By Betty Wang
Northwest Asian Weekly
“You’re at a party. At seven it’s one kind of conversation, and at nine it’s totally different, but it’s still the same topic. We’re just like that,” blog-owner Diana Nguyen said about Disgrasian.
“Disgrasian” is a word coined by Nguyen used to describe a former coworker. It is also the name of a political humor blog. Nguyen, 26, and friend Jen Wang, 35 created the blog March 2007 after many phone conversations about actress Bai Ling being a disgrace to Asians — a “disgrasian.”
The blog was also born from the realization that the two friends loved and hated the same things — from sports teams to drinking scotch. Initially meant to be a smoking gun for Asians, as described by Wang, or a slam book between friends, as described by Nguyen, with over a thousand unique page hits a day, NPR commentaries, book deals, radio interviews and speaking at panels at Ivy League colleges, Disgrasian has taken on a life of its own since its humble beginnings.
The entries have evolved from targeting those who put Asians to shame to social commentary. “Instead of just ‘that sucks’ or ‘that’s wrong,’ some days we feel satirical, some days we feel very angry, some days we’re feeling like artists and sometimes we’re feeling like activists, and I think we have all of that in there,” Wang said.
The blog has broadened from celebrities to more of an emphasis on politics. However, pop culture still makes a regular appearance. “If Gwen Stefani does another major offense with the Harajuku girls, I’d be happy to jump on it,” said Nguyen.
“We’re astonished,” said Wang about Disgrasian’s success. The bulk of the content at Disgrasian is their commentary on issues and people through what Wang called a “cultural filter.”
All the entries, ranging from those that take jabs at Sarah Palin to ones congratulating Britney Spears on her recent clean-up, are written by Nguyen or Wang in their own style.
“We don’t report — we don’t pound the pavement while getting the stories. It’s a hybrid of creative nonfiction,” Wang said. “Our goal is not to call out racism,” Nguyen added. “We’re not a ranting blog. We’re stories and narratives.”
Disgrasian has unavoidably been compared to other blogs. “We all fell under this category of Asian Americans blogging, but we all do very different things,” said Nguyen. For Nguyen and Wang, Disgrasian is modeled after comedians like Dave Chappelle, Margaret Cho and Stephen Colbert.
“If you look at this presidential election, all these sorts of issues that come up around race either result in people being really uncomfortable or angry. It’s very hard to engage people and those ideas without feeling defensive, so we find the best solution to that is humor. It’s the Trojan horse we use to introduce these bigger ideas,” Wang said.
The response has been largely positive. Disgrasian has a following of thousands of readers a day.
The negative feedback varies. One notable instance had to do with an entry they’d posted as guest writers on the satirical blog 23/6, slamming syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin. It instantly brought in a heavy flow of traffic on Disgrasian after Malkin herself retaliated by spotlighting them on her own political blog.
Nguyen and Wang were flooded with over a thousand pieces of hate mail. “They were saying things like, ‘If you hate this country, why don’t you leave?’” Wang said. “We don’t hate this country. We just hate Michelle Malkin.”
Wang and Nguyen appreciate the feedback nonetheless. “We get excited by the dissent,” said Wang. “We can’t all agree. We don’t all look alike. We don’t all think alike. We’re not trying to build one consensus. We’re just trying to entertain and be thought-provoking.”
“This may sound disgusting,” Wang said casually. “But we’ve talked a lot about how what we’re doing has a correlation to hip-hop. (Disgrasian) wasn’t just a reaction to everything around us, but it was us taking something and making it our own. We’re trying to create this language — being Asian American is cool. It’s not awesome because it’s Asian. It’s awesome because it’s awesome.”
Disgrasian’s future looks promising as Nguyen and Wang are working together to expand. On top of the projects like a web series called “Hollywood Slant,” Wang expressed interest in developing something for Current TV, Al Gore’s cable internet network, publishing a book and possibly making Disgrasian a brand.
Nguyen and Wang are dedicated to posting at Disgrasian every weekday. “At the end of the day, the one goal that really matters to us is keeping the blog alive and sustaining it,” said Nguyen. “We can’t settle for this willy-nilly attitude.” ♦
Visit Disgrasian at www.disgrasian.com.
Betty Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.