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October 18, 2013 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Alison Gold's Chinese Food is the latest "pop" "hit" out of ARK Music to be making the rounds, following the footsteps of Nicole Westbrook's It's Thanksgiving and, of course, Rebecca Black's Friday. Beyond its hilariously forced lyrics and meter, which are par for the course, Chinese Food is being roundly criticized for being more than a little bit racist—and its racism is hardly culturally accurate, either: subtitles are shown throughout the song which shift to a number of different non-Chinese languages, including Hebrew and Arabic, and the song's climax includes a number of women dressed as geishas. But ARK Music's Patrice Wilson, aka Fat Usher, is more self-aware than he's sometimes given credit for, and his music comes close to Tim and Eric territory at times (Eric Wareheim's music videos have also been called out for dealing with race in highly problematic ways). In a little-seen but very funny response to Friday, his song Happy, Wilson lampoons both his own approach to songwriting, and the response Friday received afterwards. Another Alison Gold song produced by Wilson and ARK, Skip Rope by "Tweenchronic", that might be the proof that ARK is cleverer and more deliberate in its approach than its millions of anti-fans recognize. (Wilson was interviewed by Gawker and the LA Times in the wake of Friday; his recent defense of Chinese Food was either disingenuous or really dumb, depending on how much credit you're willing to give him.)
posted by Rory Marinich (124 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
These songs are like optimizing to find a local minimum - How bad and frankly atonal can a song be, and still be an ear worm? Amazing!
posted by dave99 at 7:18 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


If your satire is too subtle to register as such, then what you have produced, and the message the audience receives, is not actually satire.
posted by casarkos at 7:19 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Atonal" is not the right word for these songs. They are very stupidly melodic and tonal, but they don't deviate from tonality. In fact, they're auto-tuned so much they pretty much CAN'T.

The Rebecca Black parody Prom Night is closer to atonal, in that it deliberately slips the auto-tuner up at points and produces a real dissonance. (Incidentally, Prom Night is one of the funniest songs I've ever heard and is way better of a parody than Friday could have possibly deserved. I wish I know who wrote it.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:21 PM on October 18, 2013 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure if finding the lowest common denominator in pop music is something to be celebrated, but we've arguably reached it with this guy's stuff.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:25 PM on October 18, 2013


I mean yeah, that song/video is racist as hell. No way around it.

That said, this Patrice guy is kind of growing on me in spite of everything. It's hard to describe but let me try. First off, he actually does have great pop instincts. You hate "Friday" but you kind of love it, and you definitely couldn't get it out of your mental space; that's why it made such a splash beyond the ridiculousness. Lots of ridiculous stuff is also forgettable, but that wasn't. And the more I hear from him, the more I think he's sort of an outsider pop genius. Like the plastic top 40 version of an R. Stevie Moore. If his music had lo-fi 4-track production he'd be championed by Pitchfork. It's shiny plastic (and decently produced, really!) pop in ambition, slathered with all the right production elements and proven melodic formulas, but it has that uncanny valley element that turns everything around in the best way possible. Even better, he is cultivating a persona in these videos, intentionally or unintentionally, that is just fucking weird and loony and definitely unexpected, and you have to love him a little bit for that. Right? Right? No? I'm alone on this? Sigh.
posted by naju at 7:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [33 favorites]


One video I didn't have space to link was Hysterical, in which a very bad Queen Elizabeth impersonator watches a young girl sing about how much she likes other people singing music to her, and decides that America is okay after all I guess? And it's even more time-count-down-y than Friday was.

I pretty much entirely agree with naju's interpretation, except that I don't hate Friday at all. It's a damn good pop song, and it's a pop song about the fluffiest of all possible subjects—it doesn't even touch upon anything romantic, so the part of me that dislikes exploitative love songs isn't bothered by it! Other than the whole creepy man rapping part, it is seriously enjoyable fun, and the fact that it's mindless amplifies rather than reduces that. (I wrote an essay about my love for Friday the week I heard it, and everything I wrote there is still basically how I feel today.)

Chinese Food is obviously problematic, but I like it a lot too; it's staying off my bubblegum playlists for fear of offending other people, but that video is fantastically horrible, and the moment Patrice takes off his panda head to reveal it's him is kind of perfect. Also, the revolving subtitles are terrific.

I think that Patrice is right to say that Friday was kind of a big deal in how enormous a song it became despite being produced for basically no money and not being corporate machine-ized whatsoever. It showed that pop has appealing qualities of its own while completely ignoring certain of the qualities that other genres possess which we assume are necessary for music. That was proved by Gangnam Style in a much less sucky way later on, and now Ylvis's The Fox is taking it to wonderfully weird new frontiers, but I was legitimately excited by Friday's success because it suggested that machine pop was no longer immune to strangeness or indie challengers, and I felt it indicated a healthy trend in music in general. I still stand by that excitement as well.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:38 PM on October 18, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ironic trolling music video is ironic racist and is smash hit while getting Chinese food wrong. USA loses face at critical juncture in Sino-American relations. Panda Express shamefacedly declines to sue.
posted by Bwithh at 7:42 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


I am either naive or old... what part is the racist part?
posted by Cosine at 7:51 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Panda Express shamefacedly declines to sue.

Panda Express may have helped finance the production...
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:03 PM on October 18, 2013


Best YT comment:
"Thank you, Rebecca Black for inspiring so many young people who can't sing to make a video with Fat-Usher"
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:03 PM on October 18, 2013


I keep the 2xspeed version of Friday on my iphone and still listen to it time to time. It's like a remix almost and better than the original. I will admit this to anyone who asks.
posted by yeti at 8:04 PM on October 18, 2013


Japanese people in a song about Chinese food?
Imitating a Chinese accent?
posted by dave99 at 8:04 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


yeti: Friday Dubstep is another hilarious remix.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:08 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really assumed that the mistaken subtitles, completely wrong foods, and confused constumes were introduced knowingly, in kind of alowbrow postmodern pastiche. Certainly they knew they were choosing Arabic subtitles, for instance, making all the objections about things like "OMG THAT'S NOT EVEN CHINESE!" seem a little obtuse.

Oddly, if anything, this all seems stingingly appropriate to the actual history of Chinese food in the West. I'm in the middle of this bookThe Fortune Cookie Chronicles right now, which is all about conflation, beginning with the fortune cookie itself (Japanese in its invention, not Chinese), continuing to all sorts of American-generated dishes like chop suey and General Tso's chicken, and discussing the history and present-day realities of Chinese restaurants, their staffing, their economics, and the cultural complexes that surround them. After all that, it's kind of one more stick on the pile, and one that seems to have some idea what it's doing - aren't these video genres poking fun at social ignorance and terrible taste in the first place? I'm only tangentially aware of the whole Ark music phenomenon, but it really is hard for me to read this as even being about Chinese food as much as it's about the utter uninformed shallowness of American consumer culture in general.

I'd love to hear what Jennifer 8 Lee would have to say.
posted by Miko at 8:12 PM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]


So y'all get that us having a conversation about this video is why it exists, right?

It's got Paul Anka's guarantee!
posted by graphnerd at 8:14 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's been said elsewhere on the blue: ignorance != racism.
posted by bpm140 at 8:15 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Insensitive and hella creepy.
posted by Mezentian at 8:17 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are geishas in Happy too, as well as a woman wearing a bindi, and Saddam Hussein.
posted by Miko at 8:20 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not low-brow, it's post-brow. It opens up entire brow-agnostic frontiers of experience.
posted by Nomyte at 8:21 PM on October 18, 2013 [31 favorites]


I am either naive or old... what part is the racist part?

