones where they had to speak with accents, or play the evil shadowy villain, or be bumbling and deferential, or be the chauffeur and sidekick (Bruce Lee in “Green Hornet”). I hope Jeong loves the role and that the character ends up being super cool. Also, I can tell th mvie’s funny — except for this scene in the trailer, everything I’ve seen makes me roll my eyes,. snicker, then chuckle and then guffaw.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post!

  18. Matteo says:

    Thanks likewise for the thoughtful response. I really do hope you give it a chance. I won’t spoil the character’s arc, but trust me, he’s not not a menace, a menial or a buffoon–he’s just a guy and he gets some nice moments. (In fact I wish there had been more.) And as for the overall topic, I really just have to refer everyone to this youtube link and some timeless wisdom we could ALL learn from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x9CSnlb-ymA

  19. Gil:

    First, Hollywood is not mainstream America—-it influences mainstream America. Remember films, television, radio, are social control tools. Second, you go on to state that “similar treatment of other ethnic groups would be considered unacceptable?” If by “similar treatment” you mean non AA groups being made the subject of racial stereotypes, then you’re wrong. Take a look at Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen which was released in 2009. In the movie the characters Skids and Mudflap, both speak with voices that sound like urban black stereotypes, have big ears and buck teeth and proclaim that they ‘don’t do much readin’‘. Skids even has a gold tooth.

    Also, to answer your question: “Will Asians laugh at this?”, considering the diversity and historical tensions of the Asian people, specifically the second Sino-Japanese War—-if one is Chinese then perhaps.

    We agree 100% on one point if you don’t like the values of a particular movie do not support it financially.

  20. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi James, thanks for your comment. It’s because Hollywood reflects (and influences in many ways) mainstream America that I worry about scenes like this. If it’s a social control tool as you say, how is this scene going to be received by the people it’s controlling?

    By similar treatment, I mean if the character were African American and the script had a string of black racial stereotypes, I don’t think the studio or public would allow it. But it seems OK in US pop culture to paint Asians with broad racial brushstrokes — I’ve always wondered if it’s because Asians haven’t historically rallied to protest such treatment.

    And, you’re absolutely rght. I think those two characters in “Transformers” are racial stereotypes and offensive. There was some protests over them when the movie came out. I squirmed when I saw and heard them. Michael Bay is flawed in his incorporation of diversity in his movies — I always think of “Pearl Harbor,” in which there are no Asians shown living or working in Honolulu.

    And to your point about Chinese possibly laughing at this scene because it attacks the character over Pearl Harbor, I doubt it — Vincent Chin was Chinese American but he was beaten to death by two Detroit auto workers who’d been laid off in 1982 who thought he was Japanese. Asian Americans are acutely aware that people tend to lump us all together into one racial category. Here’s a blog post I wrote this year on the anniversary of the attack on Vincent Chin: https://www.nikkeiview.com/blog/2009/06/19/vincent-chin-hate-crime-attack-27-years-ago-today/

    Thanks for the comments! By the way, I do plan on seeing “The Goods” and when I do, I’ll add an addendum to the post or maybe write a new post.

  21. Adnan Khan says:

    I am Pakistani and now I have realised the massive amounts of racism in Hollywood movies due to the ultra demonisation of Muslims in Everything American. I boycotted this movie because its horrifically racist, mixing up Chinese and Japanese things, and then justifying a vigilante gang beatdown ala lynching of the Asian man as a joke. Absolutely disturbing. Sadly because Asians make very good electronics caucasian males feel inadequate and the need to openly be racist against you guys. My 2 cents.

  22. Gil Asakawa says:

    Being Muslim and Asian American would certainly add another layer of complexity to racial and cultural stereotypes… thanks for posting, Adnan.

  23. Lxy says:

    Asian is not the same thing as Asian American. I am Chinese American, and I sure as hell wouldn’t laugh at this piece of crap.

    And, like I said before, this type of humor is a classic example of Hipster Racism.

    These White Liberals love this type of shit. They get to have their cake and eat it too. They can indulge in racial humor but also hide behind the alibi that it’s actually satire and making fun of racism.

    Sure, whatever.

    The JACL, the leading Japanese American civil rights organization, sure ain’t buying that “satire” argument.

    “Japanese American group outraged by film”
    https://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gQ2yBZ3ITKIHBcGuq2w39UzqJ52g

    See Amy Sedaris’ “humor” for examples of how hipster racism works:

    Amy Sedaris and Hipster Racism
    http://contexts.org/socimages/2009/05/17/amy-sedaris-and-hipster-racism/

    And that YouTube video that “everybody’s a little bit racist” sounds like more self-serving White political tripe.

    This idea conveniently overlooks the issue of White institutional power and racial dominance, and reduces racism merely to a question of “bad attitudes” that everybody has. If only everybody could hold hands and get to know each other, racism would vanish, they insist. Kumbaya.

    White Liberal racism is in many ways worse than the so-called “bigoted Redneck” with its pretensions to being superior to the latter and its disingenous progressive veneer.

    And Hollywood is the living embodiment of this type of White Liberal racism.

  24. Ryan Olson says:

    I’m kinda struggling to get worked up about this. I concur that the cash bag gag was stupid, but that could’ve been race and gender neutral.

    The second example is also stupid, but I saw it reflected poorest on the characters that attacked Dr. Jeong’s character. I did try to imagine other ethnicities into that positions including Latinos for the Spanish-American War (“Remember the Maine!”). I will note that there was a lot of hate-mongering in that war.

    When I was growing up, we learned in school about covert racism and overt racism. Having lived in both the Deep South and California, I could see examples of both (thankfully not directly).

    Are we now supposed to be aware and concerned of a combination of the two general types of racism? An example of overt racism that is so totally over the top and exaggerated that it conceals covert racism?

    I suppose movies like “The Goods” may help perpetuate racism, but it is ultimately up to each individual to decide how they will view something.

    Since I’m thinking about racism in movies, I’m sure that we would embrace dynamic characters of all backgrounds. Until that day comes, is it better that Asian characters be bit players or not seen at all?

  25. Ted says:

    In future Gil , the comments of Ryan Olson have no value in my opion for this site.
    I would appreciate that his comments be ,not made public on this URL.
    Frankly he has no idea, as he has shown us of Asian American or Asian Canadian culture.
    He should keep his 2 cent and wonder on to another site, staying far away from this one if he so decide to make negative remarks.
    Thanks Gil and more power to you.

    Regards,

    Ted

  26. Gil Asakawa says:

    Hi Ted, I think Ryan’s comment was posted as a sincere reflection of his thoughts and they’re legitimate. Besides, I didn’t think they were so negative (plus, I think a lot of people would agree with him, even if I don’t). I also know that he’s hapa but wasn’t raised in a very traditional JA culture. I like the fact that people who have differing opinions can voice themselves on Nikkei View — as long as they’re within the bounds of civil discussion. Thanks for your note!

  27. Philip Fullington Ripper says:

    Gil – I believe you, like many people who invest themselves in seeking equality and the justice of a greater future, have aquired a greater and natural sensativity to the perspectives and dignities of all kinds of peoples. Consider yourself complimented and respected.

    Since it’s not so easy to quote the millions of equally wonderful, but mostly unheard voices, here are a couple famous ones that might add to my point.

    “Means we use must be as pure as the Ends we seek.” MLK Jr.

    “Darkness cannot dispell darkness; only light can do that. Hatred cannot dispell hatred; only love can.” MLK Jr.

    “An honest disagreement is often a sign of great progress.” Ghandi.

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