Mad Men Recap: Catch Lane if you Can   Leave a comment

As odd as it felt watching an engorged Betty’s hedonistic indulgence in a morsel of Thanksgiving stuffing to terminate last week’s Mad Men, it’s even more strange conceiving of this week’s episode, Christmas Waltz, as a Christmas episode. We’re laying heavy blame on that delayed production schedule, but this has been a great season so far, so let’s dive in.

Across the Pond
We open in the wee hours with Lane Pryce receiving a phone call from Jolly Old England informing SCDP’d pugilistic Englishman that he needs to come up with $8,000 in two days to stay out of jail for the taxman cometh. The come-up-with-absurd-amount-of-money-in-just-a-few-days-or-else premise is a familiar device and we can expect Lane to take several shots to the balls as he tries to Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive, and Dodge his way out of this one.

Cut to Harry Crane being enlightened by a secretary I don’t recognize that a “Mr. Kinsey” demands a meeting, and the last time we saw our creatively limited leftist friend Paul, he was fuming that Don took Peggy along to the new agency and left him hanging out to dry. If he makes an appearance, it’s a surprising return for a show that has no problem parting with undistinguished also-smokeds. Lane bursts in and demands Harry’s  media revenue projections and Harry reminds him that though they look good, they’re just projections. “You can’t predict the future, Lane,” he says in frustration, and we’ll see if he’s willing to put money on that by the end of the episode.

From Projections to the Past
Harry walks into an incense-soaked studio where exotic quilts hanging from clotheslines stand in for doors. An out of shape man dressed in filthy robes, head bald save a short pony tail is telling some guy about oneness or something. Turns out this is Paul Kinsey and man, has his life taken a turn for the worst. We knew he was a proud liberal and mediocre copywriter, but to have become a full-on Hare Krishna seems a bit outlandish. Harry shows our surprise. Paul is joined by a pretty white girl called Mother Lakshmi and Harry applies Occam’s Razor. “Oh, I get it,” says a droll Harry as the epiphany hits.

I’m not going to lie, the Hare Krishna thing didn’t do anything for me. I thought it implausible that Harry, seemingly under no influence of any psychedelic drug, starts chanting and having, as Roger would say, “an experience,” and Roger needed LSD to do the trick. Mother Lakshmi whispers seductively in Harry’s ear and he later reports having a vision of his daughter and cognizance of his lifelong connection to his emasculating wife. What I can draw from it is that in one scene, he’s moved on from media projections to cult-induced visions and whatever his dissatisfaction with his domestic situation, Harry wants to move forward. Paul imagines starting a family with Lakshmi out West, soliciting a Star Trek script to Harry hoping he’ll pass it along. Paul’s pitiful state is making me sad.

Don gets Dragged to a Play
Let’s check in on the Drapers, shall we? Megan Draper, now an actress, drags Don to some pretentious play called “America Hurrah,” exploring the frontiers of nuance as a character declares ads promoting American consumerism literally makes him sick. the subtext is not lost on Don. Upon return home, Don alerts Megan that he doesn’t appreciate the time and money he spends supporting less than novel attacks on his livelihood, Megan responding that the play didn’t go too hard on advertising.  “No one’s made a stronger stand against advertising than you,” retorts Don, injecting more tannins than necessary. Don’s been well-behaved this season, but he still uses any excuse to act out.

Catch Lane if you Can
Lane obtains another $50,000 line of credit for the firm and claims it as a surplus at a partner’s meeting, suggesting Christmas bonuses. Pete announces they’re back in the hunt for Jaguar and Don wants to wait on the bonuses. Lane disagrees, but is nevertheless overridden, while Pete gets no credit for clawing his way back into the picture for a car account, Bert Cooper calling them lemons. All are sour.

Lane needs the money now, so he sneaks into the office after hours to forge a check. I can’t help but think of Catch Me if You Can, the real life events of which run concurrently with Lane’s shenanigans. It makes Lane look all the worse that as he’s committing check fraud, a teenage Frank Abagnale is doing it glamorously all around the world, milking bigger aeronautic cows than SCDP client Mohawk Airlines. He’s an amateur, but if the movie is any indication of the time period’s check fraud detection, Lane may have some time to straighten it all out.

The corporate checkbook Lane is cooking requires signatures from two partners, and Lane forges the signature of a long dead army lieutenant who was killed in Korea. Is it really a big deal to fabricate the forgery of a forgery? It’s unfair to blast Lane for forging “Don Draper” to get out of a desperate situation, because, well, Don did the exact same thing and we’ve always let it slide. Don may very well discover Lane’s embezzlement, but if his crime is misusing that particular identity, Don’s thousands of times more guilty.

To frame this a a thematic issue, in the aftermath of Don’s Season 4 identity crisis, all SCDP executives now have access to elements of the composite Don Draper entity. Peggy tries to assume Don’s dominance pitching Heinz beans. Pete is living Don’s unhappy suburban life with the same kitchen cabinets, albeit less devoted side dishes. Don is having as much trouble as anyone assuming the role of Don Draper. Lane’s just taking the name, and again, it’s been done.

Don and Joan: Christmas Waltz or Two to Tango?
Pete tells Don he needs to do some field research on Jaguar, bemused at his lack of excitement that should come with landing a car. “Maybe you and I should go as a couple,” quips Don as Pete harks back to a time when Don might kiss him at the news. The gay overtones flash *Sal!* across the mind, what with the return of Paul Kinsey putting us in the mindset of unlikely comebacks. It’s a tease from Matthew Weiner — that’s as much Sal as we’re going to get. In any case, Don uses the “take someone other than your actual wife to test the Jag” template effectively when he encounters an irate Joan.

Some idiot receptionist allows a strange man to call for Joan Harris and upon her confirming her never-doubted identity, she is served with divorce papers. Conditioned to expect only flowers when she’s needed at reception, Joan loses her cool at the cruel surprise and condemns the poor receptionist to a fiery plane crash. Don whisks her out of the office with an idea. No, not that.