While I'm not sure it goes completely into all-out racism, this young lady explains why she finds it offensive.
posted by Mezentian at 8:25 PM on October 18, 2013


The handwringing in the comments for Skip Rope is kind of funny too. I feel like I'm reading my major daily's Facebook page when the social scandal of the day hits:
not once did I see the singers 'skip rope'. Instead I saw a child drug deal going on for sugar sticks and butterfingers. The children also jumped on a ladies car and run in front of vehicles. On top of all this we see hate in the form of vandalism when the girl spray paints an x over beiber fever. Is this what we want of society? Do we want the future of our planet in the hands of people who follow messages like this? I feel violated by watching this... Absolutely disgusted.

it takes me by surprise how badly these kids want to be adultlike; when I was their age, I was too busy enjoying my childhood instead of drowning my face in makeup and making creepy ass music videos.

i'm all for giving the underdog some glory but what the fuck... the wheelchair girl... it is literally impossible for her to do anything with a "skip rope"

It took almost the entire video before there was ever an actual skip rope shown... Kids probably can't even skip.

This music video just screams subliminal message. A boy selling drugs, a portray of drinking alcohol, and them pouring the pixie sticks on there faces (crack). Is this real?
I dunno, I see something interesting in these projects and their weird, provocative mix of elements. Like, wait, you find this disturbing? All of a sudden? Why? It's just preteen girls dancing and eating candy! Oh, it's disturbing because this video features preteen girls, but if twentysomething black men do it, it's totally cool, big-bucks entertainment that we devote entire television channels to?

Either this is all part of the performance, comments like these too, or the intentionally, provocatively vapidly terrible stuff and its varying interpretations end up producing a phenomenon of social commentary that ends up being fairly interesting.
posted by Miko at 8:33 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Or this young lady. Now with added link goodness.
posted by Mezentian at 8:37 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Get this man a nobel prize.
posted by Halogenhat at 8:41 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The post mentions Hebrew and Arabic subtitles, which made me imagine the video just used any sort of non-Roman calligraphic script and tried to pass it off as "Asian." But watching the video, the Arabic is quickly followed by French, Spanish, Russian, Danish, German... so it's clearly more of a standalone gimmick that's not all that connected to the "Chinese" theme.

That said, the other ways this video conflates cultures seems badly regressive. These days more Americans are actually aware of differences between East-Asian cultures, but when I was growing up it was pretty common that I'd get called "Chinese" (I have Japanese ancestry), and if I bothered to correct someone there was always a chance they'd be like, "So? Same thing, right?" This video feels like a step back several decades in American cultural awareness.

So yes, lumping of all Asians (or all Africans, or all native Americans...) under one label and willfully or passively denying the differences between them is ignorant and racist and is yet another example of how we treat European peoples as more deserving of our attention.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:42 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you're not familiar with the weird world of Ark Music Factory, here's a prior post on the topic (self-FPP-link).
posted by filthy light thief at 8:43 PM on October 18, 2013


Miko: Yeah, totally. I don't want to say that Wilson/ARK is DEFINITELY trying to parody/subvert the kind of cultural ignorance that "Chinese food" in America represents, where the food you're eating is not super akin to anything you'd actually eat in China and often incorporates food elements from seventy other cultures at once, but I took this as a knowing mockery/critique of that in the Tim and Eric vein, and I took Wilson's comment that he just wanted to write a song about Chinese food at less-than-face value.

It's possible that this is just a very insensitive video made by a guy who is self-aware of how silly his music is but not of why cultural appropriation is a problematic thing, but that Skip Rope video, where tweens buy candy off the street from a little kid in a fake mustache and then hide Mountain Dew cans in brown bags, suggested to me that ARK has some understanding of the culture that it's mocking/commenting on, and that Chinese Food is just a more audacious way of tweaking the people who are geared to assume that a song like this would be serious while amusing the people who get that the absurdity is itself a commentary. At least, that's how I read it, and that's one of the things I like a whole lot about it.

Again, I could be totally wrong about that, and even if I'm not, there's room to argue whether or not parodying racism in that manner is any better than actual racism (that applies to Tim and Eric as well). But there IS room, it's not a black-and-white discussion whatsoever, and I find it very interesting. The fact that there's an argument about whether having that argument itself is appropriate/deserved is where this whole thing becomes very sublimely silly and wonderful for me, because I am an irritating person myself and I appreciate people who are masterfully irritating in unique and unusual ways. :-D
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:44 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


ARK Music's Patrice Wilson, aka Fat Usher

Now I have Google image searches for Patrice Wilson and Usher open in two tabs and I'm just switching between them and giggling.
posted by narain at 8:48 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks to that KCet link I posted was introduced to Asian Girlz (NSFW) which is, well, unquestionably racist (if you want to spare yourself the video: lyrics) (NSFWish image).

Apparently they thought that was a good idea to write, record and release a song about how much they really like Asian girls.
And no one questioned them.
posted by Mezentian at 8:57 PM on October 18, 2013


With the dumbsplosion that was "Friday," Patrice is just trying to get as many eyeballs on his stuff as possible. I don't blame him, if I could monetize taking a shit too, I'd be at Taco Bell every day.

This video is over the top stupid/ignorant, with a special order of racist. But when it comes to ARK productions and social impact, to me they're just like the guy shouting about how the world is going to end or God hates "x" people on a subway platform. I just can't find it in me to get worked up with any kind of ire, there's just a bemused pity.

I personally find it a bit silly that someone would view one of these videos legitimately enough to even feel the need to have a call to action. To me, it's like trying to ground a two-year old for throwing food.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


This video feels like a step back several decades in American cultural awareness.

I would agree if I thought it were at all innocently serious.

suggested to me that ARK has some understanding of the culture that it's mocking/commenting on

Read it the same way too, and am hard pressed to come up with another reading that makes straightforward sense. And not only understanding that culture, but sharpening up its real-life absurdities and complexities by changing the personnel and the framing enough to attract fresh attention, all the while concentratedly maintaining that "who, me?" stance.

I think I really share your viewpoint here, Rory M. This looks to me like high tricksterism, something you can't even discuss without becoming complicit in the world it's making. I could be wrong, too; this could be hamhanded doofusness that accidentally becomes pointed because of what people say about it, but I'm not persuaded of that, deep down. And as far as whether satire of racism is better, or not, than straight racism, I think that question also tends to balance on whether you think that trickster/provocateur strategies are effective, in general - which is debatable enough. In any case, there is plenty of room to talk about it. It's a thing that happened, and we can have an interesting discussion somewhere in between "this should be banned forever and shouldn't exist" and "this is the best thing ever made about anything and should be placed on the next Pioneer module to represent Earth's culture to beings from other worlds."

I look forward to seeing what this gang continues to develop.
posted by Miko at 8:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just found this pretend "press conference" with Patrice via the LA Times piece. Poor production quality (so different from the videos), ambiguous statements, posturing interviewer: Just adds to the intrigue.
posted by Miko at 9:16 PM on October 18, 2013


Yeah, I can see how it's playing with tropes, and we can argue about whether it's just dumb or whether it's deliberate trolling, or satire, or irony, or whatever. It's still problematic in all the ways that accidental or "ironic" racism and sexism etc. are always problematic.

And yeah, I too am kind of fascinated by "Chinese Food" and "Friday" and the whole bizarre generative process that lets them even exist. They're on some sort of meta-weirdness level that makes it seem almost beside to point to criticize them, or like them, or dislike them. They're very much their own... thing. Plus they are both catchy and terrible and I'm kind of a sucker for that.

A lot of stuff that I downright love is racist or sexist or homophobic in various subtle or not-so-subtle ways and I don't think that's a reason to memory-hole it. But we have to be able to acknowledge there is racist culture being expressed here, and we should be able to talk about it, and people (not here, but in comments on some of the links to other sites) who are saying "but it's not racist because reasons" are wrong.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:16 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is definitely racist culture being referenced. That seems hard to debate.
posted by Miko at 9:18 PM on October 18, 2013


Do things like this that blow up on the youtube actually result in enough solid income to keep everyone paid? If you go to the FPP's youtube channel you will get a parade of totally passable top 40ish tracks with a rotating cast of vocalists. I recall it being the same with ARKmusic circa "Friday"-blowup; the impression very much is that they are shotgunning tracks all over the place and waiting for one to stick. They (ARK) must see some end game in which they are making money here. I would say they are onto something, but you never hear their products on radio or see them on Billboard listings. Is Youtube ad click revenue enough to keep this afloat or are they banking on breaking that barrier at some point?
posted by passerby at 9:24 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mezentian: "Thanks to that KCet link I posted was introduced to Asian Girlz (NSFW) which is, well, unquestionably racist (if you want to spare yourself the video: lyrics) (NSFWish image).

