humor


This cartoon satirizes the common sitcom family that includes an average-looking, bumbling husband and a gorgeous, put-together wife. It reverses the roles to illustrate (1) how offensive these sitcoms are to men (men are useless oafs who can’t be expected to act like adult human beings) and (2) how we take for granted that hot chicks should marry useless oafs (via):

I know, it’s satire, and, if you’re a regular reader, you know how I worry about satire.  To me, this points out how stupid (and gendered) family sitcoms are.  But, for others, it might just reinforce the hateful stereotype that fat women are disgusting and useless.  The problem is that the impact of the cartoon depends on who is watching it.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


I mean, it’s Ellen DeGeneres. She’s a comedian. Everyone knows she’s just being funny.

Besides, she’s totally gay. Gay ladies don’t really care about beauty, am I right or am I right?

What do you think?

I’ll tell you what I think. Satire or no, Cover Girl’s done a lot of market research and they think it’s going to make people buy make up just like any old advertisement.  And I think they’re right.

In fact, I think satire is disarming.  When we see this commercial, our “don’t fuck with us” response doesn’t kick in because it’s just funny ol’ Ellen bein’ wacky.  Advertising counts on us thinking it doesn’t affect us.  Otherwise we’d be pissed.  I think satire is a useful tool with which advertisers trick us into letting down our guard.

We’ve been hitting satire hard lately.  I think it’s because it’s really pretty tricky to figure out.  See our previous posts on or featuring satire here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Here’s one that actually refers to data (as opposed to just involves us mouthing off.)

(Via Moody Springs.)

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

We’re pleased to feature a post by Macon D.  About himself, Macon writes, “I’m a white guy, trying to find out what that means. Especially the ‘white’ part. I live in that heart of the heart of American whiteness, the ever-amorphous ‘Midwest.’”  Macon’s blog, Stuff White People Do, is an excellent source of insights about race and racism.  We thought this post grappled nicely with the complicated phenomenon of (literal and figurative) black face, while addressing a difficult and contemporary form of humor:

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chicagolakeoutdoor

Chicago-Lake Liquors
Minneapolis, Minnesota
(click here for larger version)

On the absorbing and informative blog Kiss My Black Ads, Craig Brimm responds to an ad campaign currently being run by Chicago-Lake Liquors, a store located in a largely black area of Minneapolis, Minnesota.  The images above are apparently billboards, and I’ve embedded below the three TV commercials also included in this campaign. (If you can’t view them, they’re also running now on the store’s site here.)The ads include “black” language, gestures, body language and so on, as performed by white, middle-class men (why no white women?). As I understand it, the joke is that these white folks are making fools of themselves by imitating black people.

Are these ads racist? Or are they making fun of racist white people? And if they’re “only” doing the latter, does that really make the contemporary blackface here any more acceptable?

Does context matter here, with Chicago-Lake Liquors located in a largely black area? Given that, perhaps the ads allow black people to feel superior in a way to these white people, by laughing at their silly efforts to get hip by acting “black.” Maybe, but that seems like a stretch.

Speaking of context — while blackface is largely condemned in the U.S., because it perpetuates and solidifies racist stereotypes, it serves other purposes in some other countries. Take a look at these other examples; as a United States citizen trying to become more aware on a daily level of racism and my own whiteness, I have increasing trouble ever seeing blackface, literal or otherwise, as acceptable. And yet, I’m a strong believer in the meaning-generating significance of social, historical, and cultural context. Many things have different meanings in different contexts.

So, I do find the Chicago-Lake Liquors ads racist. Even though the satiric butt of their central joke is clueless white people instead of black people, their version of blackness is insultingly cartoonish. They also basically revive what amounts to an American white supremacist tradition that deserves to die, blackface minstrelsy.

Still, I wonder — if we consider geographic, sociohistorical context, are some versions of blackface okay? Perhaps even, given its urban location, the contemporary American version in Chicago-Lake Liquors’ ad campaign?

* As Restructure! notes in a comment, Ganguro is one of three such modes of teenage blackface identified in the video; Yamanba, which means “mountain hag,” is the name of the one that’s tied to a comic’s racist parody of an aboriginal Australian. Jonathan Ross, the narrator of the video, notes that when Ganguro appeared after Yamanba, “many thought it was simply an homage” to the comic’s “beloved creation,” but apparently it’s not.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Oh, man. As if we needed another reminder as to why cartoon art is a medium that can be used for evil as easily as good, comes now the next installment in a series of racist National Review covers trafficking in Asian stereotypical imagery.