Remember when Lane laid the smackdown on Pete? Did you notice that Don pulled a veil across the windows before the fisticuffs? It was too literal for me, Draper drawing curtains. He watches Lane slap “The Pryce is right, bitch” on Pete who suffers a mini-breakdown in the elevator where Don very Donnishly tells him, “It’s going to be okay.” I have this theory that Don getting the curtains symbolized his momentary transformation into the Don with the declarative power to still the fraught. It happens when he does any kind of draping.This time, as Joan wipes her tears, Don drapes his jacket around her sultry shoulders and into the elevator they descend to test drive a Jaguar.

They waltz into the posh dealership a handsome couple, looking like the types who shouldn’t be kept waiting. As the salesman approaches, his jacket still around her, Don whispers “Look at your watch.” Maybe that’s supposed to indicate the type of impatience that will throw the salesman off balance, but not for the sake of interpretation. As Joanie looks down at her wrist, it’s not just a watch, but a time machine that, fueled by the power of an illicitly test-driven Jaguar XKE, takes Don and Joan to a time without a Vietnam War or Quebecois second wives.

Don, dapper fedora atop, shoots the breeze with Joan at a choice midtown bar. She laments the time they came from, the one with a husband who prefers deployment in the jungle and the realities of being a single mother. A time when only flowers could await her at reception. She doesn’t get to talk about this to anyone much. Don, warping away from 1966 with her, is the handsome charming rake we remember he is.

He congratulates her on her divorce, pointing out her ability to now move on, promising something, someone better. “You found someone perfect,” says Joan, tempting Don to challenge the notion. “I did,” says Don about his wife who has no idea where he is. The chemistry between these two is electric, but platonic. That’s how things are between these two. There’s hope, but not happiness.

Give me some change. I want music,” says Joan, and for some reason Don thinks she’s talking to him and she’s asking him for coins to insert into the jukebox. A waggish gentleman is watching Joan and they speculate who he is, who he has waiting at home (again, Don doesn’t call his own wife). Don says the man appeared here because he doesn’t know what he wants. Joan assures Don he knows, implying it’s not what he asked for.

The Negron Complex
Back at the Office, Mother Lakshmi seduces Harry, revealing after the fact her purpose is to keep Harry from drawing Paul away from the Krishnas, since he’s their best recruiter. Harry can’t believe she slept with him under false pretenses and she responds that was her only leverage. “But you already gave it away,” surmises the puzzled professional TV negotiator, and gets his glasses smacked off for the observation. He promises to tell Paul the truth that his script is crap.

Harry asked Peggy to read Paul’s Star Trek teleplay titled “The Negron Complex,” which is some awful cocktail of slavery, Hare Krishna, and broken dreams. Peggy is unsympathetic. Harry tells Peggy he knows it’s lame, but it was really hard for Paul to write that script. “Then he shouldn’t be doing it,” quips Peggy and is she talking about former copywriter Paul’s writing or former copywriter Megan’s acting? We need to see Peggy collect the win she’s been denied all season thus far.

Harry meets with Paul again under Lakshmi’s orders to crush his Hollywood screenwriting dreams, but Harry has other plans. He concocts lies about NBC loving the script but legally unable to purchase or acknowledge it, preserving Paul’s ego. He hands Paul a plane ticket to Los Angeles and $500 to start a new life there, without Lakshmi’s and the Krishnas. He tells Paul that’s where his future is, either lying or having changed his mind from the beginning of the episode when he told Lane the future was something he couldn’t predict.

I don’t even like Paul (who acknowledged earlier in the episode that no one does), but this may be his best shot. There was one other time a Mad Men character was reacquainted with a down and out person from his past in a diner, handed him a wad of cash and the demand to leave New York. That was Don, rediscovered by his long lost brother Adam, and Adam committed suicide shortly thereafter. Can we expect better for Paul?

The Flying Spaghetti Monster
Don leaves Joan to do with her evening what she will, kicking the Jag into high gear, trying to squeeze the thrill out of it he couldn’t before. He stumbles home, unaware that his his wife fuming at the dinner table, ready to pounce. No, not like that. He thinks so and tries so, but “that’s not what this is,” she fumes. She throws a plate of food at the wall echoing Joan’s earlier plane crash, and demands to know where he was, asking a salient question.

Why did you want me to think that?” cries Megan, and we immediately realize Don has no excuse. He knew to call, he couldn’t stop telling Joan how he missed Megan at work, yet he didn’t call. It has to do with something Bobbie Barrett told him a long time ago and he relayed to Joan at the bar. “I like being bad and going home and being good,” and I guess that’s what he thought he was doing. But the time machine warped him back to the present. He can’t use rationale from Season 2 anymore. He eats the plain spaghetti Megan’s had in the oven for him. “Do you want any cheese?” Asks Megan, and Don, supposing that’s what the moon is made of, says that he doesn’t.

Lane Strikes Out
Right before the Christmas Party where bonuses are to be announced, Pete comes in with bad news. Mohawk is suffering a strike and though they’re still flying, they’re suspending advertising, eliminating the funds for partner bonuses. The partners agree that they’ll forgo bonuses so everybody else can enjoy one. Presumably Lane agrees because some bonuses will help disguise his check fraud more than no bonuses would. His manner of speaking doesn’t convey to the company what he means when he says they’re getting bonuses and the partner’s aren’t, so Roger has to put it succinctly.

Don, not concerned about spending too much time at work anymore, gives a saber-rattling speech about how they’re going to land Jaguar. “A great leap forward” he promises, also promising tons of unpaid overtime. He really rouses the troops though, as only Don could, predicting they’ll “Swim the English Channel and drown in Champagne.” And something about escaping England and all that strikes a nerve in Lane, who looks beleaguered in his closeup as the credits roll.