Apparently they thought that was a good idea to write, record and release a song about how much they really like Asian girls.
And no one questioned them
"

For what it's worth, that song and video is pretty obviously meant as a parody. Which doesn't make it unproblematic, but it's not like "they thought it was a good idea...and no one questioned them".
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 9:26 PM on October 18, 2013


I also just wrote and lost a longish comment on the word "problematic" and how I understand it. To me, I generally take it to mean not "[thing that happened] is a problem and needs to be eradicated," but "[thing that happened] poses a set of problems which we can name, recognize and deal with."

In that second sense, "problematic" things give us problems to work on. Videos like this, raising the questions they do, do give us a set of problems. Having problems on the table - issues, questions, examples, incongruencies to investigate - is an entry point for discussion. In the classic case, Uncle Tom's Cabin is a highly problematic novel. At the same time, it is a very significant, fascinating and important novel and, though today's world is different from the world in which that book was created, the problems it poses are still timely and interesting. And oddly, stuff that no longer poses a really significant problem, even if it's terribly racist or sexist, just becomes irrelevant. If something's "problematic," there must still be something interesting to say about it.; it must not be fully resolved.

It may be that everyone already agrees with that. Sometimes I feel like when I see "problematic" I am seeing an implicit recommendation that those things go away. But we can investigate all kinds of sources for the problems they reveal, and discussing the problems can be illuminating. "Problematic" to me means just about the opposite of "don't read/watch/listen and don't discuss."
posted by Miko at 9:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


I really want to pronounce it "tweench-ronic".
posted by Rock Steady at 9:29 PM on October 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I dunno, I watched this and I think the only group being mocked are pretty young white girls paying for a fancy video production.

And gee, I sure hope the "controversy" about racism in this video doesn't harm the exposure or career of ALISON GOLD and FAT USHER in any way.
posted by Nelson at 9:41 PM on October 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


For what it's worth, that song and video is pretty obviously meant as a parody.

But, what are they parodying? If they want to parody other white people who have an attraction to Asians, why not just go directly after white people, instead of using Asians as a intermediary? That's just a terrible parody. I mean, even the title of the song is "Asian Girls", and it comes off as ironic racism, at best, which is still racism because you're not speaking truth to power, you're just reinforcing privilege.

Their own Q&A even uses the typical "I'm not racist, I have friends of X race" defense that people who are caught doing something racist say. And then they suddenly change their argument in the middle of the Q&A and say the song is not about a parody, but about worshipping Asian women, which is once again...problematic and a perspective that's a bit racist.

Saying it's a parody, how no one on the band is racist, and how it's totally about how Asian women are in control and worshipped does not clear the music video of racism at all.
posted by FJT at 9:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's totally overshadowing the fact that Rebecca Black has a new song out.
posted by Mezentian at 9:54 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Needs more cowbell. Or meth.
posted by spitbull at 10:34 PM on October 18, 2013


Hrmmm I dunno. Hard to take the video at all seriously, but I'm very much of the "ironic racism still racism" school.
posted by smoke at 10:43 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did anyone else notice this shot where the cash register reads 658? That's 8 away from 666. 8 is the luckiest number in Chinese culture. Now I'm not saying that Patrice Wilson and the ARK Music Factory worship before the altar of Satan and sacrifice the souls of their tween child prodigies unto His Dark Malevolence. But I don't see any other rational explanation for it.
posted by naju at 10:50 PM on October 18, 2013 [8 favorites]


"If your satire is too subtle to register as such, then what you have produced, and the message the audience receives, is not actually satire."

While true, You have to consider that for any piece of satire floating out in the world, there is at least one person who is too dense to understand that it's satire. In actuality, that number is a hell of a lot greater than one person. Based on this metric, nothing could be classified as satire.
posted by Qberting at 11:47 PM on October 18, 2013 [13 favorites]


"a number of women"

more like young girls? I guess there's been no outcry then over how Alison is 12 years old (according to the LA Times ) but in the song, opens by declaring that she's been "ballin' " and then "clubbing" ? I have seen one article somewhere try to claim that the lyric is that she's been "bowling" not "ballin' " but it's pretty thin stuff
posted by Bwithh at 11:55 PM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank God for those Taiwanese news animators. They have a much more interesting response than the US Asian American Identity Politics crowd:

I Love American Food (WARNING: your Yankee cherishing of cronuts - or at least the abstract ideal of cronuts - will be ruined forever)

And nation spake ironic racist deiberately terrible music video unto nation
posted by Bwithh at 11:59 PM on October 18, 2013 [15 favorites]


this young lady explains why she finds it offensive

So to summarise, where we've basically arrived at here is that any restaurant calling itself "Chinese" without offering exclusively authentic food which you would eat in China is actually racist? We can probably add "Indian" restaurants to that as well. Should I feel conflicted about ordering my next takeaway? Even Pizza isn't really Italian.

Please hope me.
posted by walrus at 1:29 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


p.s. I get that some of the stereotypes in that video may be considered offensive, just talking popular food nomenclature here.
posted by walrus at 1:36 AM on October 19, 2013


... and now there's a whole new set of eyeballs from MeFi. I guess that manufactured controversy really works.
posted by jaduncan at 1:39 AM on October 19, 2013


I hope it's alright to ignore the racism/meta-parody/self-aware stuff and just dismiss it as really, really terrible 'music', because that's my plan and I'm sticking with it.
posted by mannequito at 1:42 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am sorry that I can't read all the comments that follow this one on this thread, due to the fact that I have to pluck my eyeballs out and stick knitting needles in my eardrums after watching this.
posted by zaelic at 1:43 AM on October 19, 2013


Bwithh, thank you so much for linking that video. That is too damn funny.
Especially when the kids all start dancing around in sombreros and serapes around the same point where in the Chinese Food video the girls were dressed up as geishas.

But, as much as I enjoy watching Fat Usher (dressed as Pedobear) simulating analingus on the Burger Monarch's hamburgerfied sphincter, I do agree with others who have said that the Chinese Food song/video is perhaps too goddamned ridiculous and/or intentionally jokey/silly to be taken seriously or parodied. In the song, Mr. Fat Usher seems to be winkingly acknowledging that many Americans continue to blithely conflate Asian cultures or engage in casual acts of racism on a pretty frequent basis.
Or I may be wrong, and this may not be the case.

I'll go out on a limb here and say it, though: Racism is bad. Don't do it. And try to be aware of it and condemn it whenever it rears its scabrous, fetid head. Even if it appears in the guise of a wholesome 12 year old girl's paean to Chow muh, muh, muh, muh, mein and her other favorite "Chinese" entrees of dubious origin.
posted by Alonzo T. Calm at 1:49 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I really assumed that the mistaken subtitles, completely wrong foods, and confused constumes were introduced knowingly, in kind of alowbrow postmodern pastiche. Certainly they knew they were choosing Arabic subtitles, for instance, making all the objections about things like "OMG THAT'S NOT EVEN CHINESE!" seem a little obtuse.

That was my read, too, and I thought it was kind of hilarious, because to my eyes it was really obviously and broadly satirical.

I, too, am dumbfounded by all the cries of "WHAT, THAT DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE!" It made a lot of sense to me, pretty much immediately - a lot of what most of North Americans experience as "Chinese" food really isn't. And a lot of people tend to lump large swaths of different Asian countries and cultures together as "Chinese or Japanese" and don't really bother to separate even those (I have noticed some Vietnamese and Thai restaurants serve some Chinese dishes, I assume because people must order them all the time and it's just less of a pain in the ass to make the damn stuff because Americans what even the Hell is wrong with them.)

Is it stereotypical? Yeah. Problematic? Oh yeah. Racist? You bet. But I believe Alison Gold really just loves Chinese food, for real, and I bet this is pretty close to her experience of it. I'm pretty sure that she didn't think that she was saying anything bad - there isn't a negative sentiment in the song (except possibly that she really hates being hungry) and also SHE IS TWELVE. She is just reflecting something unfortunate about the culture she is raised in.

