I’m addicted to the Food Channel. Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives makes me want to quit life and eat full-time.
That is, until yesterday evening when I switched on “Good Eats”, expecting to find tasty recipe ideas and instead finding myself dropped on all fours yelling “whyyyyyyy?” to an uninterested ceiling.
Alton Brown was making miso soup. Fair enough, it’s delicious. What wasn’t so delicious was the representation of the ‘Japanese’ (really just an old white guy in a ‘Japanese’ disguise) chef helping him pick the right ingredients.
Starting at around 11 minutes in, you’ll see what I mean.
First of all, the script set for this guy isn’t even real Japanese. It’s just condescending gibberish, mixed in with words like ‘miso.’ Now, I’m certainly not fluent in Japanese, but I know some words and I have a general sense of what the language really sounds like. I also know that far more people should be offended by this than the wonderful world wide web seems to indicate. And think about the implications of this particular linguistic decision. Other languages don’t really matter, they all just sound like nonsensical babble anyway!
Alton then informs the chef that the miso he sells is chock full of preservatives, additives, chemicals, etc. The chef then proceeds to fake-stab himself with a sword.
Since (and even before) World War II the American perception of Japanese culture has been one of the most highly controversial, and therefore largely ignored, examples of Western racism. The kamikaze pilots who flew in the war were indeed on suicide missions, and many other military personnel did commit suicide in the face of defeat, etc. But following a classic precedent of American ignorance, here we have a perception of Japanese civilians that largely suggests that all of them will not just consider but partake in suicide when any form of failure is seemingly upon them. This, as any well-informed man, woman, or creature can ascertain, is complete and utter baloney. It’s interesting, though, to note how historically reinforced stereotypes used in wartime conflict continue to haunt American society in unexpected venues. The Food Channel? Really?
Alton says, ‘put it on my tab!’ and the chef at first smiles and nods, then starts screaming and yelling and chasing after Alton with his sword. This conception of the Japanese is also one derived from wartime propaganda. That Japanese men, women, and even children are violent, untamed, and bloodthirsty (with ancient battle equipment, no doubt) is something the American media sought to embed in the minds of its administrators and civilians in order to ease the passing of both atomic bombs.
If for some reason you don’t believe me, check out John Dower’s War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War.
Clearly this segment was supposed to be funny. And for a lot of people, it probably was. But not for me: if it looks like racism, swims like racism, quacks like racism, then it must be racism.