Christmas Bonus(?)
I love the theme this season of “Giving X what he/she asks for vs. giving X what he/she wants.” It showed up in Don and Megan on the white carpet, Peggy’s pitch to Heinz, Roger and Jane, Peggy and Abe, and now in the bar conversation between Don and Joan. I expect it to show again in the season finale.

Harry seemed to genuinely be concerned for Paul, not immediately dismissing his script, and even putting up $500 of the money Roger gave him to switch now-Lakshmi-defiled offices with Pete. With the exception of Joan, who never really left, returning characters tend to do poorly on this show.

Speaking of Joan, Don felt her a much more suitable test-drive partner than Megan seeing how big of a stand against advertising Megan took and how car shopping represents the consumerism her friends’ plays despise. That paves the way to make some contrasts between Megan and Joan.

Joan: Curvy, Sterling Cooper holdover, left the agency and came back, before she had the baby Megan doesn’t seem to want. Megan is the thin former actress/receptionist/secretary/copywriter and current actress whose departure seems more permanent than Joan’s. Under different degrees of willingness, they’ve both sung songs in French in front of strangers at their own homes. Megan serves Don plain spaghetti, Joan gets served. They’re two very different women, but Don has never expressed interest in Joan and seems devoted to Megan.

Given Lane’s predicament, will Ginsberg be getting a Christmas bonus?


Posted May 22, 2012 by Wada in Uncategorized

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The Department of Justice, UCSD, and the Truth   Leave a comment

As per the United States Department of Justice

The Departments of Justice and Education reached a settlement agreement with the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), to resolve an investigation into complaints of racial harassment against African-American students on campus.

So the federal government launched an investigation based on complaints of “racial harassment” and the result was a voluntary agreement to make some policy changes at UCSD. This blog’s archives hold extensive documentation of those complaints, which the Department of Justice summarizes thusly:

The complaints alleged multiple incidents of racial harassment on campus, including public displays of nooses and a Ku Klux Klan-style hood, and the hosting of an off-campus party where students were invited to dress as stereotypes of African-Americans. [Emphasis mine]

And the DOJ seems to misunderstand a few things. “Public displays of nooses” not only requires that multiple nooses were publicly displayed, but also probably should have some connection to racial threats in order to be significant. There was really only one “noose” displayed so publicly in the corner on the 7th story of a library that it took 3 days to discover, and it turned out to be an absent-minded blunder by a female minority student, devoid of any racial context. A student who confessed and explained her oblivious mistake in order to diffuse racial tensions, and was suspended for her brave honesty when she easily could have walked away. The DOJ doesn’t seem aware of this, citing a racial complaint not of a threat, but to an overreaction to a  misunderstanding. UCSD and the DOJ refuse to accept her apology, choosing to portray her as a racial harasser instead. And then the “noose” thing somehow gets made plural. Seems uninterested in the truth and generally irresponsible.

Not as irresponsible as twice citing “on campus” incidents and then listing “an off-campus party” as one of those on campus incidents. Come on. In-sentence contradictions in an official Department of Justice document make the agency seem unserious. Debunking the so-called and deceivingly misrepresented  “nooses” as well the the on-campus-ness of an off-campus party, we’re left with the KKK hood, which did actually happen, was on campus, and is in inexcusably bad taste, even if just a prank. If UCSD really didn’t make it clear that such behavior is unacceptable, then maybe the DOJ has business conducting a federal investigation of an entire university for one individual (never confirmed to even be a student)’s stupid racism. Since the DOJ’s statement seems to understand UCSD’s “campus climate” so clumsily, it would only be responsible to not base federally-enforced provisions on its own misunderstanding.

So of course:

The university has agreed to revise its campus policies and procedures related to racial harassment to ensure they are consistent with federal civil rights laws; maintain an Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints of harassment and discrimination; and provide mandatory trainings for staff and students on the university’s anti-discrimination policies and procedures.  [Emphasis mine]

An “Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination” doesn’t sound cheap, and it’s in addition to UCSD “provid[ing] $330,000 a year for a program aimed at recruiting and retaining underrepresented groups and increased staffing for African-American and Chicano Latino arts and humanities minors.” Actual complaints about discrimination and harassment need to be addressed seriously, but there’s no indication that the outrage being remedied was in response to actual instances of on-campus discrimination or harassment. It’s all highly manufactured, and then the expensive federally-monitored remedy is instituted.

Agreeing to seriously address racial discrimination and harassment at the behest of the federal government is an implicit admission — on behalf of over 20,000 students — of racial guilt. You don’t agree to fix a problem you don’t have. In this case, the DOJ cites a lot of specious and misinterpreted evidence in branding UCSD with a racial harassment problem, even if over 99% of the individual students at UCSD haven’t done anything wrong. This is all based on the complaints of organizations who claim to feel harassed and discriminated against without being able to produce a single case of physical, academic, or occupational harm due to racial harassment or discrimination. Just their word that their arbitrary interpretation of certain things made them feel offended. That’s not a good reason for establishing an Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination and it’s not a good reason for the federal investigation that led to its establishment.

It’s a terrible reason for “mandatory trainings for staff and students on the university’s anti-discrimination policies and procedures.” These “trainings” couldn’t possibly be propaganda and indoctrination classes designed to chill free speech, but even though that’s indisputable, it’s still a bit totalitarian to force the entire campus to undergo training to address the complaints of a small group of students. What is the punishment for refusing to undergo the mandatory brainwashing training?

We may just see because “The agreement requires UC San Diego to report to the Justice and Education departments in two months on how the new policies and procedures are being put in effect.” If in the next two months, no racial complaints are filed, the school might have trouble demonstrating its improved response to stuff like that, so maybe it comes down to showing that fancy new office is there. Apparently, “Starting last fall, the school required all undergraduates demonstrate knowledge of diversity, equity and inclusion,” so that requirement is being addressed for students, though staff was also included in the DOJ agreement.