I like to think the mixed up subtitles (and apparently hilarious dialogue about pancakes) are a not actually very subtle at all lampoon of the way that Westerners tend think Asia is all the Democratic Republic of Eggrollnoodlestan.

Which is kind of their own way of saying that not only is racism and stereotyping bad, it is foolish and ridiculous. The call is coming from inside the panda head.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:32 AM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Maybe I've been watching and reading this thing too much (it's late), because something else is starting to rile me up, and it has to do with the historical baggage of Chinese restaurants of the type mentioned in the song carry:

Chinese immigrants historically were faced with a lot of shitty institutionalized discrimination, xenophobia, and racism. As a result, they couldn't really work in many kinds of jobs and one of the few businesses they were permitted to own and operate was Chinese restaurants. These were obviously not very high class restaurants, because early Chinese immigrants were mostly peasants and were pretty much forced to live in poor ethnic enclaves. And, because they weren't very high class, they're going to serve cheap food using whatever ingredients were affordable. You're going to end up with food that's gonna chop up meats and extend them with vegetables and use lots of oil and salt and frying.

So, when people do a music video about this, even if it's a parody of how Americans don't know much about Chinese food, it kind of gets my goat. Because the whole reason Chinese restaurants like this are common here is because of 'Murica. Not only because of love for unhealthy food. But, the fucked up immigration and naturalization policy that limits what people can do and where they can live and work. And, y'know what?? It's still like that for a whole lotta immigrants today.
posted by FJT at 3:09 AM on October 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


Because the whole reason Chinese restaurants like this are common here is because of 'Murica.

And then you exported it to the world, you monsters*!
(Or maybe, like TexMex, that kind of stuff is more palatable).

I had dinner recently in what I assume was a more authentic Chinese place than I am used to (no sweet and sour pork? Philistines...) and I suspect that if she was singing about pork bowel skewer, lamb spine soup and chi-ken-ken-ken feet I'd be feeling a lot less like Chinese about now.

(A few weeks ago I got completely sucked into a time suck about Indian Chinese food, and I can only conclude that food's transformation over distance and time is weirder than I realised).
posted by Mezentian at 3:40 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm scratching my head, and maybe it's different where you live, but the local Chinese restaurants here in Southern California are almost exclusively owned and operated by Chinese Americans. If the dish doesn't exist or originate in China, how is ignorant white America to blame, and why is an exclusively American Chinese dish such an awful thing? Perhaps I am not understanding the complaint?
posted by Brocktoon at 5:19 AM on October 19, 2013


I take "ballin" to simply mean "excelling." it has become deliteralized and deterritorialized from whatever initial meaning it may have had.
posted by jpe at 5:26 AM on October 19, 2013


metafilter: inside the panda head.
posted by jpe at 5:27 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Perhaps I am not understanding the complaint?

Sorry. My sarcasm did not translate because I forgot the damned footnote.

Our Chinese food in Australia, the kind I grew up around, does seem to be very similar to US Chinese though.
posted by Mezentian at 5:32 AM on October 19, 2013


Is Youtube ad click revenue enough to keep this afloat

well - they got paid buckets off of rebecca black's friday, and every song they do they're paid a couple thousand by the singer's family - but, also, yes, there are lots of people who are paying all their bills with youtube.
posted by nadawi at 6:02 AM on October 19, 2013


(no sweet and sour pork? Philistines...)

I can get sweet and sour pork in China! I've only found two restaurants that have it so far, and it costs 10x my normal meal, but I'll probably eat it once a week because it's delicious. I don't think it's Henan cuisine but it's definitely regional to somewhere (Dongbei, maybe?)

I ordered it once in Canada and got these weird chicken-but-actually-pork balls with a neon sauce - I was very disappointed.

I love the American food parody.
posted by sarae at 6:03 AM on October 19, 2013


I think youse guys are taking this all too seriously. I have a mental image of people clustering round a turd and studiously poking it with a stick.
posted by fingerbang at 6:19 AM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Let me translate the song Happy for you:

"You think Friday sucked? I'll think about that while I'm laughing all the way to the bank!"
posted by double block and bleed at 7:38 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a mental image of people clustering round a turd and studiously poking it with a stick.

Your fantasy is my reality.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:57 AM on October 19, 2013


"Teenage girls are so mean to each other! Hey! Let's go make fun of this dumb girl on YouTube who can't sing!"
posted by Legomancer at 8:24 AM on October 19, 2013


Saying it's a parody, how no one on the band is racist, and how it's totally about how Asian women are in control and worshipped does not clear the music video of racism at all.

Nor how horrible the band is musically. I'm not sure the term ninja pussy is an indication of worshiping a woman either and if a joke, a fairly bad one. If these fellows "worshiped" Scottish women would the term haggis pussy come off as a term of endearment?

As for the Chow Mien video, like others, I am tending to see it as a comment on some of the perceptions of what Chinese food and culture are but again, the music is terrible and perhaps it's not successfully executed and perhaps it's actually not comedic at all.

In Toronto we're lucky to have great restaurants that serve food from all around the world but there is the North American styled versions too, such as a restaurant called, get this, Ho-Lee-Chow. Unbelievable. They are nation wide now and despite suffering bankruptcy at one point, they are still around. It's a horrible restaurant that serve faux Chinese food but nonetheless has been around for years so apparently people are eating their food.
posted by juiceCake at 8:32 AM on October 19, 2013


"Ballin'" has this archaic 1970s meaning of having sex, but totally independent of that it can refer to playing really well in a sport (especially basketball), and from there it's gone on to mean excelling in general.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:44 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the "racist" link:

How can you not have tried cream cheese wontons? You're Chinese!" (Again, they're another American invention).

A Minnesota invention, in point of fact, by Leeann Chin, although she was born in China, so the food is authentically Chinese-American. It's also delicious and one of Minnesota's only contributions to world cuisine, alone with the Jucy Lucy.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:57 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank God for those Taiwanese news animators. They have a much more interesting response

Wow, that's fantastic and spot on.

As for the history of Chinese restaurants, definitely read the book I linked above, Fortune Cookie Chronicles. What interested me the most was not so much the fairly well-known early history of Chinese restaurants (which did indeed start out as small-time enterprises by immigrants to feed other immigrants working in railroads, mines, laundries, etc., but also came to be a somewhat glitzy big business in some sectors during the 1920s-50s, with restaurant owners perpetuating many of their own racist tropes to add flair for the Western audience and making up entirely new non-Chinese specialties like Crab Rangoons), but the situation today with Chinese restaurant staffing.

It's one of those hidden-in-plain-sight things. Not only do a lot of immigrants slide right into working in Chinese restaurants, partly because their language skills and documentation status make them pretty hard to hire elsewhere, but in fact they would likely not even be here were it not for professional traffickers called "snakeheads" who charge families in China $10,000-$50,000 to courier individuals over here to feed the industry. There is ongoing massive movement of people around the States, Europe, and Canada as part of this industry; people leave coastal cities like San Francisco and New York bound for places across the nation where they have no family, no connections whatever, to work around the clock in Chinese restaurants in strip malls and downtowns in random places all over the US, in conditions that clearly violate labor law and pose other risks as well - like the fact that not-uncommon homicide. The author describes entire cities in Fuzhou, China, where much of this activity emanates from, which are deserted of all people of working age and contain only the elderly and children, because such large numbers of young adults have paid traffickers to get them to the US to earn money in this industry.

And, intriguingly, this very labor traffic is why we have Chinatown buses.

So, there's something I worry about. It makes the beef with broccoli a lot harder to enjoy.
posted by Miko at 9:00 AM on October 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


If this producer wants to continue to rake in money from star-struck parents, every once in awhile he will have to be even more outrageous than this, just to stay on the radar. It doesn't matter whether the video is racist or is some clever social commentary - what matters is that it's controversial on many different levels, so everyone feels they can have an opinion about it. Want to talk about racism? The exploitation of 11-year-olds? The formulaic music? The girl's inability to sing? Faux authenticity? Food culture? The first step is to watch the video and increase the view count, and it's just a bonus for the producer when you share it your friends, because the more views it gets, the more he can charge the next set of parents.
posted by antonymous at 9:02 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's Henan cuisine but it's definitely regional to somewhere (Dongbei, maybe?)