You’ll remember, of course, that back in March 1997, the National Review released the infamous “Manchurian Candidates” cover seen here (which, due to the fact that the Internet was just a tot when that slice of tripe hit the newsstands, I was only able to find in embedded in a journal article written by Darrell Hamamoto, w00t!).

manchucan

Asian Americans understandably reacted with stunned rage at the depiction of then-President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, and Vice-President Al Gore in stereotypical Chinese garb, their features warped into exaggerated Asian caricatures (slanted eyes, buck teeth).

The National Review was unrepentant in the face of charges that the cartoon was offensive and inflammatory, responding, in part, that:

Caricatures and cartoons …require exaggerated features and, where a social type is portrayed, a recognizable stereotype. Thus, a cartoonist who wants to depict an Englishman will show him wearing a monocle and bowler hat, a Frenchman in beret and striped jersey, a Russian in fur hat, dancing the gopak, etc.

The first point can’t entirely be disputed: The cartoon medium often uses simplified, exaggerated features for emphasis, for satirical purpose and for ease in depicting broad emotion.

But it’s one thing to exaggerate features — Obama’s protruding ears invariably become giant jug-handles when he’s rendered, for instance. The Mike Ramirez cartoon below actually essentializes Obama’s appearance down to his ears — and still manages to make its point clear.

ramirez

It’s another to incorporate racialized features that weren’t there to begin with: For instance, consider these images — a caricature of Obama from an “Obama Waffles” package, as gleefully sold during the right-wing ” Values Voters Summit,” and a close-up of Obama’s official portrait from his days as Senator from Illinois.

obama

Apart from being overtly racist, the caricature on the box doesn’t remotely resemble Obama — with its pop-eyed expression, darkened skin, enormous, toothy grin and thick lips, it looks a lot more like…well, the picture below can speak for itself, I guess.

blackface

Going back to the National Review “Manchurian Candidates” cover now, what you see is that there’s more going on in the images of the Clintons and Gore than the typical flamboyant exaggeration used in cartooning. In addition to Bill’s bulbous nose and Gore’s pursed, almost sneering lips (both typical of their respective caricatures), you see…hmm…narrowed eyes… oversized, bucked teeth… a Fu Manchu moustache– hey, just about every racist synecdoche in the anti-Asian propaganda library! (At least the stuff that belongs above the waist.)

propag

Just to be clear here: It’s one thing if they were simply drawn in Chinese clothing or doing quaint folkdances, as suggested by the National Review in its disgenuous response. That would arguably be in-bounds satirically (regardless of whether you find the political point being made to be fair or accurate).

But layering yellowface-propaganda memes into the picture transforms the caricature from an act of humor into an act of war. The images to the right are examples of what I’m talking about.

Even if you’re insensitive enough to racial propriety to want to give white people Asian features in order to prove a political point, that simply isn’t what Asian people look like, and never has been. The squinty, buck-toothed Asian person with bright yellow skin and eyes angled at ten minutes to two does not exist in nature. However much you soften it, those false features are in fact weapons of mass destruction, artifacts of an era where it was used to dehumanize the enemy enough so they could be killed without compunction.

rob

For that reason, there’s no acceptable way they should be invoked in a casual popular context, any more than minstrel stereotypes or anti-semitic “Elders of Zion” caricatures have a place in everyday culture. Discouragingly, they remain persistent in media today — from entertainment (see left: Rob Schneider in 2007’s “I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry“) to news and commentary. Well, actually not most news and commentary — it’s really only the profoundly racist right-wing organs that still blithely fart out the yellowface imagery. Like, for instance…the National Review.

nrcoversoto

This cover to the right is the current issue of the magazine, on stands now. As you can see, it depicts Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor as the Buddha. Despite the fact that Sotomayor is Catholic and a Latina woman. While the historical Buddha, Siddhārtha Gautama, was Hindu (before the whole Bodhi tree thing), and an Asian man.

The caption, “The Wise Latina,” frankly offers no real f*cking explanation for the image. I suppose it’s because the Buddha was wise, although you could just as easily have depicted Sotomayor as King Solomon if you’re looking for a legendary figure of wisdom; maybe it’s because to the raving radical Right, Buddha is seen as a proto-hippie and probably a pansy too, while King Solomon, that guy threatened to cut babies in half — not very pro-life, but not “empathetic” either. Badass!