The ethics of mandating everybody undergo the same viewpoint training is probably not worth discussing to the DOJ, which seems more focused on results, whether or not they understood the facts of the alleged problem in the first place. Bringing us to the question: How do you measure the efficacy of a solution to a problem that wasn’t really there in the first place?

You probably don’t measure it in freedom and money that could have been spent on adding classes students actually want or reopening libraries.

Do you believe in Magic?   Leave a comment

Posted March 28, 2012 by Wada in Uncategorized

Lin, Hoops, and Hopes   Leave a comment

Note: This is part 5 of a 17-part Jeremy Lin series. There’s just too much to unpack to get it done in one go.


I got cut from my high school basketball team after my freshman year. Mostly because I can’t really score or handle the ball. Okay, entirely. There were more than enough talented players to fill the team, several of them Asian Americans like myself. Multi-year stars on the varsity squad, swift as the coursing river, shooting the lights out. Seemed a shame no college took an interest in their basketball skills. Conventional wisdom is that it was a height thing. Forty points doesn’t mean anything to colleges if all those buckets are launched from 5’8. Won’t get those same shots off against players a foot taller, no matter how deceptively quick that floater climbs high into the air. Still, knowing there was no real chance of a chance to see these guys play at the next level felt like a loss.

I spent my sophomore year of high school away from basketball, opting to indulge in teen angst, breaking up and un-breaking up with the same girl several times. Could never really break up with the game though, so, knowing my effective playing days were over, I covered the team for the school newspaper my junior year. Found out I was better at describing ball movement and crisping “team wins” than beating defenders off the dribble or hitting three pointers. As usual, there were Asian standout players accomplishing highly impressive feats on the court, the next step being intramurals or church league. To play for a Division 1 team really is a rare opportunity and Asian Americans tend to have alternate paths to UCLA available. Being too short to play college ball is just a reality for Asians.

But that doesn’t really fit with the Jeremy Lin story. At 6’3, 200 pounds, Lin isn’t undersized as a point guard in the NBA, let alone college. Yet he was offered zero scholarship offers to play college basketball, after leading Palo Alto High School to a state championship against powerhouse Mater Dei featuring a player headed to Duke to play for Coach K. Harvard doesn’t do athletic scholarships, but all the schools that do wouldn’t give Lin one, so he went there. Didn’t let lack of an athletic scholarship stop him from playing college ball, despite college basketball’s best efforts. And didn’t let not getting drafted stop him from playing in the NBA, despite 30 GMs’ best efforts. Just played fiercely whenever and wherever he could.

That type of perseverance is the type of thing that transcends race, that makes any discrimination of that sort just another undistinguished obstacle that was going to get scaled. On his way to save the princess and star in the NBA, he was only going to let race be a goomba or koopa, not Bowser himself. Super LINtendo indeed. That makes Lin accessible to everybody, not just Asians, unlike, say, Yi Jianlian. Also, Lin can play. Because he’s a cocktail of talent, desire, and hard work, not because he was chosen by his government to attend a special academy since childhood to be a top athlete, unlike, say, Yi Jianlian. So the underdog story and the very visceral and traceable perseverance thread hold wide appeal for wide swaths of America. Yet it’s still special for Asian Americans.

Even if you’re Asian American, you can’t really relate to Yao Ming. He’s 7’6. He speaks broken English. He has a Frankensteinian look to him and was basically grown in a special Chinese laboratory for the purpose of NBA dominance. His gentle spirit and likeable personality work against him breaking the mold of the kind-hearted creation of darkness. I don’t know any people approaching 7’6, and certainly not Asians. If I want my kids to play basketball beyond their freshman year, they’re probably going to need 6 feet, and I don’t know how feasible that one is. As much as Yao was kind of a cool thing to have in the NBA, he wasn’t entirely embraceable as a symbol of any Asian American community and definitely not as a blueprint for more Asian NBA players.

There have been other Chinese NBA players too. Wang Zhizhi wasn’t really remarkable except for his race. Sun Yue — the first Chinese player with an NBA Championship ring — only played garbage minutes in a role similar to Lin’s before he got to play. Maybe like Lin, he just needed an opportunity, but he was well-hyped in China, and didn’t bother with a 3rd NBA team the way Lin did. Also, there’s a distance between Asian Americans and these Chinese players. Merely looking similar doesn’t cut it. Have to have something substantial in common, or a highly admirable quality. Maybe these guys did have something like that, but we didn’t get to know them well enough, but the idea of being bred and engineered to penetrate the NBA doesn’t wash off easily.

Asian players prior to Lin also had reputations for being soft, below average athletically, and specialized in some technical skill, not complete players. There was no way to cast them as American because 1) they weren’t and 2) didn’t play or speak like it. Lin plays and grew up playing the American style of basketball. He drives into the lane hard, finishes with contact, throws his body into other players, is never seen speaking Chinese. Yao’s accent was the source of humor in several commercials. Lin is American. Speaks it, acts it, plays it. Plays tough.

And if you’re an Asian American and that Americanness means anything to you, that’s important. That sports media can’t characterize Lin as another overgrown, slow-footed, rice paddy-soft foreigner, weak in courage and English. And those aren’t things he’s had to fight to mute or overcome — those are things he just never was. Not a product of a different system that has to adjust to the American style, but a product of the American system which had better adjust to him. All of this makes Lin easy to relate to and cheer for. His story is a unique story and an American story, and those two factors are as important as his being Asian American in terms of appealing to the Asian American community.

