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Just over a week ago, the New York Knicks finally allowed Chinese American Jeremy Lin a shot on the court and to say he took the opportunity and ran with it would be an understatement. Not only did Lin turn the fortunes of the Knicks around, but made one of the most impressive starts in NBA history (the 89 points he scored in his first three starts is the most of any player since the 1976-77 season so chew on that, Michael Jordan).

While Asian Americans are justly proud of Lin’s accomplishments, all of America is in the grips of LINsanity—Asian, white, black, purple, everyone. But you wouldn’t have known this if you were watching this past weekend’s episode of Saturday Night Live. There was nary a mention of Lin during all of the hour-and-a-half—not in any of the sketches, not a walk-on cameo, not even a measly joke during Weekend Update.

Well, you may be thinking—so what? Who says SNL is obligated to do anything about Lin anyway?

Fair enough. Of course the producers can do whatever they want on their own show, but I think the absence of Lin during a week when you couldn’t avoid mention of him speaks to a larger issue the show has constantly faced regarding Asian American representation.

I’ve touched on this topic before when I playfully suggested that Harold and Kumar’s John Cho and Kal Penn would be ideal hosts (with Far East Movement thrown in as the musical act for good measure) so why am I picking on them again? After all, there’s plenty of other programs that are equally problematic in this area?

Partly, it’s because of what Saturday Night Live represents to our zeitgeist. Whether you think the show itself is good or not, SNL, more than any other non-news entertainment program, is the cultural barometer of the week’s events. The Daily Show or The Colbert Report may be sharper in its take on current events, but they don’t have anywhere near the reach of SNL even on its bad nights. As the first President George Bush remarked when asked how he felt about Dana Carvey portraying him (and I’m paraphrasing)–to be even mentioned on SNL is a badge of honor. It means you’ve made an impact. Hell, it means you’ve made it. I think that’s still true.

I physically felt Lin’s absence in this last episode because he was, arguably, the biggest news story of the week. If SNL is about our cultural zeitgeist, he should’ve been represented in some way. In addition, let’s not forget that SNL also has a history of favoring stories that are New York-centric. After all, this is the show that turned former New York Governor David Paterson (and his “blindness”) into a recurring character despite the fact that most people outside of the New York area probably had no clue who he was. The same can’t be said about Lin and if LINsanity was this strong outside of the Big Apple, imagine how crazy it must’ve been in New York where the show is based? And come on, SNL did a sketch about Tebow, why not Lin aka the Asian American Tebow (but one piece of advice, instead of going the “yellowface” route, can I suggest casting Lin himself—he’s in NY after all and it’d be great for your ratings)?

The other reason I’m particularly hard on SNL is because of how important it’s been to me personally. I grew up watching and loving SNL. As a kid, I idolized guys like Eddie Murphy, John Belushi and Mike Myers. But, most importantly, the show’s rebel spirit instilled me with the confidence to be unapologetically proud to be myself, which was huge as an Asian kid growing up in white suburbia. Eddie Murphy, in particular, had a profound impact. The characters he played during his SNL tenure were strong and badass and, though he was black, he definitely wasn’t a second-class citizen. And fuck it, I wouldn’t be either! As a minority, that realization was significant for me. If I’m especially hard on SNL, it’s only because of what it’s meant to me.

Yes, cast members like Fred Armisen and Rob Schneider are part Asian, but the fact that there hasn’t been a visibly “out” Asian American cast member in its 37 years sends a subtle message that we’re not a part of the “rebel spirit” that meant so much to the 15-year-old version of me.

And never mind Jeremy Lin, last week also saw the news of artist David Choe’s $200 $500 million Facebook windfall and Michigan Senate candidate Pete Hoekstra’s racist “yellowgirl” Super Bowl adboth national stories that extended beyond the Asian American community and both ripe targets for a show like SNL to poke fun at, but again…nothing.

Despite all of this, I still believe in the show and, like a dedicated sports fan, I’ll stick with it through the good and the bad. But I hope the producers realize that for their work to truly represent the zeitgeist, it has to accurately reflect the cultural landscape. And while Lin’s performance may have surprised everyone, it’s certainly not a fluke when you look at the bigger picture.

I mean–come on, it’s the 21st Century and Asian Americans are excelling in every field, including those that seemed “off limits” in the past. There’s going to be many more Jeremy Lins in all facets of our culture/zeitgeist and if SNL isn’t on board to address that, it’s going to find itself left behind in the 20th Century. And for a die-hard fan like me, that’d be heartbreaking.

