An open letter to Margaret Cho
Dear Ms Cho,
The North Korea bit you performed on the Golden Globes two nights ago has caused quite a bit of discussion — some of it supporting and defending you, some of it attacking you — and I’d like to contribute to the discussion as well.
You played the part of a North Korean general who criticized the Globes show (“You no have thousand baby playing guitar at the same time.”), wanted to take a picture with Meryl Streep, and talked about “Orange is the New Black”.
We get it, Ms Cho. You understand what North Korea does; you’re making fun of the regime, not the people; you have the right to say and make whatever joke you want; you can’t possibly be wrong if you’re of Korean descent.
But I’m confused.
How was your “comedy” bit a social commentary? Okay, you played the part of a stoic North Korean general who happens to like pop culture. Did you have a point? Were you poking fun at North Korea a la “The Interview”?
Fact: your so-called “joke” was not funny.
Perhaps others are afraid to tell a person of Asian descent that she is perpetuating harmful stereotypes of Asians, but I am not. Thanks for employing the traditional “I no speak Engrish” way of speaking often used in racist pieces of supposed comedy. Thanks for putting on white geisha makeup, which makes zero sense in the context of your “joke”. Thanks for further enforcing the good ol’ stereotype of the ~*stone-faced Asian*~.
I found a definition of satire online: “the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.” Your performance was anything but. All you did was portray North Korea as a country that’s comically stone-faced and obsessed with pop culture. People defend you and say that you were making fun of the regime, not the people, but here’s the thing. Your joke makes light of all the horrors, all the crimes that North Korea has committed and continues to commit. Your joke did nothing to contribute to a politically accurate understanding of how North Korea works.
In effect, your joke was not brave, admirable, or humorous. It was disrespectful to the victims of North Korea’s various atrocities. It was disrespectful to individuals of Korean descent and individuals of Asian descent in general. It gives white people and non-Asian people of color an excuse to continue to make light of North Korea as a regime, because you have done so publicly and successfully. Lastly, it benefits the regime itself.
Because you have reduced North Korea to a regime that marches around and quietly watches pop culture (and it’s hilarious since they’re so very stone-faced and they’re so very Asian), the actual North Korea gains power over its victims and over the entire world — a world that overlooks this nation’s acts because they’re too busy laughing at an Asian comedian who thinks a joke she’d made on the Golden Globes was clever, who thinks that everything’s okay because she defended her right to “#FreeSpeech” in a tweet.
Ms Cho, I’m sorry you’ve been going about comedy the wrong way. I’m sorry because every joke about North Korea contributes to North Korea’s continued power and you’ve just done so yourself. People need to stop creating “comedy” that is harmful. Maybe you can reconsider your idea of comedy at some point.
UPDATE: Margaret Cho says, “I’m of North and South Korean descent, and I do impressions of my family and my work all the time, and this is just another example of that. I am from this culture. I am from this tribe. And so I’m able to comment on it… I can do whatever I want when it comes to Koreans — North Koreans, South Korean. I’m not playing the race card, I’m playing the rice card. I’m the only person in the world, probably, that can make these jokes and not be placed in a labor camp… I feel if there’s negativity, it’s other people’s judgments about what they feel that Asian-Americans are allowed to do, really. You’re putting expectations on us that we have to remain Asian-American, that we can’t actually play people from Asia.”
Maybe these comments would actually make sense if her “comedy” bit actually had substance and served as a legitimate social commentary.
(I originally published this on Tumblr, under g-eorgiana)