I grew up loving Michael Jordan and Kobe. Didn’t matter what color their skin was as far as wanting to be like them. Only their awesome play mattered, so it seemed like it would make sense that no one’s skin color ever matters on the basketball court. It’s easy to pretend you’re any of your sports heroes when you’re playing in the backyard or at the park. Especially if no NBA stars look like you, you can choose which one you see yourself as. No one ever called me Yao Ming on the court because even though he was the most popular Asian player in the league for years, my game doesn’t look anything like his. But with the emergence of Lin, I don’t think Asian Americans feel obligated to exactly emulate him or always pretend to be him if we’re claiming to play as certain stars. I reserve the right to be Metta World Peace even if I’m the only Asian on the floor.

So Lin isn’t the end-all be-all of Asian American basketball. We love him, sure, but if you polled long-time Asian American NBA fans on their favorite player, I truly believe Lin wouldn’t win. This isn’t China-Yao Ming. The ability to cheer him on as an Asian American and good player feels great, but we have our own favorite teams, our own favorite players, and the freedom to not be a homogenous mob with a racially-motivated blind devotion. Lin isn’t a messiah sent here to administer to all the downtrodden Asian American basketball fans, though he’d be happy to share the Gospel with you. Lin’s ubiquity is sourced in his uniqueness, not in sameness.

And Lin is a symbol. That Asian Americans have game. That we have players that can compete on the highest level. That even if you don’t get a scholarship, go undrafted, and get cut twice, you can make it. We believe. We see ourselves. We play ball. We’re inspired. I don’t have any plans to play in the NBA, but I’m still inspired. At 6’3, Jeremy Lin would be playing center if he were on my youth team. None of us were going to make it to the NBA. Another Asian American may still not make it. But hopefully more Asian Americans will get a fair look beyond the high school level. Lin doesn’t have to open the flood gates to a deluge of Asian American NBA players, but if he paves the way for more basketball scholarships for (including non-Asian) kids who wouldn’t have gotten a look before, I’m proud to have Jeremy as a symbol of the Asian American community.

Next time: Taking a look at Lin’s game. The tricky drives, those quarter-turn layups, alley-oops to Tyson and Landry, critical 3 pointers…and too many turnovers.

Posted March 7, 2012 by Wada in Jeremy Lin

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Jeremy Lin and the Asian American Moment   Leave a comment

Note: This is post 4 in a series of memos about Jeremy Lin. There is no way to limit all there is to say about him to one go.

Yep, we’re on number 4 — probably not Harvard material, but we’ll do our best.

“In the Asian American community even third and fourth generations must contend with being treated as perpetual foreigners. So it comes as no surprise that they have embraced the big pop culture bang that created ‘Linsanity’.” –The Los Angeles Times

“There is no doubt that Linsanity offers brands a timely call-to-action to take a fresh look at their untapped business potential in the Asian American community.” –The Huffington Post

“We again apologize, especially to Mr. Lin. His accomplishments are a source of great pride to the Asian-American community, including the Asian-American employees at ESPN.” –ESPN

The Asian American Community loves Jeremy Lin. The Asian American Community is offended by any stereotypes at all associated with Jeremy Lin. The Asian American Community is viewed as foreign and effeminate by the media and public at large. —

As much as we hear and read about its found inspiration and boundless pride in Jeremy Lin, there isn’t any such thing as the Asian American community. Not in a national sense or transcending localities. Asian communities in America are endlessly compartmentalized and disentangleable. Each different ethnicity among Asians is distinct, held important, and probably a traditional enemy of some other type of Asian. We speak different languages, eat different food, practice different religions, and are good at different kinds of math. The collective Asian American experience is pretty much limited to being called the same names, fuming at Affirmative Action policies, and forbidding the wearing of shoes indoors.

There’s not a lot that ties Asian Americans of different national origins and regions of the United States together. A lot of what does is that we’ve experienced the same type of discrimination and stereotyping, but that’s not voluntary and doesn’t fuse different communities from within. It’s not a shared language or culture or narrative. What makes different types of Asian Americans Asian Americans is different. Some of our ancestors were forced to build railroads, some were interned behind barbed wire and guard towers, and some fled communist regimes. Subsequent generations seeking better opportunities mostly had to put up with the names and admissions obstacles. It’s offensive to misappropriate or conflate any of these histories.

I’m baffled that ESPN and other media outlets keep referring to the Asian American Community as if the term had any graspable meaning. Assuming some sort of homogeneity or even just cohesiveness by lazily linking race and neighborhood doesn’t speak of an Asian American Community. What the media seems to think this is can be captured by a shot of a bunch of Asian-looking people stuffed into a karaoke bar watching a Knicks game. If you’ve been following Jeremy Lin, you’ve seen that shot as often as you’ve seen Lin’s buzzer-beating 3-point shot to beat Toronto. They don’t get it. Even when ESPN apologizes for supposedly offensive comments, it doesn’t know who it’s apologizing to specifically — and doesn’t seem particularly interested in finding out.

But if there is such a thing as a unitary Asian American Community, Jeremy Lin represents it. It’s like his story and rise have forged it into existence. It exists now because he’s transcended some divisions. Media types assume it existed all along. It didn’t. And they think what it is now is what they always thought it was. It’s not. Because it’s not the totality of America dwellers who are homogenous slant-eyed, math blasting, karate chopping, sushi rolling, ching-chong speaking, romantically inept foreigners. If a critical mass of Americans who have been called variably “fob,” “chink,” “gook,” and “jap” can be meaningfully grouped by means other than being called any of those things, Jeremy Lin represents it.

It’s not because Lin magically makes vastly different Asian American groups more similar. However hard the media tries, Lin hasn’t been lifted out of his distinct Taiwanese-American brand and transplanted into the genericized “Asian American” mold. It’s not because he has enough Asian things about him so that all Asians can identify with him or merely because he looks like us. It’s not because he’s lived a collective experience for us, but because he represents such an individual story. What he represents is a uniqueness — something the Asian American Community has been denied. The source of his universality is not that he fits enough Asian stereotypes, but that he breaks enough of them, and then he doesn’t stop there.

