After the March 11 disaster in Japan, the world focused its media attention here like never before; but for all the compassionate and good-hearted people wishing Japan well, there was some horrible joke or malicious epithet being slurred by the scum of the internet, or on live television. This article looks at the carelessness and callousness that plagues the public forum online, and catalogues some of the idiocy that helps perpetuate the myth that Americans are all idiotic racists. Is it ever okay to make fun of something so tragic? Where do we draw the line between humorous and hurtful? And why have anti-Japanese sentiments been kept alive for all this time?
To read all three parts of this series on a single, click here.
As I get down to the wire on finishing up all the articles I intended to write after the earthquake, I revisit this topic, which I have been dreading for many months. I feel that I must write it, though. Despite the fact that the people below do not necessarily represent the larger population of the great nation of the USA, this is my warning to say that I am going to come down hard on ignorant Americans.
All’s Fair in Jokes & War
Lest We Forget… Pearl Harbor?
Alec Sulkin, a writer for the hit TV show Family Guy, tweeted the following message after he heard about the tsunami on March 11: “If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google ‘Pearl Harbor death toll’.” I’m not really sure why he thought it would be suitable to compare the middle of the 20th century in a time of war with a natural disaster in a time of peace (at least between America and Japan), but that’s what happened. He then apologized for his tweet the next day with another one “Yesterday death toll 200. Today 10,000. I am sorry for my insensitive tweet. It’s gone.”
It was an incredibly stupid thing to say, and I’m not sure why he realized it only after the death toll rose (it was already stupid before then). But at least he promptly apologized, unlike most of the other garbage you’ll find on the internet. Sulkin later joked “If you wanna feel better about the floods in New Jersey, google ‘MTV’s Jersey Shore.’” As I have said on this blog before, offensive jokes can of course be okay if they’re funny, but the question is who is laughing. As a general rule, you should not be joking about a disaster unless it happens to you. So as an American, joking about the New Jersey flooding at the time was funny enough not to be too offensive. Joking about the tsunami, however, is not cool unless you’re Japanese.
And I think most Japanese people would agree that it’s not cool even if you are Japanese…
I’d just like to mention that at the time of any modern American disaster, I don’t think there were any Japanese people tweeting things like “If you want to feel bad about Hurricane Irene, Google ‘Hiroshima Nagasaki atomic bomb.’” I also presume that no non-American comedians were making jokes about 9/11 immediately after the event. And I imagine that Americans would be very upset if the first thing foreigners did when they heard the news was start sharing their best “twin towers jokes” on the internet. Based on the reactions of jokes from American comedians, I’m sure the public would have been livid. So why the double standard?
Americans like to believe that 9/11 changed the world – and it did. But more than changing the world, it changed America, and Americans would probably be appalled at the regular citizens of another country saying horrible things about 9/11 to the extent we have seen regarding 3/11. Obviously this is because 9/11 was a significant time – it showed Americans enemies who Israel has been dealing with for decades, introduced the Arab terrorists which American intelligence agencies have been searching for for years (like Osama bin Laden), and it put the Middle East on the map for Americans.
Well, actually the Roper Public Affairs National Geographic Literacy Study from 2006 found that 63% of young adults (aged 18-24) didn’t even know where Iraq was on a map of the Middle East, and 88% couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map of Asia (not to mention the fact that 43% couldn’t even locate New York on a map of the States…). So as much as they’re “on the map…” most young Americans apparently can’t even use said map. Of course, 18-24 year olds do not represent all of America, but I presume that a lot of the diatribes found on the internet were written by people around this age group.
For example, TheSocietyPages catalogues the rants of various angry people, such as Twitter user Edward Suarez (@EDisAWESOMER) who demonstrates his command of the English language with “Fuck the japs playback for pearl harbor bitches.” There’s also Juliet O’Leary (@supjuliet) whose history is a bit selective. “hey japan, thats what you get for bombing pearl harbor. hehe karma’s a bitch .” I hate to remind her, but Hiroshima and Nagasaki were actually what Japan got for bombing Pearl Harbor, not a natural disaster in the next millennium. I presume these fools who espouse karma are unaware of how many hundreds of times higher the death toll of atom-bomb victims was than that of Pearl Harbor… but frankly, comparing death tolls like this makes me sick to my stomach.
Facebook user Bryce Campbell seems to be totally off the wall, first saying said “Japan’s tsunami… Pearl Harbor… Thx Karma, and fuck you japanese people, where were you in pearl harbor?” and then complaining, in the unsurprising horrible English, “SOME MANY ANTI-AMERICANS ARE SENDING ME PRIVATE MESSAGES… I don’t care… japan started a war against us.. what about the american soldiers that died in Europe? if japan did not attack us…” To respond, I would first like to point out that all the quotes in this article were dictated verbatim, and any and all mistakes were preserved. Secondly, someone has to inform Bryce Campbell that the war is over! I knew the American educational system was bad, but the war has been over for more than 65 years!
I’m really quite shocked at how many young Americans are clearly not over the war; especially considering they were on the winning side.
Taking it Too Far
Gilbert Gottfried learnt not to tweet insensitive nonsense after he released a series of jokes whose punch-lines were essentially the degree to which they were offensive, such as “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.’” American insurance company Aflac had been employing Gottfriend to be the voice of the duck in the famous Aflac advertisements, but he was promptly fired, and they started looking for a new employee immediately after.
Aflac, which does 75% of their business in Japan, gave over a million dollars in aid, and their company’s senior vice president, Michael Zuna, said “Gilbert’s recent comments about the crisis in Japan were lacking in humour and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac.” Now I have the utmost respect for comedians – even the ones whose jokes are intended to offend – but there should be something said for context.
For example, Gottfried attended the roast of Hugh Heffner in 2001, which took place three weeks after 9/11. He joked that he wanted a direct flight to Los Angeles, but couldn’t get one; so he was nervous because “they said they have to stop off at the Empire State Building.” Understandably, this drew a lot of boos, including one person who yelled “too soon!” In fact, however, Gottfried had become a comedy legend that night for completely turning the room around from hostility and frustration to hysterical laughter, with his disgusting and hilarious next joke about aristocrats. It was a memorable moment in American popular culture, but what makes this instance of an offensive joke different from the tsunami jokes is simply that he’s American, and not Japanese.
Part 2 will look at more malicious bigotry. We haven’t even scratched the surface.