Can we have a talk, adults? I’d like to. If that’s cool. I might piss you off. If I do, I want you to know, from the bottom of my heart, I love you to death…but I’m going to laugh at you. I’m going to laugh my ass off at you if what we talk about is going to piss you off. Because people who get angry over silly things is funny.
In the category of silly things to get upset over, here’s a great entry: Halloween costumes that parody racial stereotypes.
In case you haven’t heard (and CNN didn’t even hear until today, so don’t feel bad), Ohio University students have begun a campaign of social awareness called “We’re A Culture, Not A Costume.” The campaign calls into focus offensive costumes such as an Asian girl holding up a photo of a a geisha, a Mexican holding up a photo of a dude dressed in a giant sombrero riding an ass, and a white dude gleefully dressed as a crappy parody of an Arab with a bomb strapped to his chest.
Alright. That last one is decidedly offensive.
However, beyond that, the connection between “racial stereotype” and “offensive” continues to elude me. Perhaps it’s because I always thought that Augustus Gloop and Super Mario were hilarious, or maybe it’s because I’m a white male living in America, but I’m sorry. I can’t exactly find myself getting pissed off because someone dressed as a geisha.
Here’s a bit of oversimplified history, for those of you who are even more white and uneducated than me. Geisha originally grew out of prostitution. Yep. Sucks. However, geisha also grew, in some instances, into skilled dancers and artists. Geisha can just as easily refer to (and in the case of a costume, be) a skilled artist as much as a prostitute. Furthermore, even if the intent of a geisha costume was to represent Japanese prostitutes….there’s sluttier things that happen on Halloween.
Geisha are real. In the same way that ballerinas and strippers are also real. Offensive? Maybe to some, depending on how you feel about open sexuality. But racist? I’m having a hard time with that.
But hey. Let’s say it is. I am not Japanese, nor am I very familiar with Japanese culture. It is entirely possible that, in a way that I’m unaware, even mentioning geisha (or any of the other caricatures presented in the article) are inherently offensive at the mere mention. Similar to how I feel about any mention of Tea Partiers. Ok. Cool.
It’s a fucking Halloween costume.
Again, the Arab bomber man? Offensive. That’s goofy-ing up murder. Not only that, but it’s murder that’s the result of religious extremism. Which is even worse, because that pisses off both the people who don’t believe in god and are furious that someone would kill in the name of god, as well as those who do and believe that their god or gods are loving and are furious that violence is being used in the name of their god. Oh yeah, and it’s kinda fucking creepy. Generally, really accurate costumes look cool. A really accurate costume of a dude with a bomb strapped to his chest looks like a dude with a bomb strapped to his chest. Not something to walk into a party with.
But. The others. Not so much. Especially that geisha, but that one just gets to me on principle. On the issue of racial stereotypes in general, though, stereotypes exist. They do! Sorry. And more often than not, they come from something real. It’s important to note, as with all things, that just because a stereotype exists does not mean that every person belonging to a particular race belongs to it. However, perhaps it’s just me, but I’m of the opinion that making light of a stereotype does not inherently imply that you believe such a thing of an entire race. And frankly, I wouldn’t survive if I did.
“Oh sure, Eric. You’ve experienced racism. You’re a white guy living in America. In the south, no less. You have it so hard.”
Well, for starters, thanks for your sarcasm. You know I’m a fan. Second: no. I don’t know what it’s like to be judged on the color of my skin. That must suck. I can’t even begin to understand. I do, however, know what it’s like to be judged by an arbitrary stamp of “mentally disabled”. And “nerd”. And “creepy”.
I don’t know what it is about my face, but it’s not something people are drawn to. Whatever it is, I don’t know, but ok. Fair enough. Some people aren’t attractive. Next up, when people start to have conversations with me, it becomes increasingly apparent that I’m a nerd. I like comic book movies, Star Wars, Android, Twitter, Lord of the Rings, the internet, and all manner of other geekly things. That’s strike two.
Then, if they ever find out that I have mental disorders, for whatever definition of “disorder” we’re choosing this week, that’s strike three. I cannot begin to tell you how many times my thoughts, opinions, or behavior have been written off because “Well, you have Asperger’s. You wouldn’t understand.” It’s frustrating.
You want me to say I don’t understand racism, truly know what it’s like to suffer from prejudice, well hell yeah. I’ll be happy to tell you that. But I’m no stranger to being judged by superficial labels and stereotypes, and to be made fun of for things that are not central to my character.
Which brings me to one of the funniest things in the world: The Big Bang Theory.
I love this show. It’s pretty fucking hilarious. It’s a show about these four nerds, three of which may or may not have varying levels of mental neurosis that make socialization difficult if not impossible, and…well, it’s just hilarious.
Let me make this clear: this is a five-season show that is built on the premise that guys like me are awkward, don’t get the girl, fumble through social conventions, and are all around weird. And possibly even too mentally unstable to trust.
We’re a culture. And our culture thinks this show is fucking hilarious.
I would dress as Sheldon for Halloween. I would laugh at a well put-together “nerd” costume. I would also laugh if someone showed up to a party where lederhosen, or dressed as a fat Italian with a big black mustache. It’s funny. I am not any of these things. They are not central to who I am. I am also comfortable enough in who I am to accept that these stereotypes exist, and came from somewhere, and sometimes caricatures are funny.
I’m also not so cynical as to think that everyone who dares to acknowledge a stereotype must be an ignorant racist. Coming from a cynical guy like me living in the South, that’s saying something.