29 Comments

  1. I guess when Asian Americans are too much of a threat to welcome with open arms and all that good old American hospitality America is known for, ignorance is bliss to those who’ve brought down their own economy and slowly tearing the country down job by job?

  2. So, let me understand something here.

    You’re bothered by the fact that SNL didn’t do a sketch on Jeremy Lin.

    But, an idea about a film based on a bitter, angry Asian-American serial killer called “Chink”, and a play entitled “Chinglish” – you’re in support of those?

    How about this – instead of supporting “Chink” while calling out SNL for not doing a sketch, how about YOU do a sketch on Jeremy Lin. Or better yet, why not get your Hollywood connected homies at YOMYOMF to ask ESPN to do a 30 for 30 style documentary on Jeremy Lin, or Paul Kariya, Dat Nguyen (the many other Asian North American athletes)?

  3. I’m Chuck Norris & I approve SaveTheWorld’s message. Smiley face.

  4. Not mentioning a sports story like Lin reflects very poorly on SNL ability to stay topical yet funny.

    But personally, I wouldn’t mind if people stopped pretending that SNL was some holy institution and the definitive show of cultural record. It’s not. It’s shit. It’s in the same league as Michael Bay movies or Seth MacFarlane cartoons. It aims for mediocrity and still manages to fail. It’s a show that manages to stay on TV only because 14-year-olds watch it to feel older. It’s the Time Magazine of unfunny comedy.

    Also, I don’t support SaveTheWorld’s message. Positive, neutral, or subjectively negative depictions of Asian Americans in media are not exclusively the responsibility of Asian Americans.

  5. Perhaps Jeremy Lin has not done much to be ridiculed at this point (clearly Tebowing is stupid), nor done much at all to host (Michael Jordan – exceptional; Charles Barkley – meh; Deion Sanders & Nancy Kerrigan – horrendous).

    Lin also doesn’t strike me as having any personality. Give it some time though – maybe he’ll make a brief walk-on appearance like Mark Sanchez.

  6. “Also, I don’t support SaveTheWorld’s message. Positive, neutral, or subjectively negative depictions of Asian Americans in media are not exclusively the responsibility of Asian Americans.”

    Yeah, you’re right, it’s not.

    So I guess the solution would be for Asian-American media people to continue shitting all over themselves right?

    Meanwhile, the black media is making themselves look like the collective next coming of Jesus with works like “Love & Basketball” and “Smart Guy” (did anyone at all even find those ridiculously anti-stereotypical story plots even remotely plausible?)

    Hey, maybe while MTV produces a 4th season of Laguna Beach where everyone is rich, white, and good looking, the Asian-media can make “Chinked” a 12 part series!!

  7. “Lin also doesn’t strike me as having any personality.” Have you ever seen those ridiculous faces he makes? Also, he’s already well-known for his humility.

  8. I am guessing that Lin will be on Lettermen very shortly.
    Any Asian American breaking stereotypes is awesome in my books.

    Rayfil

  9. Lin can deliver my pork fried rice now. Does that mean I have to be nice to Chink delivery guys

  10. I noticed this too. Maybe there just wasn’t a great joke opportunity for JLin’s performance?

    That’s pretty much their only way of getting any Jeremy Lin related jokes out there. They don’t have any Asian cast members to do a Tebow-like skit, so it’s weekend update or nothing.

    It is curious though cuz I think that Seth Meyers is a basketball fan. He’s a sports fan for sure – he hosted the ESPYs. I’m convincing myself that it was more sinister now. Racists at SNL! All of them!

  11. savetheworld is right on!

    as far Roger’s statement goes, since when has the mainstream portrayed Asians in any way that’s even remotely neutral?

    the only once or twice a decade positive portrayals are connected to foreign markets.

    maybe they need somebody who’s not Bobby Lee to be on SNL

  12. So you guys would justify 21’s whitewash because asians shouldn’t be shown cheating and/or gambling? Or a certain 2010 movie which I won’t name because asians shouldn’t be shown kung fu fightin’?

    If you have specific ideas on how Asians or Asian Americans should be portrayed, make it. But don’t hold back other AA artists when they believe they have a nice story to tell.

    The thing is I totally understand where you’re coming from. I understand the frustration of seeing a movie that happens to be made by AA filmmakers with AA actors be framed as “the asian movie” or another “Asians coming out party,” especially if its a subject I personally don’t find interesting. I hated Better Luck Tomorrow before I liked it.