I don’t know any 6’3 Taiwanese American Harvard grads that rode the bench for 3 NBA teams after going undrafted, who want to become pastors after buzzer beaters and 38 point performances against Kobe Bryant. Do you? None of those things is a stereotypical Asian thing, especially none of the basketball things. And they don’t jointly add up to some sort of Asian Americanness. It’s a unique journey, not just as an Asian American, but as an individual. Of course a large part of what we admire about Jeremy Lin is that he’s doing things an Asian American hasn’t done before, but the more we find out about his his background — and the more it’s dissimilar to mine — the more it resonates.

It goes beyond the smashing stereotypes angle we’ve heard enough about. Smashing stereotypes tells us what Lin and, by association, Asians are not. But it doesn’t suffice to say Jeremy Lin is what he isn’t — he’s showing us who he is. If we scaffold that with a preconceived “Asian” framework, it’s going to be very difficult to get an accurate picture of the guy. If we get bogged down talking about stereotypes, we’ll be constantly comparing him to what some people think a person that looks like him is — and we’ll miss out on him. On his individuality and personal substance which incorporates, but is not devoured by his race. Jeremy Lin represents an Asian American Community only if he helps show that each sub-divisional Asian American community is unique in its forward movement — not only so far as we break backwards stereotypes.

Jeremy Lin has activated an Asian American moment, heralded by athletes like Michael Chang, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Michelle Kwan before him. Preceded by true heroes like the 442nd Infantry Regiment who had bigger things to worry about than sports while having no Internet or social media to spread their legend. Lin isn’t the first Asian American to excel at professional sports or defy stereotypes and his popularity has been helped along by technology and the emphasis American culture places on his sport. And only someone with Lin’s humility could understand and appreciate that his mainstream breakthrough was launched off the shoulders of giants. It is certainly a Taiwanese American moment, but an Asian American moment as well.

Asian American’s haven’t really had this uniting experience before. Not with Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan or Yao or Ichiro. Those guys were foreigners and largely ethnicity-specific. Lin’s Americanness fuels his appeal to different Asian American ethnicities. To break through in an American style of an American institution in America, as an American, in an area where people that looked like him were never really looked at seriously. He had to face being heckled with “chink” playing at Harvard, and had to beat Affirmative Action to get in in the first place. These are things Asian Americans have experienced. The rest of Lin’s story is unique.

We took different paths to get where we are. Just as Jeremy did. His story is an American story before it’s an Asian American one. He hasn’t been groomed by some foreign collective for this specific purpose. It’s his purpose that he chose and that he chose to continue as the setbacks mounted. His original story and individual path give a flavor to the Asian American Community that wasn’t brought out before. It was about time the media tasted it. That it recognized the will and talent of an individual and understand his race as a source of pride for the player, and most certainly a factor contributing to his obstacle-laden journey to the NBA.

There still isn’t a monolithic Asian American Community insofar as no Japanese American or Korean American or Filipino American will ever call herself an “Asian American” if not filling out a form, but there is the idea — the proof — that we are individuals are unique. Lin is a Taiwanese American, born and raised in California, graduated from Harvard, found success on his third NBA team after going undrafted, citing his faith in Christ as his strength and inspiration. Radiating two-fold uniqueness: not looking like anyone else on the court and not having the same story as anyone cheering him on in a karaoke bar with people that do.

Recognizing this, Asian Americans have their distinct ethnic identities, and maybe an Asian American Community too.

Next time: Let’s get to basketball. What Lin means to a 23 year old fourth generation Japanese American who grew up wanting nothing more than to be a baller.

Posted March 1, 2012 by Wada in Jeremy Lin

Tagged with , ,

Dara and the Green Jump Rope   Leave a comment

Note: Two years to the date of her unjust suspension, this is a story about the moral courage of one UCSD student.

Imagine that you’ve absentmindedly left a newspaper or soda can at a park, or on a bus, or another public place. It wasn’t expensive, surely has no personal value, and can’t be traced back to you. There might be some guilt, but people are paid to clean those spaces anyway, and it wasn’t on purpose. Now imagine that thing you left was misinterpreted as offensive and stirred up an angry mob calling for its leaver’s blood. Can you honestly say you’d admit to it?

Tensions were high on the UCSD campus in February 2010, depending on who you were. If you were an average student more worried about midterms and internships than private off-campus frat parties and changing the university’s non-discriminatory admissions policies, it was business as usual. But there were a couple hundred very vocal students demanding the expulsion of some other students for racial insensitivity, the banishment of a student publication that exists to offend, and rectification for unspecified “institutional racism” working in place of actual racism. Campus and local media outlets amplified this voice and emboldened its shriller elements, reinforcing what they reported.

On a Tuesday afternoon, a student was playing jump rope earlier in the day and went off to the library to study. “Noose Girl” isn’t a name and “the student who hung the noose in the library” is a mouthful, so I’m going to call her Dara, meaning courage. Dara isn’t white, or a man, or any of those things UCSD GEs will tell you are threatening. Unaware that “campus climate” had not to do with a sunny February, Dara took her jump rope, which a friend has fashioned into a coiled loop, and put it on a bookshelf tab above a desk where she studied, overlooking a campus as quiet as ever from seven stories up. Consumed in her studies and tired after hours of work, she forgot her jump rope, left above where it could be seen without looking upward, and went on her way, probably to eat some junky OVT food. Poor Dara’s stomach.

Dara’s jump rope, on an 8-ft bookshelf. Assuming her height to be between 5’2 and 5’5, out of sight, out of mind applies.

Three days later, Dara was mortified to discover that her jump rope was found, looped in its noose form, and construed as an act of racism or some sort of green threat in an obscure corner of a labyrinthine library. The Black Student Union used its media megaphone to demand action and generate a band of angry protesters, completely incurious as to the context, determined to be offended and scream that they felt unsafe. Because Dara studied too hard and forgot her jump rope. Students and other non-students occupied the Chancellor’s office all day as news vans violated all of UCSD’s strict parking permit requirements.

