Anyone remember Mr. Wong? Back in the summer of 2000, Mr. Wong was causing something of a stir: enough of a stir that I got a National Review column out of it. From which:
Mr. Wong [is] a series of animated comic strips on the Icebox website. [Still there!] The strips relate the adventures of a middle-aged Chinese immigrant named Mr. Wong, who works as houseboy for a wealthy, beautiful young American lady, Miss Pam.
The creators of Mr. Wong are both former writers for South Park, and it shows: the strip hits every button of tastelessness and racial offensiveness.
Mr. Wong is servile, devious and cheap: taken to a plaza with a fountain into which people have thrown pennies, Mr. Wong jumps in and starts scooping up the coins.
He is scrawny, has buck teeth, and speaks with a chop suey accent. In the first episode, Miss Pam announces she is going to Memphis for a cotillion, and will take Mr. Wong with her on condition he pronounces the word “cotillion” correctly.
“Cotirrion,” ventures Mr. Wong. “No, no. It’s ‘cotiLLion,’” says Miss Pam, laughing.
(The animations have to download to your machine before being played. This process is attended with a message that says: “rroading …”)
[I regret to say this last comment no longer applies.]
That was when the Wen Ho Lee case was still hot. Lee, an immigrant from Taiwan, had worked as a weapons-design engineer at Los Alamos National Laboratory. He had committed serious breaches of the security regulations he worked under, and been arrested by the FBI at the end of 1999. (Did I get a column out of that, too? You bet.)
Primed by outrage over Wen Ho Lee’s arrest—for, among other things, having met with a Chinese nuclear scientist in a Beijing hotel room and failed to report the meeting to his superiors—East-Asian Americans were weeping and sputtering all over the internet.
Fourteen years on, East-Asian Americans are suffering another flare-up of Irritable Victim Syndrome (IVS). The perp this time—in the sense of the guy bruising multicultural sensibilities, not the guy hobnobbing with ChiCom nuke-builders—is TV satirist Stephen Colbert.
Colbert is one of that crew that I privately think of as the Smirkers. The other crew members I know of are Jon Stewart and Bill Maher, but there are probably some I’ve missed—I don’t make an effort to keep up with this stuff. They sit at newsreader-style desks smirking, smirking at the cameras and mocking all that is conservative and/or uncool: whites, traditional marriage, Jesus, whites, oil companies, Southerners, whites, gun rights, freedom of association …
The Smirkers do for Cultural Marxism what the xiangsheng (“crosstalk”) acts on mainland-Chinese TV do for that nation’s ruling Party: provide comedic support. Cultural Marxism is hipper and looser than the actual Marxism of China’s control-freak ruling Party, so that Smirkers, unlike the generality of xiangsheng acts, are still occasionally funny. But the animating spirit is the same.
Last Thursday the Twitter account for Colbert’s show tweeted that “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.” This was in reference somehow—I can’t hold the details in my head: you can read them here [Stephen Colbert Fires Back at Racial Tweet Outcry by Philiana Ng, The Hollywood Reporter, March 31st, 2014]—to the controversy over the name of baseball team The Washington Redskins.
There is a backstory to “Ching-Chong Ding-Dong”—two backstories, in fact.
Backstory One: In November 2005 Colbert did a spoof live-mike segment in which he pretended to have an exchange with an off-screen aide, addressing her with a mock Chinese accent. Following the segment, Colbert did a spoof denial: “That wasn’t me. That was a character I was doing called Ching-chong Ding-dong.”
Backstory Two: In March 2011 UCLA student Alexandra Wallace (pictured right)posted a video on YouTube in which she complained about East Asian students talking on cell phones in her college library:
In America we do not talk on our cell phones in the library. Every … fifteen minutes I’ll be deep into my studying … typing away furiously, blah blah, blah, and then all of a sudden, when I’m about to, like, reach an epiphany [sic], over here from somewhere: ‘Ohhhh, ching-chong ling-long ting-tong, ohhhh …’ Are you freakin’ kidding me? In the middle of finals week …
That caused such a fuss, Ms. Wallace withdrew from her college after receiving death threats.
I have been unable to discover her present whereabouts.
This current brouhaha over the tweet from Colbert’s office (for which Colbert himself seems not to have been responsible) drew out a young lady named Suey Park, one of those weird Creatures from the Black Bog of Political Correctness: a person so hysterically obsessed with her own victimhood she appears to have left the human race altogether.
The last specimen of this type I recall was Sandra Fluke, the thirtysomething permanent student who two years ago, in Congressional testimony, expressed her shocked outrage that her Jesuit college did not include female contraception in its student health plan.