    But realize that characters like Hannibal Lecter and Dexter left a strong impression on audiences. They were also impressions on a broader frabric of our pop culture. White people didn’t have to worry that those things were making white people “look bad”, because it’s silly to say those movies had the responsibility to make white people look good.

    My main concerns with Chink are “Will the movie be well made?” and “What great Asian American actors will this movie discover?” Obviously, characters like murderous sociopaths shouldn’t be the only characters Asian actors portray in film, but pressuring AAs to restrict their artistic expression still shoeboxes AAs with more expectations and false responsibilities compared their caucasian counterparts.

    Also, Bobby Lee is ten times funnier than anyone on SNL in the past decade.

  13. Can’t ignore him now.

    6 straight wins. Let’s see what happens tomorrow and Friday.

  14. “But realize that characters like Hannibal Lecter and Dexter left a strong impression on audiences. They were also impressions on a broader frabric of our pop culture. White people didn’t have to worry that those things were making white people “look bad”, because it’s silly to say those movies had the responsibility to make white people look good.”

    They don’t worry because they already have various shows on network television (and film) that make them look rich, ridiculously attractive, and charming.

    Contemporary TV examples: Laguna Beach, The OC, One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl.

    I’m not even going to start on film.

    What’s Dexter (on a premium subscriber cable channel) going to do to hurt that image?

    Is there an Asian-American version of Laguna Beach? One Tree Hill?

    No? Oh, we have Chinglish and “Chink” u say? AWESOME.

  15. 6 wins and more importantly 9-1 ATS!!!!

  16. Roger has Stockholm Syndrome, pure and simple.

    with Savetheworld’s example, even Dexter is shown to be about having positive connotations rather than just a serial murder.

    from the first 29 pages of the script of “Chink” it has no redeeming value than just a rant.

    as for 21, there are two Asian window dressing in the background – despite that Jeff Ma sold out and think the goober white dude represented him the best. which is ironic, since Asians gamble the most.

    @Roger: since you’re so dense about it: it’s the context and connotation. let’s see an Asian Jodie Foster to counterbalance the Asian Hannibal Lecter.

    lastly, don’t go for that Quentin BS rationalization of “artistic merit” and “art” for your insipid movies.

    nobody’s stopping you from making your films, but if you expect APA audiences to respond there will always be detractors. now can you live up to the criticism or get petulant and be a douchebag is up to you to respond to the criticism.

  17. if anybody still thinks “booby Lee” has any career left, then you’re beyond delusional and is in Iraqi (mis)information minister looney bin territory.

  18. You know what’s funny though MMer?

    White dudes are going to NBC and Fox, and the pitch goes like this:

    Random white writer: I have a great idea for a show. How about we cast 6 smoking hot white people. And have a show about them being rich and hot. The girls will wear bikinis, and the guys will smile a lot.

    Studio exec: Cool. So what’s the plot?

    Random white writer: The hot girls will wear bikinis, and the guys will smile a lot.?

    Studio exec: Sold. I’d watch it.

    Meanwhile, we have Quintin at CBC probably going:

    Quentin: Hey, so I have this idea for a film. Let’s do it on Asian people that hate themselves and are angry all the time. Maybe they can be psychotic, maybe they can kill people. Yeah let’s focus on that – people LOVE depressing stories. What really sells is when you make white people feel really awkward, and Asian people feel ashamed. Hey, let’s call it ‘Chink!” What’s not to like?!?

    CBC exec: I’m not sure that’ll fly. How about something on Paul Kariya. I read he just retired. I’m sure you can get a Canadian Independent Film fund for that.

    Quentin: Fuck that! Who wants to watch a film or a series about a minority hockey superstar that won a Gold Medal for his country?? Asians don’t want to feel good about themselves after paying to watch a film. Fuck that I say!! That’s not my responsibility! I’m “artistic”, did you see “People I’ve Slept With”? It was at Sundance. I’m all about hating myself. Paul Kariya, who cares? Fuck, an Asian dude that’s self-loathing and goes around randomly shooting people? I can relate to that. THAT’S what Asian Canadians relate to.

  19. i think the CBS exec would think something like:

    we know Asian people don’t pay money to see “Asian American films” because they’re obviously denigrating and racist and no APA in their right minds would give money to the SxSW festival lineup.

    so the only way to re-coup costs is to sell to white audiences, so how can we sneak in either KKKen Jeong or Will Yun Lee into play some stereotyped gangster chinks?

    also, we have to set aside enough money to buy off those APA media organizations with swag and “diversity casting sessions” so that “artists” like Joyce Wu can help us promote our racism better.

    http://www.joycewu.com/2012/02/08/an-open-letter-to-lawrence-odonnell/

    (I was very hesitant to post the url to her blog, so as to not drive traffic to it)

  20. My grievances with Hollywood are with the industry as a whole.

    If you want to call me “dense”, “douchebag”, a mental patient suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, go ahead. I won’t take it personally. I forgive you guys.