Upon learning that hundreds of angry people had gathered on campus with news crews shouting slogans that melt away individual identity, demanding action in response to her green jump rope that was in the library for days until someone personally decided it was a big deal, Dara had options. No one knew it was hers. No one knew she’d left it there. In Dara’s own words, it was “a mindless act and stupid mistake.” But not one she had to take responsibility for. Dara could have easily reasoned, these people are using any excuse to form a mob and be offended, and they want my head. I don’t want to and don’t have to claim responsibility. And no one would have known. 

On Friday morning, Dara awoke to a campus-wide UCSD Police email blast declaring “Crime: Hanging a noose with intent to terrorize,” clueless but asking for help “identifying witnesses and those responsible for this criminal act” (emphasis mine). Dara certainly had no intent to terrorize anything but her midterm exams and the police were calling her a criminal with no “alleged” or “due process” modifiers. Imagine being Dara here. I’m reluctant to admit to my roommate that I ate his leftover pizza. Dara had the police declaring her a criminal terrorist, not to mention what the angry mob who took over the chancellor’s office wanted to do to her. What would you do?

Let’s let Dara tell us what she did:

I felt so ashamed and embarrassed, and the first thing I did was call the campus police and confess. I was hoping to clarify that this was not an act of racism before the incident got a full reaction from the campus.

A courageous person doesn’t label herself so. A courageous person doesn’t even think in terms of courage, only considering what must be done to do right. Personal consequence becomes immaterial compared to the good being done. Moral courage takes personal responsibility, even when given the opportunity to flee or blame others. To do what Dara did requires a well-developed conscience and willingness to accept punishment. She could have easily walked away. Dara was suspended from school for being a bit forgetful and then being honest about it. I’m outraged by a public university with such ability to arbitrarily punish a student due to mob pressure, and not any codified violation. I recommend legal action if necessary to obtain justice for Dara.

While serving her suspension, Dara was savaged in the press, on internet blogs, and by the protesting groups. Her sincere apology in a campus newspaper was verified and ran in the school paper. And it went mostly ignored except to claim someone was caught and punished, or had even been taken into custody. The search for the truth was shallow and insincere. Outrage won the day. No one came to her defense. Hell, I didn’t and I was there at every event, writing about it in this blog. This was a turning point for me, unsettled by the BSU’s increasingly radical demands after supporting them for weeks and shocked that no one wanted to accept an apology and forgive. After Dara personally gave up so much to try and quell the rage of those who decided to be outraged, for the good of the university.

And her name was never cleared. Not by public opinion. People call Dara “noose girl” and still see her green jump rope as a symbol of racism and hate. The legacy of the Compton Cookout seems to portray Dara as some sort of racist or symbol of hate. UCLA’s Daily Bruin editorial board called Dara’s green jump rope “racist” and said Alexandra Wallace of “Asians in the Library” infamy wasn’t as bad. UCSD’s own literature professor Jorge Mariscal recently wrote in a Guardian editorial that “Who made the noose and who decided to place it at the edge of a bookshelf matters little now.”

I disagree.

Dara matters now. As a decided non-racist portrayed as one by agenda drivers and media hysteria, when the truth was available. As a reminder to listen, and avoid mob-like passions. The hateful made Dara into a symbol of hate, spinning her story to suit their goals. Let this no longer be.

Dara is a symbol of courage. Of someone who took responsibility for her own mistake, even when it was blown out of proportion and twisted into something horrible. Of, knowing consequences are forthcoming and that simply by doing nothing they could be avoided, doing the honest thing anyway. Dara matters. Not just to clear her name, but to inspire us to show the same courage.

Thank you, Dara. For showing that courage and being an inspiration.

Read the rest of this entry »

Karate Chopping Asian Stereotypes with the AAJA   Leave a comment

Note: This is memo 3 of 17 trying to figure out Jeremy Lin. It is going to take more than 3 posts to get through it all. This one’s meant to be a bit fun. 

Jeremy Lin gets it done with a 3.

Nobody likes being told what they can’t say. Forbidden words glow with a lurid power much the way certain forbidden actions become irresistible and exciting. but the discrete packages that are words harness the magic of forbidden words in a more wieldy manner. When everybody’s talking about the same thing, language becomes a marketplace, and the most sticky and resonant phrases become well-known and indexed in the collective consciousness. Clumsy, useless language fails to be duplicated and is forgotten. Not because some self-anointed authority banishes it, but because people who have encountered it and compared it to what it’s supposedly referring to see no accurate connection.

Something called the Asian American Journalists Association has issued a set of guidelines for media outlets covering Jeremy Lin. The memo lists seven “Danger Zones” or racial stereotypes to be avoided.  Political website The Daily Caller called the document “the funniest press release in history,” and I agree. It’s ridiculous. There’s a certain righteous pedantic flavor to it that kind of makes you smile. Maybe pretension is inherent to lecturing documents that tell you what you shouldn’t do. In any case, it probably does more lasting damage to the way Lin is covered than any of the incidents they’re claiming to respond to. Doesn’t even address the tweets sent out by Jason Whitlock and Floyd Mayweather, even indirectly.

The first words of the memo are (seriously) these: “Stop to think: Would a similar statement be made about an athlete who is Caucasian, African American, Latino or Native American?” Stop to think. How entirely idiotic is this guideline? Why yes, “chink in the armor” is said about all those types of athletes — and ESPN still fired a guy over it. Maybe I’m misinterpreting this guideline and it’s intending meaning is that you should only write something about Lin if you would write a similar statement about an athlete of any other race. “Chink in the armor” aside, of course.