San Francisco, maybe?

I dunno, folks, but Metafilter seems to constantly expose itself to be of the over educated, over sensitive and over aggrieved lot. Too literate to explicitly go into the "well, actually..." territory when explaining how wrong everything is, but going there none the less in perhaps a more long winded fashion. The critique offered here of ARK's productions is far more erudite than offered most places around the webs, and probably because so, veers off into deeper analysis, lending an air of gravitas to the issue, subsequently justifying black and white moral clarity and even indignation where it might simply be overkill.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:09 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmm, and yet we don't have much "black and white moral clarity" in this thread.
posted by Miko at 9:11 AM on October 19, 2013


C'mon, Miko. You're the one finding beef with broccoli harder to enjoy. In a thread about ARK Music.
posted by 2N2222 at 9:23 AM on October 19, 2013


c'mon, 2N2222 - you're picking a fight here. it's a thread about a lot of things and one of those things is how americans see "chinese" or "asians" and part of that is informed by the stuff miko is talking about. and can i just say - fascinatingly talking about. i'll be digging through those links for a while today.
posted by nadawi at 9:36 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, actually, 2N2222, even human trafficking isn't a black and white issue. I agree that you're picking a fight for reasons beyond fathoming here.

I don't believe there's any such thing as "overeducated" and always smile when I see it. If you're bored and can't perceive any links between these topics, may I show you to many other threads (or even other websites). If you have something to say about ARK music, Chinese food, immigration, stereotypes, or whatever, have at it.
posted by Miko at 9:40 AM on October 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


I sadly flash-overloaded my hyper-sensitive Chinese-related-racism detectors by living off the beaten path in China. To say this thread is (relatively) straining at a gnat is generous. Some of you kids need to get out more.

The more musically egregious aspect of this song is that it is a direct rip-off of this classic in Sino-Occidental relations.
posted by perhapsolutely at 9:55 AM on October 19, 2013


I'm scratching my head, and maybe it's different where you live, but the local Chinese restaurants here in Southern California are almost exclusively owned and operated by Chinese Americans. If the dish doesn't exist or originate in China, how is ignorant white America to blame, and why is an exclusively American Chinese dish such an awful thing? Perhaps I am not understanding the complaint?

I (a Chinese-American) grew up in southern California and have since college lived elsewhere (MN, MA, CT, IL). In my personal experience, you can't really use the southern California Chinese restaurant scene as a barometer for what it's like in the rest of the nation. There's certainly nothing like the San Gabriel Valley and its concentration of good, diverse Chinese eateries outside of either Los Angeles, San Francisco or New York City.

Personally, I don't think that the American Chinese food (chicken wings, fried rice, etc.) in the ARK video is racist. (On the other hand, the inclusion of geisha...) The mixing of food cultures -- who can imagine Italian food without the New World tomato? -- has resulted in some of the best foods we have today and I think an undue focus on "authenticity" is unproductive.

That being said, I think why people hate on American Chinese food is that it seems to reflect a reductive perception of Chinese food as deep-fried, greasy, unhealthy crap when there's so much more to this culture of food. So what/who cares? you might ask. I actually think the best answer to this is the "American Food" parody up above. Sure, it's hilarious. But, as the American in the extended family, I've been in the situation of trying to explain to my relatives in Taiwan that "American food" is more than just McDonald's, KFC, and hot dogs; and if you can understand why that's frustrating, it's a very similar situation with Chinese food in America. Not racist, I think, just frustrating.
posted by andrewesque at 10:19 AM on October 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


This video and song are terrible, but this falls pretty low on the racist scale. The song isn't about Chinese people or Chinese culture. It's about "Chinese Food" as it exists in North America, a cuisine that may not reflect actual Chinese food, but is a real thing that unfortunately goes by that name. The only cringe-inducing part was the Japanese costumes near the end, but that's typical tone-deaf ignorance.
posted by rocket88 at 10:55 AM on October 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Stereotyping is an extension of the way we have to conceptualise in order to think at all, otherwise everything is connected to everything else and you would never even tie your shoelaces up, but for it to become bigoted you surely have to possess evil intent and be completely incapable of untangling the shoelaces.

By which I mean that "Chinese" food in many countries around the world is a convenient label for something which I'm sure if we all thought deeply enough about it we would realise bears only a vague resemblance to what is served at most tables in China, and yes of course it becomes adapted to local taste when it's exported by whatever means, just as "black" music is not representative of what a majority of the billions of black people in the world enjoy every day, but it's another label which appears to serve a purpose and recognisably so without causing universal offence, and shouldn't necessarily launch us into an in depth historical discussion of the slave trade every time we need to justify using it, although it almost certainly has it's roots in that. Perhaps it should be "American black" music, or perhaps we could get by with categories like blues, reggae, hip-hop, etc, without lumping it into one messy stir fry, or perhaps I'm way off beam.

I suspect many people who have probably never considered all these connections and may never consider them probably don't (or perhaps in some cases do) harbour racial hatred towards people whose genetic heritage comes from China, and don't necessarily subscribe to stereotypes about people they meet in the street who might share some part in that heritage or treat them differently to other people of diverse origins.

The whole morass of stereotypes in this video can be considered offensive but aren't necessarily intended as such, and it's obviously, judging by this thread, difficult to know how to categorise the intent here; casually ignorant, intentionally offensive, ironically self aware? I'm leaning towards the first one, with a side order of chips and curry sauce.

So, scrabbling desperately to reach some kind of conclusion here without offending somebody, which is doubtless impossible, no I don't think the label of "Chinese" food is racist, not even casually so, and perhaps when we conflate it as such we're overegging the pudding (which has never been quintessentially English, nor lately tends to contain meat or other savoury ingredients boiled in an animal's intestine).

Pandas, though. I'm glad there are still pandas, and apparently in China their wild population is tentatively rising, although not yet enough to take them off the endangered list.
posted by walrus at 11:11 AM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


[One comment deleted; I realize there has been some metacommentary in here already, but from here on, please remember metacommentary (about how MetaFilter handles certain topics) does not belong on the blue. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:01 PM on October 19, 2013


Straining at gnats? Guilty as charged. I fully accept that this is way near the bottom of the scale of "racist things we should worry about." (And no, I don't think 12-year-old Alison Gold is racist for writing a song about liking Americanized Chinese food. I do think the adults who directed, produced, and promoted the video are guilty of using deliberately insensitive imagery for the purpose of stirring up controversy.)

Maybe it's best just to let these things lie instead of giving them the publicity they want. I bothered chiming in because there were people here who were honestly curious about how the video was offensive, and commenters on other sites flat-out denying it.

I'm not seething about the video, but I am rolling my eyes and saying, "Really? We're really going to push the same tasteless, ignorant oriental exoticism on yet another generation of kids?" Because this sort of bland stereotyping in cartoons and songs and jokes is one of the sources of the causual, everyday racism that Asian-Americans (and minorities everywhere, I'm sure) get to deal with all the time.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:47 PM on October 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


And no, I don't think 12-year-old Alison Gold is racist for writing a song about liking Americanized Chinese food. I do think the adults who directed, produced, and promoted the video are guilty of using deliberately insensitive imagery for the purpose of stirring up controversy.)

Gold didn't write the song. Patrice Wilson and his chum, Clarence Jay did. And presumably charged her between US$2,000-$$4,000 for the chance to sing the song, record the video and get famous.
He makes all the money off Gold's performance here and in Tweentronic (publishing and performance rights of what are almost certainly one-hit "wonders"), and she gets the master tapes and the chance to play pop-star for a day

The videos seems to be shot in a day, with friends as unpaid extras on a lark I assume, since they're all kids Wilson pals around with. The songs are simple and uncritical as far as I can tell, and the so-called "Fat Usher rap" moment doesn't sound to me like it would take more than 20 minutes to dash off.