    People like Quentin don’t represent Hollywood’s attitudes towards Asian Americans. If you’re unhappy with Quentin’s work because it falls short your film interests, I just hope you’re much more angry at people in mainstream media who silence or marginalize fictional and nonfictional Asian American stories.

    This blog post was about how SNL remained silent on an Asian American (and New York) story that they otherwise had every excuse to at least mention. My original point in my first comment was that SNL’s willful mediocrity should otherwise be enough to force the public to reject it as a some sort of sacred institution. When we consider shit like 2012 SNL as pop cultural canon, we might as well give up on making our culture smarter, more audacious, less racist, or less sexist.

  21. haolewood is racist is “needless to say” and “goes without saying”

    do we really need to go into a diatribe against haolewood racim everyday?

  22. Firstly, let’s be thankful SNL ignores Lin. Did you see its Downton Abbey spoof? Way the fuck too late, tired and lazy– stealing jokes from the DA parody already featured on British’s Red Nose Day.

    Back to Lin/SNL, I think Philip is onto s/t. SNL is a place where Tina Fey said she– a middle-class, all-American white woman– was diversity. It’s a sterling example of the larger entertainment/media world controlled by a very powerful minority. If there’s anyone feeling contempt, it’s that minority.

    America isn’t threatened as suggested in an earlier comment…on the contrary, the essentially-democratic platform of social media is the reason why mainstream outlets can’t ignore Lin and how so many individuals got in a word (or 6,000) edgewise.

    If there’s any threat/contempt being felt…it’s not by the average American, not by the African-Americans suggested by Jon Stewart + Conan…it’s by a minority with a disproportionate amount of influence in American pop culture– the inexplicably self-loathing group that gives “chink-loving” Sarah Silverman a show, has no problem w/Mike Tyson and loves riding the weenies of criminal thugs Mark Wahlberg, Chris Brown…an influential minority that conveniently ducks behind “Americans” and “whites” when there is controversy regarding racism– prejudice that itself propagates through entertainment and media.

    SNL isn’t America, its not even much of a barometer of American zeitgeist. It’s Jeff Zucker, Lorne Michaels, David Brooks, Chuck Lorre…

  23. @crazy MMer: Yeah, HW + media should be called out regularly. Then again, this blog prob isn’t the place for it. McSweeney’s might have a more varied audience– but damn Jesse Eisenberg got there first with his feigned woes-me-short-Jew take on Lin. New York Times’ readership is pretty large– but fuck, the paper already gave ink to a senile David Brooks for a truly moronic piece.

    So @crazy MMer, feel free to hold your tongue on injustice– HW will love you for it– but I say let the diatribes flow…wherever they may.

  24. believe, on a certain website we bitch about haolewood racism everyday.

    it just gets tiring for me after so many years and the same old BS.

    I think the energy should be focused on pro-active stuff like youtube; I’m eagerly awaiting the yomyomf channel and see what it can bring to APA media images.

    I’m also trying to do my own thing, but that’s later on – because Asians don’t help other Asians, like every other minority crabs in the bucket.

  25. Oh where is this bitching website? I’d like to go.

    But geez…talk about careful what Philip wishes for. SNL’s skit was horrific…it’s as if SNL writers said let’s up the racism b/c…well, fuck we can and better yet, let’s make everyone forget who’s writing and putting this redundant shit on the air. SNL’s point about certain brands of racism being more tolerated than others, true, but it conveniently ignores the most egregious and sinister example– the racism HW/media tolerate and promote (blacks, Asians, we’re all game…the skit was a good example) versus what or whom they’ll silence/blackball (the skit was not a good example).

    Where’s that other website again?

  26. @hooker: “modelminority” (‘dot com’)

    say hi to “humps” in the forums. 😉

    yeah, I wasn’t sure if that SNL skit was poking fun of the racism of certain black sports commentators regarding “Linsanity” or was it mocking “tolerable racism” or what it was about…

  27. @crazy MMer thanks i’ll check it out.

    pretty sure snl just wanted to broadcast all the black + asian slurs it could fit into 4 mins…did they ever do a skit on mel gibson’s drunken rant, repeating all his words?