Watching Ms. Fluke at the time I recall thinking, in all seriousness (though briefly) that this was not a member of my species, but an alien life-form—so bizarrely strange were the things she was saying, apparently with real conviction, so far as one could judge through the vocal fry.
I had the same reaction to Suey Park, the “Korean American feminist activist” (Wikipedia’s definition) who started a Twitter campaign to get Colbert’s show canceled.
That was after watching her on a HuffPostLive interview with Josh Zepps. Zepps is Australian, and I am glad to see that the famously low tolerance Australians have for flapdoodle is still a feature of the national character, even among the under-40s.
Faced with Ms. Park’s Flukish blather—“You just called my opinion stupid. That’s incredibly unproductive and I don’t think I’m going to enact the labor of having to explain to you why that’s incredibly offensive and patronizing …”—Zepps did not hesitate to chop Suey.
So what is demeaning about this “ching-chong ding-dong”? I suppose the point of offense here is that first-generation Chinese immigrants speak English badly.
Which they mostly do. Recall Alexander Portnoy’s observation about eating pork with his Jewish-immigrant parents at a Chinese restaurant in 1940s Newark, New Jersey:
The only people in the world whom it seems to me the Jews are not afraid of are the Chinese. Because, one, the way they speak English makes my father sound like Lord Chesterfield; two, the insides of their heads are just so much fried rice anyway; and three, to them we are not Jews but white—and maybe even Anglo-Saxon. Imagine! No wonder the waiters can’t intimidate us. To them we’re just some big-nosed variety of WASP!
[Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth.]
I suppose that second-generation whiners like Suey Park, who speak fluent English, are angry on behalf of their parents, who didn’t. That is properly filial of them, I guess; but how much saner is Philip Roth’s approach! (I write as no great fan of Roth.)
This kind of thing is anyway absurd. To master a foreign language well after childhood is one of the most impressive of all intellectual feats. No reasonable person expects fluent diction from non-native speakers.
Certainly I have never attained it. My Chinese is terrible, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that my Chinese acquaintances make fun of it behind my back. I see no great offense in that. The Chinese in fact have an idiom on this topic: 天不怕地不怕，只怕老外说中国话 (“Heaven and Earth—fear not these: only fear foreigners speaking Chinese”). The Chinese have an idiom for everything—see below.
Someone asked me whether “ching-chong ding-dong” actually means anything in Chinese. As best I can discover, not; although the heading to page 95 of my 1979 Xinhua Zidian (Chinese-Chinese pocket dictionary) is suggestive.
The other thing I get asked is: How racist are the Chinese? Answer: No more than any other ethny, except in certain particular spheres.
Younger Chinese can be hair-trigger touchy at any perceived insult to the national honor. Some subset of young Chinese males—around a quarter, I think—are fired to anger at the thought of a Chinese woman with a non-Chinese man. Beyond those, by far the commonest negative expression of Chinese ethnocentricity is hatred of the Japanese. Whether that counts as “racism,” decide for yourself.
What Americans commonly mean by “racism” is of course Bad Thoughts about black people. Is this common among the Chinese?
Among the Chinese in China, no. In all but a very few localities, blacks are unknown, so that Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe’s anti-“Contact Theory”—familiarity breeds contempt—does not apply. For most Chinese in China, blacks are an amusing curiosity, barely thought about from one year’s end to the next.
The Chinese in America are another matter, and there are some interesting developments going on there.
Conformism is a strong trait in the Chinese character, reinforced by numerous idioms (those are from Rohsenow’s Dictionary of Chinese Proverbs), and the instinct of Chinese immigrants is to adopt the ethos of native elites, which in the present case means Cultural Marxism. This presumably applies to immigrants from other Confucian cultures, and so explains Suey Park.
Cultural Marxism, however, is the ethos of a white elite great in numbers. The Chinese in America are not great in numbers. They have already grasped the fact that Affirmative Action works against their interests. Where they have the power, as recently in California, they will force the white elites to drop it. (Blacks and Hispanics don’t seem to care about the issue that much.)
Since they don’t have that much power in many places, the temptation will be to step off the liberal plantation for the sake of their kids’ education.
The Chinese have at any rate none of the poisonous guilt about blacks that afflicts white Americans. To the contrary, Chinese people who came to this country poor, and experienced ghetto life, have few illusions about the black underclass.
There is the possibility of realism there.
But there is also the possibility that when they have graduated college, got jobs, and settled in segregated neighborhoods, they may sink into the delusional hypocrisy of white liberalism, if the Affirmative Action issue can be finessed.
In the meantime, let’s see how effectively Stephen Colbert can ironize the pickle he’s in over that offending tweet. My guess: very effectively: these hipster types can ironize anything.