I have no idea what the ROI is on a YouTube video that gets almost 10 million hits in six days, but a source as dubious as ChaCha suggests $2-5 per 1,000 videos.

Assuming Wilson gets $5 per 1,000 (which seems reasonable given "Friday" got 100 million hits) that equates to him making around $50,000 off this in a week.
(I thought there was a way to tell how many MeFi users clicked on the link, but I can't see it).

And all his songs are marketable. Making an advert or movie about Friday? Or Thanksgiving? Or City Wok? Hey, wasn't there that viral hit that resonated? Wilson licences it and, et viola! He's in for a slice of publishing and residuals.

I think Antonymous was on the right track. This is a "brilliant" business exploiting children, fame culture, cashed up parents and our culture of viral videos. And I will bet there are add-ons on that US$4,000 contract. Website? Sue, another $500. Hairstyling? Extra SFX in the video? Talent Management? Why not?

Incidentally, Gold has weighed in on the racism angle here (video won't work for me, but it may also answer the question: does she really like chow mein that much?)
posted by Mezentian at 6:13 PM on October 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sorry to come to this late. I was sort of torn about commenting since I have Chinese-American heritage and am honestly fatigued by this type of so casual racism. And since I'm an antiracist activist (and have seen and been on the business end of much much worse), this strikes me as just sort of lazy, not-trying racism if anything. As an antiracist activist I have to say that this kind of racism is so abstract, so removed from my day to day experience of life as a Chinese-American that at worst it tells me a lot about the people who create and perpetuate it.

But despite that yesterday I happened to be watching this TED Talk from Jennifer 8. Lee, which addresses fortune cookies, General Tso's Chicken and other sort of pseudo Chinese deeply Americanized food creations. I find Lee's style sort of half engaging, half irritating, but I think it's worth watching at least for the historical information and for a couple of clips within the talk:
- The beginning, where she shows the result of sharing fortune cookies with actual Chinese people (puzzlement, amusement)
- The middle, where she shows General Tso's Chicken dish pictures to the man who created the dish and can't recognize it in its current interpretations (puzzlement, amusement, denial)

Anyway, here's the talk.
posted by kalessin at 5:06 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


These videos are really sweet and innocent by my read - I love that we have twelve year olds singing about things that twelve year olds honestly really like: Fridays, thanksgiving holidays and Americanized Chinese food from the mall. That's unironically what a twelve year old white girl from Southern California actually cares about, and turning them into these hilarious videos is kind of awesome. I love the girl cooking stuffing in her unglamorous surburban kitchen in the Thanksgiving video.

For kids who want to be stars it's much cuter than everything Miley Cyrus has done and the production is hilarious (I think he knows what he's doing).

The imagery in the video is clearly over the top - i'd be surprised if anyone actually thinks geisha girls are Chinese - it goes along with the subtitles (joke to suggest this video will be so popular everyone in the world will be watching?), the panda, the girl typing on the cash register as if it's a computer keyboard and the list of hilariously Americanized foods she loves (chicken wings).

I do not at all understand the assertion that Americanized Chinese food is racist. In what possible world can a food be racist? Because it's not actually directly from China and is a creation in America? Same with burritos and pizza and we refer to both as "Mexican" and "Italian." is having a deep understanding of food history and assigning food to its correct regional origin necessary to not be racist? Mild cultural stereotyping is as far as you can take this I think.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:08 AM on October 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


i'd be surprised if anyone actually thinks geisha girls are Chinese

I think you're giving people too much credit. Maybe they don't think geisha girls are Chinese, but there are certainly people who would just lump all these things into one, reductive, "Asian" category.
posted by andrewesque at 7:46 AM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


But all those things are "asian". *waves hand*
From the orient.
No, you don't have to be too smart to know that "Asia" isn't filled with fung-fu fighting ninja-hos (I had intended to type "go' but it works) so it's a thing.

As I said, I don't think this is racist (blind, maybe, but that's not a crime) but people who mix Gheisha and China are wrong. And stupid.

But I am a person who discovered General Tso's Chicken isnn't a chain but a dish.
posted by Mezentian at 8:03 AM on October 20, 2013


So for everyone who is saying it's not racist or offensive, what's the difference between "Chinese food" and say, when idiots make jokes about "black people food" or "redneck food" or "poor people food"?
posted by FJT at 11:17 AM on October 20, 2013


So for everyone who is saying it's not racist or offensive, what's the difference between "Chinese food" and say, when idiots make jokes about "black people food" or "redneck food" or "poor people food"?

"Chinese" is not a pejorative, there is a long tradition of Chinese restaurants (as well as French, Italian, Indian, Mexican, etc), and you answer your own question by referring to idiots making jokes. But I believe you know all that.
posted by walrus at 12:09 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


FJT: "Chinese food" is a pretty common restaurant/takeout designation, at least in America. The only other cultural food I can think of that is considered a broad food-category is Mexican, which may be similarly inaccurate, but I know that "Chinese food" is used to cover a wide variety of cultural foods (we're smart enough to know that sushi is Japanese, but that's about it).

There is something culturally insensitive about that, but it's been that way since before I was young. As a kid, I loved that category of Chinese food, and today I still order take-out Chinese a couple times every month. Lo mein, General Tso's, spare ribs, fried rice, etc., are all foods I know nothing about other than that they show up on every takeout Chinese menu I come across. I've since learned the story that the man who created General Tso's chicken never realized it'd become a staple overseas, but even that serves to re-emphasize this notion that "Chinese food" doesn't have all that much to do with actual Chinese culture.

I'm sure that I've said the phrase "I love Chinese food!" a hundred times, and that I've heard it many more. It's referring to the market category, the same way that "I love Mexican food!" refers to any combination of tortilla, meat, bean, cheese, and salsa (and ignores every other thing eaten in Mexico). Is there something racist about referring to a category of food that nominally relates to Chinese culture but which isn't actually all that connected? I'm not convinced—there's maybe something shitty about how that disconnect exists, but referring to that disconnect is not, I think, racist in and of itself.

There's something more potentially racist about the geishas and the conflation of "generally Asian things" with "Chinese food", and with the perpetually-shifting subtitles.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:13 PM on October 20, 2013


A citizen of the PRC chosen at random is likely no better at distinguishing French food from German food than an equally randomly chosen US citizen is at distinguishing between Vietnamese and Camodian food. Cultural ignorance cuts both ways on the US/China divide. The undifferentiated category of 'Asian' is no more or less useful or valid than the category of 'European'. I would not expect most people in the Orient to care about the cultural associations of poutine vs those of french fries, or to be hung up on how authentically Appalachian the knock-off KFC in Changchun is. Why should Occidentals afflict their souls over the cladograms of chop suey or the phylogenetics of crab Rangoon?
posted by perhapsolutely at 12:50 PM on October 20, 2013


Yeah, but if you are going to spend thousands of dollars scripting, casting, and directing a video about German food filled with "German" cultural trappings, you might want to do some minimal Wikipedia-level reading to find out the difference between France and Germany. Making a statement about something without first learning even the basics (or willfully ignoring what you've learned) is a way of saying, "This culture doesn't matter enough to be worth actually knowing anything about it."

This is a power thing. China and Japan now have enough political and economic influence that people in the US no longer feel as free to be blatantly ignorant of them, which why the ARK Music Factory video seems almost quaint. On the other hand we'll still happily reduce all Native American cultures or all African cultures to a single set of (often blatantly wrong) stereotypes.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:40 PM on October 20, 2013


I feel like it's not exactly racist and not exactly not racist to not give a shit about the cultural relevance or accuracy of what we consume.

It's kind of touristy American. We touristy Americans can be found insisting on the rare almost always unpleasant (for me at least) combination of exotic and familiar. We make Chop Suey out of Chinese food leftovers and enjoy the exoticism even though we are thoroughly familiar with the cabbage, carrot and noodles and soy it's made of. We remake Japanese-restaurant fortune cookies (flavored with sesame and miso -- too exotic!) into the Chinese-restaurant ones (sweet and crunchy). We make pizza out of foccacia. We make American cheese out of plastic and chemically fermented milk. We make General Tso's Chicken into sweet and sour fried chicken nuggets on broccoli. All hail industrial food science.

