As much as I despise reality television programming, I can find nothing at all wrong with RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s one part America’s Next Top Model (which is seriously a crime against humanity), one part Project Runway (which I actually can stand), mixed together with a whole lot of attitude. It’s fucking fierce!
On the fifth episode of this third season, the lady boys were challenged to put on their television newscast complete with a gossip segment, a weather segment, and an interview with some lady from “The Hills” (another crime against humanity). The Queens were split into teams and chose roles. For her interview segment, Manila Luzon decided to break out the “Ching Chong” speak. It caught everyone off guard and made a lot of the queens uncomfortable, including Ru who I imagine isn’t offended by a whole lot. Manila is Asian so she got the “Well, it’s okay if she does it but it’s not okay if a non-Asian does it” pass. The judges thought is was so wrong it was right and Manila went on to win the night. If you’ve got the time and it isn’t region restricted, here’s the episode:
The Case Against Ching Chong
I admit, I laughed at the segment. It was horribly uncomfortable, but I laughed. Manila just went all out and over-the-top which is kind of what you expect from drag anyway. But I was disappointed in her. It’s not a choice that I would have made and I hope it’s a choice that Asian entertainers avoid.
It’s not that I don’t think that we can’t laugh at ourselves. Asians make fun of Asians all the time and it’s usually from our perspective as Asians. What bothers me so much when Asians do the Rush Lamebaugh “Ching Chong” bit is that it comes from an outside perspective. It’s an insult to Asians created by non-Asians. As Asians, we shouldn’t be using other people’s insults to define ourselves. We should be using our own insults!
The Margaret Cho Question
Margaret Cho does a version of the “Ching Chong” in her act. Whenever she does a bit about her mother, she squints her eyes and talks in a high pitched, broken English. But to me, this is not the insulting “Ching Chong” that Manila used. Margaret’s impression of her mother is an authentic representation of the way her mother speaks. No one else came up to Margaret and said, “Hey, your mom is all like Ching Ching Chong Chingy Chong.” Her impression comes from her perspective. It’s endearing and charming and absolutely hysterical.
Manila’s “Ching Chong” interview did not come from an authentic place. She’s Filipino. Her “Ching Chong” was clearly aping Chinese or Japanese. If she was doing a Filipino version, it would have sounded much different. It would have been hysterical to hear her version of a relative who speaks English with a heavy Filipino accent. Or hell, just break into some proper Tagalog and confuse the hell out of your guest. That would be some funny shit.
Instead, Manila fell into the “Ching Chong” trap. It’s funny and horrifying but mostly funny to all the non-Asian judges who rewarded her for being so “bold.” But it wasn’t bold. It was rather safe. It was using an old stereotype foisted upon Asians by the same type of people who still refer to us as “Orientals.” For it to have been bold, Manila would have had to have brought something real to her impersonation.
I Ain’t Mad Atcha, Manila
I thought it was a poor choice, but I won’t crucify Manila for it. In some ways, drag is a parody to begin with. Why bother conforming to political correctness on a show that celebrates doing your own damn thing? I just wish she had done something truly unique.
My wish for all Asian entertainers in the new damn millennium is to really come up with something unique and not lean on stereotypes perpetrated by non-Asians. Chris Rocks “Niggas vs. Black People” is a legendary bit that perfectly articulates the inner struggles of the Black community. We need an Asian bit that rises to that level. Come on, Asians, we can do better than the “Ching Chong.”