A-pop! Yay Superbowl, boo TV sitcom — A new year begins in Asian pop culture

By Vivian Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly

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Bruno Mars

Pop culture meets sports!

Something big happened in Seattle this past weekend. Perhaps you caught it on TV?

Our city celebrated a big win with the Super Bowl this past Sunday — congrats to the Seahawks and the 12th man! — and the big game included an incredible halftime show from pop sensation Bruno Mars.

Mars, who is of Filipino descent, recently took home the “Best pop vocal album” during the Grammys for his Unorthodox Jukebox record. During his halftime performance, Mars rocked the stage in a gold blazer and even shared the spotlight with Anthony Kiedis, front man for rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. Congrats on your Grammy win, Mars, and thanks for putting on such a memorable halftime show for us.

Speaking of sports, the Sochi Olympics are right around the corner. The Games will begin on Friday, Feb. 7, and many Asian American athletes will represent the United States. Notable athletes include the brother-and-sister figure skating pair Alex and Maia Shibutani, commonly referred to as the “Shib Sibs” among fans. Other Asian figure skaters competing on behalf of the United States include Madison Chock and Evan Bates, as well as pairs figure skaters Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay. And let’s not forget about hometown favorite J.R. Celski, who will represent the United States in short track speed skating. This will be his second time at the Olympics.

Looking forward to seeing all of these athletes on the ice later this month!

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“How I Met Your Mother”

A popular sitcom goes yellowface

It wasn’t too long ago that I wrote a column about Katy Perry and her live performance featuring yellowface and dancing geishas at the AMAs.

Unsurprisingly, yellowface strikes again in early 2014, and this time popular CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” is the culprit.

The nine-season show, which is currently in its final season, aired a controversial episode that focused on a main character retelling how he learned a comically exaggerated slap under the tutelage of various martial arts teachers. The aforementioned martial arts teachers — portrayed by three other Caucasian cast members — rocked light yellowface makeup, and donned specific props and clothing to hype up an intentional Oriental theme. To drive home the “Kung Fu” vibe, one of the characters even sported a Fu Manchu moustache.

Viewers took to social media to debate the matter, and a hashtag titled #HowIMetYourRacism started trending on Twitter to generate awareness and criticism of the episode. The outcries caught the attention of the show’s executives. Co-creator Carter Bays took to his Twitter account to address the negative reactions. Bays cited that the writers sought to write a silly and lighthearted homage to Kung Fu movies, but realized they had unintentionally offended people in the process, and hoped to regain the faith of its viewers. Though it was a safe response to the controversy, I thought the apology was sincere.

Surprisingly, some Asian Americans defended the episode. Vietnamese American comedian Dat Phan appeared on CNN to debate the matter, arguing that an apology from the show’s creators was unnecessary. Phan is best known for winning the stand-up comedy competition reality show “Last Comic Standing” in 2003. He went on to argue that because the Caucasian actors played their roles “relatively straight” and did not perpetuate more extreme Asian stereotypes, such as adopting thick Asian accents or a slanted eye look, he did not feel that there was just cause for outrage.

I do not agree with Phan. Just because those extreme stereotypes did not appear in the episode does not mean that its existing offenses don’t have merit. To condone this episode is to claim that it’s actually OK to use an entire race and culture as a costume. And that is definitely NOT OK.

What do you think? What’s your take on the yellowface found in “How I Met Your Mother”? Do you agree or disagree with Phan? (end)

Vivian Nguyen can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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