It seems to me as a foodie American that those of us who don't really care about where our food comes from are happy to consumerize it into whatever is familiar enough to eat but exotic enough to be interesting and so we get Panda Express when we're tired of the Mall Food Court Cajun place's "dirty rice".

I guess what it is, instead of racist, is alienating and belittling. If I were more naive and not a native of this culture, I might have thought the tourist-American cared and I might dish up a fully authentic Hunanese (this is for example - I'm not Hunanese) feast only to experience having it all be called "Interesting", be told Chinese Food isn't filling, and have the feast abandoned for the more familiar reds and yellows of MacDonald's.

As for me, the reason I'm not parsing this song as particularly racist and more like just sort of lazy and stupid is that there's nothing for me to lose here. People who aren't offended? Whatever. People who are? Whatever. It's an imaginary Vaudevillian Chinese-esque style that's at risk here, not a real one. To repeat myself from earlier. I think folks who consume this kind of cultural artifact without criticism are pretty much just not trying. Which is a shame. Because I know there a lot of good people out there (and here).

It's disappointing to me because we can do better and be more interesting.
posted by kalessin at 1:52 PM on October 20, 2013


Is there something racist about referring to a category of food that nominally relates to Chinese culture but which isn't actually all that connected?

Rory: One of the things I've learned (and it is partly from discussions right here on the Blue), is that food communicates certain ideas about social class, authenticity, and beliefs. Hamburger Helper and fair-trade certified organic latte carry different meanings beyond just "pasta" and "coffee". So when someone says "Chinese food", it can just mean "Chinese food", or it could mean something else. There's small jokes about getting hungry in an hour and indigestion, and in general Chinese food is seen as cheap, unclean, and unhealthy.

And yes, other immigrant and ethnic foods face this sort of thing too. Indian food and Mexican food in America are often seen the same way. But for "Chinese food", which is a food that's been developed in the US and been in the United States as long as the hamburger, there's still an "exoticism" with it. There's the post on the Blue about the location scout having difficulty finding a Chinese restaurant with giant dragon murals with gold and red everywhere, because real Chinese restaurants don't look like Fu Manchu's lair! There's still people joking about not to bring your pets to a Chinese restaurant. There's still fear about "Chinese restaurant syndrome", which is unique because no other restaurant types have created a syndrome as far as I know.

So, I don't have a problem with the existence of Chinese food. I don't have a problem that it has little to do with it's country of origin. I do have a problem with the term "Chinese food", because it does carry some pejorative meaning among mainstream American society, and some of the same historical forces that created "Chinese food" are the same ones that continue to attach negative perceptions to it. Things like it being unhealthy, unclean, cheap, and foreign. It's called "Chinese" food, but that's untrue. It's not Chinese food. It's authentically an American food. We don't call hamburgers and hot dogs German food, or focus on their European-ness. "Chinese food" has the same history of being brought in by immigrants and going through a process of Americanization as those other foods. If that's the case, it shouldn't be called "Chinese food". It shouldn't be in a music video with pandas and kimonos, but instead with eagles and six shooters.
posted by FJT at 5:04 PM on October 20, 2013


Is anyone else bothered that the Hebrew is correct, but written left to right instead of right to left? No one? OK.
posted by anateus at 5:53 PM on October 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


No one's ever heard of "Italian food?"

No one's ever noticed it's not the same as food in Italy?
posted by Miko at 7:30 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


With respect to the lyrics themselves (as opposed to the video): She likes the food that is served at Chinese restaurants in California, which might include dishes actually made in China, dishes made by Chinese people in America, and dishes made by non-Chinese people in America. I'm getting the impression that MeFi thinks that either:

1) She isn't allowed to like that food, because liking that food is racist.
2) She is allowed to like that food, but not to sing about it, because that would be racist.
3) She is allowed to sing about it, but instead of singing "I like Chinese food", to avoid being racist, the lyrics would have to be changed to "I like food that is served at Chinese restaurants in California"
posted by Bugbread at 7:50 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Speaking only for myself of course, I don't think any of those things. I don't find the lyrics offensive.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:08 PM on October 20, 2013


Speaking for myself too. The lyrics are bad, but not offensive. I think it's music video that's problematic. And I think the debate in the authenticity of the food is not a huge deal.
posted by FJT at 8:36 PM on October 20, 2013


Is the problematic part that the Chinese parts it portrays are very stereotypical (w/r/t what you said about the dragon)? Or are you more bothered by the conflation of "Chinese" culture with a bunch of things that aren't remotely Chinese?

I'm finding this discussion about the semantics within the video really interesting, by the way. No lie.
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:25 PM on October 20, 2013


Also, legitimate question: is there a way of separating the Americanized notion of Chinese food from the cultural Chinese cuisine which is more accurately "Chinese food" without, like, requiring every Chinese restaurant in the country to rebrand their food and pushing PSAs at people to start using some other descriptor instead? Is this a thing that can be resisted?
posted by Rory Marinich at 10:29 PM on October 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think you can, as you did, call actually-from-China-food "Chinese Cuisine" as opposed to "Chinese Food" and get your point across pretty well. You could also start calling Chinese food "Chinese-American Food". I've noticed several restaurants advertising themselves as "Italian-American" as opposed to Italian.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:00 AM on October 21, 2013


I do have a problem with the term "Chinese food", because it does carry some pejorative meaning among mainstream American society

This is baffling. My only association with the term "Chinese food" is "delicious" (both the Americanized and authentic versions). I would argue the negative associations are outliers given how many Chinese restaurants exist in the US.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:33 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


My only association with the term "Chinese food" is "delicious"

Mine is mostly (mostly) cheap shitty, deep-fried, MSG sodden tripe.

Usually from food halls and restaurants with "Long" in the name. I seem to get along better with Thai, Japanese and Vietnamese. Not so much Korean.

This thread has reminded me that I want to experiment with more Chinese food in the kitchen.
posted by Mezentian at 7:15 AM on October 21, 2013


tripe

Incidentally, tripe is one of my favorite cuts of meat! It's not an amazing bowl of pho if it doesn't have tripe, in my book.
posted by andrewesque at 7:56 AM on October 21, 2013


The undifferentiated category of 'Asian' is no more or less useful or valid than the category of 'European'.

Yes, but how often do you hear about "European food" as opposed to "Asian food" or have a German-themed video featuring cancan dancers or Parisian mimes? (I’ve yet to see a cookbook called “European food,” whereas there are definitely lots of “Asian” cookbooks out there.) I know for a variety of obvious cultural or historical reasons why the differences between various European nations is more salient to the American consciousness. But that doesn't mean that we can't get frustrated, in this day and age, when the various cultures of Asia, which are just as varied as the cultures of Europe, get lumped together in one exotic unit.

And I’d argue the PRC citizen comparison is flawed – the average citizen of the PRC is considerably less educated than the average US citizen. Besides, I don’t think this is a race to the bottom. Saying that “other people aren’t as cognizant of our culture, so who cares about theirs?!” doesn’t seem to be productive.
posted by andrewesque at 8:17 AM on October 21, 2013


andrewesque: (I’ve yet to see a cookbook called “European food,” whereas there are definitely lots of “Asian” cookbooks out there.)

I do generally agree with your point, but one does see a lot of "Mediterranean" cookbooks.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:20 AM on October 21, 2013


"Eastern European" food is a thing, too. As is "Iberian."

Since cuisines follow culture and climate rather than national boundary, many cuisines really are transnational. (And there's certainly no one "Chinese cuisine," either - there are numerous regional cuisines, so even calling something generally "Chinese cuisine" is a conflation.
posted by Miko at 9:44 AM on October 21, 2013


I'm not seeing the racism here. This has nothing to do with authenticity. If I go down to the local chow mein restaurant and get some Chinese food that is no more racist than going to Taco Bell and getting some Mexcian food. Neither is authentic and I'm not sure why that matters. Worship at the altar of authenticity leads to actual racist beliefs like the only real sushi can only be made by Japanese sushi chefs.

