Thursday, March 19, 2009

Miley, Joe, and Race

Pop icons Miley Cyrus and Joe from the Jonas Brothers have been getting some negative press for pictures of them making "slant eyes," an race-related act making fun of Asians. There's been quite an outrage from fans against Miley, who apologized on her fan's website for the photograph. Why I bring this up is that a large number of tweens and teens in my ministry are huge fans of Miley and the Jonas Bros. The entertainers have also marketed themselves as good role models, wearing purity rings and talking about their Christian upbringing.

I'm personally a bit upset by the images. I don't believe Miley or Joe intended to cause injury to Asian people, but they unintentionally have sent the message that subtly racist acts are okay as long as they're done in fun. Eugene Cho offers some great insights about this:
We need to slam the slanted eyes gestures as racist gestures even if they come from a 16 or 19 year - and for that matter, a six year old.  Why?  Because we don’t want 50 million teens around the world to think that slanting your eyes is affectionate.  Nothing is more scary that a Hannah Montana  or Jonas Brothers concert with 16,000 fans slitting their eyes.  Right?
Now, neither I nor Eugene would accuse these two of being racists. But someone will probably say that this issue isn't really that offensive, that we shouldn't make a big deal out of it, that it was all meant in fun. Man, I struggle with that. Different races and cultures are beautiful reflections of the Divine Creator; reducing them to a degrading act about their physical appearance isn't affectionate or funny. Scripture speaks of a kingdom where people of every nation and language are all brought together through Jesus. So I struggle with hearing or seeing acts like this, because it reminds me that we're still not there yet.

Perhaps this hits close to home because I'm talking about the "judgmental elephant in the church" next Wednesday night with the junior highers, using John 4 and John 8 as passages where Jesus offers grace and healing in the midst of truth to two women who have experienced judgment and rejection. One of these women is a Samaritan, a woman of a "lesser" race than the Jews. Jesus breaks down social barriers by offering love instead of rejection and it radically transforms an entire Samaritan town. 

I imagine that Jesus didn't make too many race-related jokes about Samaritans. What if he did, and someone decided not to follow him because of it? What if we do, and someone decides to hate Jesus and the church for it? Could I really explain to Jesus why I thought my seemingly-funny actions were the indirect result of someone not entering his kingdom? Is it worth the awkward bits of laughter?

And if you can't be funny without making race-related jokes, then you've got a stunted sense of humor.

What do you think of Miley and Joe's actions: not a big deal, or worth getting angry over?


  1. Being half-Chinese myself, I wasn't too offended. Racist humor can be funny at times. I make fun of my Chinese half all the time. I just think that it's pretty lame that people still stretch their eyes to make fun. There are much more smarter ways to poke fun at Asians. =P

    Anyway, what actually bothers me about this is that Miley and Joe are looked up to by tons of kids and teens. If you are a high-profile person like this, you should learn to restrain yourself from these types of actions. Everything you say and do is recorded 24/7 and these kids need to realize the type of influence they have on others. Look at the England Royal Family. They have to tip toe around their whole lives. They have to think long and hard before they actually speak. Sure, slip ups occur every once in awhile; it's going to happen. But, Miley seems to have caused controversy from the very start of her career. You put yourself in the spotlight and there are going to be consequences for it. This is why I didn't get as upset as I could have when Rosie did the whole "Ching-chong, ching-chong" thing. Anyone who is still looking up to that cow as a role model is worthless anyway.

    Next time I see Miley, maybe I'll use my fingers to open my eyes really wide and say things like "Do you have any non-diary creamer?" or "I would like to use my credit card to purchase this item." That'll show 'er! =P

  2. Cam, you said that what bothers you about this is that Miley and Joe are role models for young people. So if someone is not a role model for other people, it's okay for them to make racial jokes? Or if it's only done in private and never enters the public eye?

    I'm half-Mexican--yes, Internet, it's true--and at times jokes are made around me about hispanics, especially since moving to Arizona. I struggle with that, because some are honestly amusing, yet I would never condone those kind of jokes to my son or my junior high students. Is it somehow okay for adults, but not okay for young people?

    Also, your joke about opening your eyes really wide: Eugene Cho did that very thing on his blog post. :)

  3. Oooh, I seemed to have left an important part of my comment out. I think the jokes are okay as long as the person is not a true racist and if it's done in the company of other people who are comfortable with racial humor. Obviously it is not suggest that Miley do that for a photo when anything can get leaked out in the web like that.

    When it comes to racist jokes, it's either all okay, or none of it is okay in my eyes. This is why I think Gran Torino is a hilarious film and why I'm not offended by Miley's actions. But, this is not saying that I don't understand why people would get upset at it.

  4. Maybe it's just me... but don't these kids all look a tad drunk? And the kid with the wine glass? Or is it soda in a wine glass?

    Never doubt the stupidity of smart people in large groups. :)

  5. Adam, you're right, they do look like they're partying it up. Underaged drinking + racially offensive hand gestures = Hannah Montana?