But seriously: If they wanted a figure of wisdom and empathy, why not caricature Sotomayor as someone who’s of the right gender and a coreligionist, at least: Mother Teresa? That would have preserved the necessary level of corrosive offensiveness, right? Too close to home?

mote

Whatever. As it is, the cover is just stupid and meaningless, as well as offensive — to women, to Latinas, to Buddhists of all backgrounds (note: The National Review guys are of the same ilk that went ballistic when Rolling Stone depicted Kanye as Jesus)…

kw1

…and yes, to Asians. But it bears mentioning that it registers as EPIC FAIL even in the offending Asians category.

Because, unlike their “Manchurian Candidates” cover, where at least they picked the correct racist stereotypes to parade, the “Wise Latina” cover puts the hideously slanted eyes and bucked teeth of East Asian yellowface stereotype onto an image inspired by a Northern Indian man of Brahmin descent.

In fact…. you can see the original image of Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha that the artist used as a reference (it’s actually quite a popular icon). Notice any differences?

buddha_18331

As usual, National Review has been quick with a completely absurd and totally disingenuous retort to the appalled reactions they’ve been getting from, you know, everyone. From editor-in-chief Rich Lowry:

I take it the theory is that we don’t think Latinas can be wise so we had to make her look somewhat Asian. Or something like that. What these people don’t understand is the entire concept of caricature (or of a joke). Caricature always involves exaggerating someone’s distinctive features, which is all that our artist Roman Genn did with Sotomayor. Oh, well. Keep it humorless, guys, keep it humorless.

No, Rich, the theory is that you took a Latina woman and turned her into a North Indian man with horribly racist East Asian-stereotypical features because you guys are clueless morons. And actually, that’s kind of funny, in that Lowry and the National Review don’t quite get that the joke, ultimately, is on them.

NEW! Kate M. pointed out an image similar to the one of Sotomayor as the “wise Latina.”  This one is of Newt Gingrich as a “guru” and ran in the liberal magazine Mother Jones:

Newt-Guru

Is this more or less offensive than the Sotomayor example cover? The thing that I think distinguishes the two is that Gingrich’s features are not exaggerated into a warped stereotype of Asian features, possible the most offensive element of the Sotomayor caricature.

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Jeff Yang is the editor-in-chief at Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Blog and the Asian Pop columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter and friend him on Facebook.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

This new commercial for Kentucky Fried Chicken’s grilled option features an assortment of people and, then, two Asian guys in Asian-looking garb with fake Asian accents acting like fools (found at Racialicious):

I’m sort of speechless here. (1) I can’t imagine how KFC could have thought that this made any sense at all. (2) I don’t understand how they could fail to notice that this is racist.

Then again, as we argued about the recent Sotomayor cover, maybe the truth is that it’s simply fine to be racist these days as long as it’s shrouded in the thinnest film of “humor.”

In a post on Racialicious, Arturo Garcia made a point about Sasha Baron Cohen’s work that resonated with me deeply and, I think, captures how I feel about this new brand of satirical humor/hipster racism:

Maybe we’ve had it wrong all along – Borat and the upcoming [film] Bruno aren’t comedies at all – they’re horror movies, holding up the mirror to our new idea of funny.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.


Jay Smooth speaks to the Asher Roth tweet about “nappy headed hos” and offers some great insights as to how to maintain proper boundaries when blacks and whites form mixed-race communities.

NEW! More with Don Charnas (found here):

Fascinating:

Bush’s comment is offensive (yes, all pro-choice women are ugly, angry, and undesirable). Clinton’s complicity is unfortunate.

In the comments, Sabriel asks what my “sociological angle” is.  Sabriel, I think Bush’s comment and Clinton’s complicity reveals that it’s still essentially fine to be hateful towards women, especially those who refuse to play by the rules of patriarchy (whether that be measured by attention to their attractiveness to men or accepting that their role of mother should take precedence over any and all other needs and desires). Regarding Clinton’s complicity: Imagine the flak he would have taken had he defended the woman that Bush castigates. By and large, at least in politics, it is easier to be sexist than it is to be feminist.

Via Feministe.

Inspired by a recent post about a T-shirt where an Asian stereotype was saying I SPEAK ENGRISH, I thought of the perennial online popularity of “Engrish” in general. Engrish.com, one of the oldest such compendia on the Web, offers a selection of photos from clothing, packaging, menus, signs, etc., largely from Asian companies. All of these photos have been collected for their supposed humor value because they contain text poorly translated into English, English text that seems incongruous with whatever it’s describing, and/or place names that sound taboo in English. Examples below the cut [some taken from the Adult Engrish section and thus possibly NSFW].  more...