Yes, they're confusing Asian cultures, so what, it's a freaking bad pop video. Most Americans can't tell the difference between someone from Japan or from China. We also can't tell the difference between someone from England or Australia. This doesn't automatically make people a racist or an idiot.
posted by misterpatrick at 10:03 AM on October 21, 2013


You probably should be able to tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese and English and Australian. Not being able to distinguish this sort of thing points to a cultural myopia that may not be racism, may not be idiocy, but is deeply embarrassing.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:20 AM on October 21, 2013


I'm confused about the confusion about the racism here. It's not about authenticity or Americanized Chinese food; those are separate interesting questions the video raises, and it's okay to talk about them. But as has been stated countless times, the problematic part is parading a set of awful orientalist tropes before the viewer (geishas, happy child worker, Patrice doing that mock oriental accent, the gong sound and chef bowing at the end, etc.) Like something you would've seen in a movie from decades ago, before people were generally enlightened about this stuff - it's vicariously embarrassing, ignorant, and yes, racist. (That ARK might be intentionally doing this stuff to make a statement, or unintentionally shedding light on our own ignorance, is what elevates this whole discussion and makes it more fascinating than outrage filter. That, and it's not easy to be outraged when the product is this bizarre and weirdly compelling.)
posted by naju at 10:42 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Other Chinese stereotype as yet uncomplained about in this video: printing. Just because they invented it doesn't mean all Chinese people can set type. We can do better than this, people.
posted by perhapsolutely at 10:56 AM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


naju: "I'm confused about the confusion about the racism here. It's not about authenticity or Americanized Chinese food; those are separate interesting questions the video raises, and it's okay to talk about them. But as has been stated countless times, the problematic part is parading a set of awful orientalist tropes before the viewer (geishas, happy child worker, Patrice doing that mock oriental accent, the gong sound and chef bowing at the end, etc.)"

I think the confusion about the racism comes from the fact that, for example, this is how the "racist" link from the post ends:
Chow mein, noodles, egg rolls, fried rice, and chop suey?

That's racist.
Also, for example, very early in the thread, someone (ahem, ahem) commented "I mean yeah, that song/video is racist as hell. No way around it." Not "that video is racist as hell", but "that song/video is racist as hell". So, if you're now saying that the song isn't racist, just inauthentic and "interesting question-raising", and it's the video that's racist, then I'm confused about your confusion about the confusion about the racism.
posted by Bugbread at 3:23 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


As an aside, it's amusing that second linked "racism" article does a scene-by-scene breakdown of the video, and in the very first scene calls the griddle the guy is cooking on a "hibachi", even though hibachis are Japanese, not Chinese, and they look nothing like that.
posted by Bugbread at 3:35 PM on October 21, 2013


I'm confused about your confusion about the confusion about the racism.

Metafilter:
posted by naju at 4:03 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


then I'm confused about your confusion about the confusion about the racism.

I don't understand what is confusing about various people that concur that something is racist but give different reasons why something is racist. Are you implying that this isn't racist because there's a bit of disagreement about what makes it racist?
posted by FJT at 4:33 PM on October 21, 2013


FJT: "Are you implying that this isn't racist because there's a bit of disagreement about what makes it racist?"

No. I was just having fun with the expression "I am X about X about X". If I knew that my comment would engender confusion (after all, I think, FJT, that you're saying "I'm confused about why you say you're confused about Naju's confusion about the confusion about the racism"), I would've just said:

"Naju, there isn't really confusion, but disagreement, because some people (including yourself in the past) have stated that both the song and video are racist, while others (like myself and yourself at present) are saying the video is racist, but not the song."
posted by Bugbread at 4:50 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I approached the song and video as a whole, since it was presented to me that way. If I were using my words, I would have said "the song in conjunction with the video." I don't think the content of the lyrics is racist, though that possible attempt at a mock Chinese accent is.

Random question, but "I see Chow by my right" - is that referring to Mr. Chow? Rapgenius suggests it is. That makes the dining experience in the song specific. She's actually going to a really well-regarded and pricey restaurant, that's what makes this so crazy!
posted by naju at 5:20 PM on October 21, 2013


Given her age and what she thinks Chinese food consists of, I think it's just a play on "chow mein" and "chow as in food".

Though now that you create that mental image, I vastly prefer the idea that she's actually an insanely wealthy and influential musician, and she goes to Mr. Chow and orders chop suey and deep fried sweet and sour pork, and, because of her VIP status, they cook it special for her.
posted by Bugbread at 5:41 PM on October 21, 2013


Is the problematic part that the Chinese parts it portrays are very stereotypical (w/r/t what you said about the dragon)? Or are you more bothered by the conflation of "Chinese" culture with a bunch of things that aren't remotely Chinese?

For me, I'm more bothered by the stereotypical portrayals of the Chinese parts. The gong sound, the dog on Oriental Avenue, and the panda are what comes to my mind. The conflation of Chinese culture with things that aren't Chinese culture isn't as problematic in this specific video. Though in other media, there are times when Chinese imagery is combined with other cultures to make things look exotic and foreign, kind of like the Persian Army in 300.

is there a way of separating the Americanized notion of Chinese food from the cultural Chinese cuisine which is more accurately "Chinese food" without, like, requiring every Chinese restaurant in the country to rebrand their food and pushing PSAs at people to start using some other descriptor instead?

I guess one way is through business and marketing. Flame Broiler is a regional chain on the West Coast that serves Korean BBQ on rice, but you wouldn't know it's Korean since it's not really only mentioned in its "About Us" section on its website. There's no Asian languages used, no taeguks, no K-pop played in it's restaurants, no chop socky font, and no Asian mascots at all. So, if it's possible for them to sell food on such a no-frills method, why can't a Chinese food chain follow suit.
posted by FJT at 8:58 PM on October 21, 2013


I am sure they could follow suit and I'm sure there are many restaurants owned by people who are Chinese that don't sell what we think of as "Chinese food" (as well as some really nice, high-end ones that do). But "Chinese food" in America of the beef-with-broccoli, counter-order, takeout/delivery variety is actually a brand, and from the naming to the trappings, the owners of the standard kind of place are trying to communicate with an audience that they deliver that brand, in order to make what they do unequivocally clear. For 90 years, this menu and service formula has worked in America to generate fast income, and that's the guiding principle.

Add to that the not infrequent involvement of organizing syndicates for both the transfer of ownership/licenses, product supply, and labor supply, and I don't think the first thing on people's mind when opening a basic, strip-mall Chinese restaurant is "let's make sure we are nonracist." Many such Chinese restaurants are really fast-food places, working to generate fast revenue for low investment, and that's the priority - not anything related to cuisine. Many people currently being streamed into this industry have no history in culinary work and no particular interest in food.

Again, this is based on the book I cited earlier.
posted by Miko at 5:57 AM on October 22, 2013


I can only think of one way that the naming could actually change: if really authentic Chinese food became really popular in the US (and I don't mean "really popular among hip people in LA and NY", but "really popular among ordinary people in ordinary medium and large cities"), and some Chinese-American restaurants started taking chop suey / chow mein / sweet and sour pork to the next level. What you'd have, then, is the same thing that happened with Tex-Mex food, which, when I was a little kid in Houston was just called "Mexican food", but which got renamed when people found that they really liked real Mexican food, and they really like Tex-Mex food, so they needed some way to separate the two genres.
posted by Bugbread at 7:13 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Alison Gold's new video is out, and it is fucked up on like five levels at once.

Holy shit.
posted by Rory Marinich at 12:54 PM on November 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


what the fuck did i just watch?
posted by nadawi at 1:22 PM on November 5, 2013


You've got to admit, using club drugs and unlicensed Muppets in a teen pop video is a pretty inspired choice. Next up in her ouevre: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 as sung by a young girl with no funk. At the conclusion the pinball rolls in to a Chinese takeout box.
posted by Nelson at 2:46 PM on November 5, 2013


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