Following this, there are two main sections to the memo, one labeled “THE FACTS” and the other the aforementioned “DANGER ZONES.” The Facts deal with Lin being an American born Asian American of Taiwanese descent who was unrecruited and undrafted. I haven’t seen this portrayed inaccurately in any professional articles, so it must be addressing The Internet and its’ lawless frontier. There’s a point to be made that Lin is an American and he faced setbacks every step of the way to get where he is. Seems a little overboard to suggest media outlets are implying that he’s from China or otherwise foreign. Watching his interviews will do more to indicate his citizenship.

Then THE FACTS get a bit more interesting:

3. Journalists don’t assume that African American players identify with NBA players who emigrated from Africa. The same principle applies with Asian Americans. It’s fair to ask Lin whether he looked up to or took pride in the accomplishments of Asian players. He may have. It’s unfair and poor journalism to assume he did.

On the surface, this is true. But the comparison to how black players are treated doesn’t seem relevant. Asian players before Lin had to at least deal with not having other people that looked like them around, and racial slurs and stereotypes about ethnic Asians don’t really discriminate between Asians and Asian Americans. On the other hand, it seems like Luol Deng, DJ Mbenga, and  Luc Richard Mbah a Moute — all born in Africa — are treated much like African American players without special media rules. If there’s a problem, it’s not so much asking Lin if Yao and Wang Zhi Zhi inspire him because that’s relevant as long as it’s acknowledged that Lin is American.

The fourth and final The Fact details that “Lin is not the first Asian American to play in the National Basketball Association.” Raymond Townsend and Rex Walters were Asian Americans. So it’s easy to see why people might think Lin is the first. Also a guy with an actual Asian name, Wat Misaka, played 65 years ago before the NBA merger. In three games. Obama is considered our first black president even though his mother was white, so with that referent, Townsend and Walters count.

Here’s the thing. That’s kind of unsatisfying. It feels like Jeremy Lin is the first Asian American NBA player, maybe modifying it “NBA star.” To the extent that being black can be considered to be an obstacle to the presidency and being Asian American an obstacle to NBA stardom, both parents’ backgrounds, and, yes, the individual’s appearance, seem relevant. Not to take anything away from Townsend, Walters, and even Misaka, but they didn’t exactly pave the way for Jeremy Lin. Unable to shake the inkling that Lin’s appearance might have contributed to nobody wanting him out of high school and college, Townsend and Walters seem less relevant, and Yao and Wang more so. The lesson from all of this is that considering race for race’s sake will never allow us access to the whole Lin story. Never.

Now, finally — get ready for some fun — we will address the “DANGER ZONES.” You know what? It’s probably better if I just copy them:


“CHINK”: Pejorative; do not use in a context involving an Asian person on someone who is Asian American. Extreme care is needed if using the well-trod phrase “chink in the armor”; be mindful that the context does not involve Asia, Asians or Asian Americans. (The appearance of this phrase with regard to Lin led AAJA MediaWatch to issue statement to ESPN, which subsequently disciplined its employees.)

DRIVING: This is part of the sport of basketball, but resist the temptation to refer to an “Asian who knows how to drive.”

EYE SHAPE: This is irrelevant. Do not make such references if discussing Lin’s vision.

FOOD: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no.

MARTIAL ARTS: You’re writing about a basketball player. Don’t conflate his skills with judo, karate, tae kwon do, etc. Do not refer to Lin as “Grasshopper” or similar names associated with martial-arts stereotypes.

“ME LOVE YOU LIN TIME”: Avoid. This is a lazy pun on the athlete’s name and alludes to the broken English of a Hollywood caricature from the 1980s.

“YELLOW MAMBA”: This nickname that some have used for Lin plays off the “Black Mamba” nickname used by NBA star Kobe Bryant. It should be avoided. Asian immigrants in the United States in the 19th and 20th centuries were subjected to discriminatory treatment resulting from a fear of a “Yellow Peril” that was touted in the media, which led to legislation such as the Chinese Exclusion Act.

If you didn’t chuckle a bit getting through the list, there’s something wrong with you. This is the Asian American Journalists Association explaining stereotypes and why they’re not okay. Sans the “chink” reference, which gets used as part of a well-known sports cliché not referring to anyone’s race, these are all pretty harmless. Meant to be positive in most cases. That doesn’t mean they can’t be used maliciously, but really any language can. From watching recent Knicks games, I’ve seen fans holding these signs, and it seems all in good fun. Maybe a tad unaware, but if you’re not looking to be offended, you probably won’t be. Apparently the AAJA is cool with “Super LINtendo,” “I want you LINside me,” and the MSG references. If the AAJA wants to police all the Lin puns and be the sole arbiter of what’s acceptable, it can only be more entertaining.

Racial insensitivity in the media isn’t cool, but neither is being the language police, raining on people’s fun just to let them know there is an AAJA that exists. Kind of. They’re operating on a Tumblr page right now. Seriously. I want very badly for Jeremy Lin to be treated respectfully and shown the dignity afforded all athletes. Well, hopefully the media treats him better than they treat Tebow. But as the AAJA memo addresses its advisory of news coverage of Lin, its DANGER ZONES aren’t uttered by anchors, but seen on fan signs. Even if offensive, the media should show them to shame their bearers and increase awareness.

When you try to control the language, it usually doesn’t work. And you might embarrass yourself. The AAJA doesn’t represent Jeremy Lin or any other unitary group of Asian Americans. To claim to speak for any of us is more offensive than any of these signs. To desperately search for something to be offended by bogs us all down in oversensitivity and does no one any favors, Asian Americans included. To try to wedge Asian Americans into the Politically Correct culture will not benefit us. We have a unique place in the diversity of America, separate from other race relations paradigms, and Jeremy Lin is doing great as an Asian American representative without the AAJA’s guidelines about what the media can’t say. Good language will win out, just like good players. That’s why I’m so optimistic about Jeremy Lin.

Next time: What Jeremy Lin means to me. The gushing feelings of a fourth generation Japanese American who grew up loving basketball.