Learn the Details about the Magazine's attempt to use offensive stereotypes as comedic satire.
By Karen Sakai
The Asian-American community was shocked when the April issue of Details Magazine featured a spread titled “Gay or Asian?” The piece compares the physical features and fashion of an Asian male to outrageous gay and Asian stereotypes that Details claimed to be nothing more than satire. Angry, and extremely confused, I turned to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary for clarification.
1: a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn
Oh, it was supposed to be funny? Despite the clever sexual innuendo of phrases such as “Whether you're into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial taste,” and “perfect for waxing on and waxing off, plucking a koto, or gripping the Kendo stick,” the humor has yet to be found. While it uses offensive stereotypes, the spread also uses media constructed images of Asian culture, from martial arts movies that commodifies Asians as a kung-fu, fish eating, and perhaps ambiguously gay culture. I'm sure Asian Americans also appreciated the implied message that compares their genitals to the size of shrimps.
While the feature asks if the model is “Gay or Asian,” I find that I have questions of my own. Is Details Magazine telling us to judge someone, based on their physical appearance, and use offensive stereotypes to explain their identity? Is it saying that it's too difficult to discern between a homosexual male and an Asian male, or it is saying that you can only be Gay or Asian? Oh, it's a satire? Well, cheers to Details for not making the Asian resemble World War Two propaganda or dressing him in a flamboyant, neon, sequined suit. Unfortunately, it's still blatantly racist.
Surprisingly, the spread was written by Whitney McNally, an experienced female journalist/editor who also writes for Marie Claire and USA TODAY in addition to Details Magazine. As part of a reccurring series called “Anthropology” which included similar spreads such as “Gay or Jesus” and “Gay or British,” some suggest that the “Gay or Asian” spread was just another piece poking fun at the inability to categorize people into certain groups. It's unfortunate to think that someone with that kind of experience and education would even think twice about writing something so offensive.
The Asian-American community's response was absolutely incredible in demonstrating the power of our unity. Immediately, Asian-Americans took action, and the word spread from Asian-American rights websites to emails, to an online petition with 25,284 signatures as of April 5th. The demands of the petition go beyond asking for a public apology, but also the firing of Whitney McNally's from Details, and the refusal to buy any of the advertised products of Details Magazine. The successful spread of the news is still increasing, where every day, a new article appears on the search engine, and bloggers (online journal users) are not shying away from speaking their mind and expressing frustration. Picking up on the heat of the controversy, even Saturday Night Live incorporated it into the “Weekend Update” sketch.
In their upcoming May issue, Details Magazine responds to the public with an official statement that reads, "The 'Gay or Asian?' item in our April issue was part of a continuing feature that is intended as a humorous swipe at social stereotypes. Details has a wide readership - male, female, straight, gay - from all cultures, and we value all of them. We appreciate the substantial feedback on this item that we have received, and we will certainly keep those concerns in mind as we move forward. We regret that anyone was offended by the article, as that was not our intention."
No, perhaps Details did not mean to offend Asian-Americans, but when a magazine claims that “it introduces the styles, sets the trends and breaks the stories that keep you ahead of the crowd,” it becomes frightening to think the people influencing society are ignorant racists. This isn't about their intentions, but their inability to tell right from wrong.
Don't let them point a finger back at us, saying that we've misunderstood and that we're overreacting over “satirical comedy.” Can someone explain the humor in it? Mixing samurai and General Tso, Details conflates Asian cultures to breed a stereotyped idea that it's possible to “enter the dragon” at the same place you can eat your “plump eel and smooth sashimi.”
Oh, wait, Details Magazine didn't mean to use the word, “satire,” here's a better substitute:
1: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race
To sign the Asians Against Ignorance Petition in opposition to the racism of Details Magazine visit: www.petitiononline.com/details4/petition.html
And, you can share your own opinions with the folks of Details at:
c/o Daniel Peres, Editor-in-Chief
7 West 34th Street
New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 630-4000
Managing Editor: Diana Bendasset
Phone: (212) 630-3820
Whitney McNally (author)
Phone: (212) 630-3820
Fax: (212) 630-3815
A protest will be held on Friday, April 16 from noon to 1pm, in front of Fairchild Building in which Details Magazine is located at 7 West 34th Street in Manhattan, New York. For further details, visit www.asianmediawatch.com
Enrich your vocabulary with fancy words at www.m-w.com.
Special thanks to www.asianamericanfilm.com for spreading the word!