Thursday, October 04, 2012

Chinese Whispers: Big Bird in Exile?

All day after last night's presidential election debate, stories and jokes about Sesame Street have been bouncing around the cybersphere. It's sort of like the old game of "Chinese Whispers," also known as "Telephone" or, as its surrealistic cousin is called, "Exquisite Corpse." Even people on the street are talking about it. "Poor Oscar the Grouch," one guy quipped. "He's already living in a trash can; if Romney won he'd be totally homeless." Ha! What next, Big Bird in Exile?

Here's what started millions of cyberbubbles zipping around the world -- Mitt Romney's statement (on October 3, 2012), in Denver:  "I'm sorry, Jim. I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too. But I'm not going to — I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That's number one."

This was Romney's only specific budget cut proposal during the debate. 

Beyond Sesame Street, there's China and Chinese people. One of the last things I ever took notice of about Big Bird prior to last night was a special called Big Bird in China (1983), something that seems all the more apt today. Nowadays, the economies of the USA and People's Republic of China are intextricably linked. But even so, China and Chinese have down the centuries been convenient scapegoats for various and sundry. It's almost hard to believe, but even in the 20th century a lot of Americans still referred to any Chinese person as a "Chinaman" -- and that was the more "polite" epithet. This fact is wickedly lampooned in the Coen Brothers' The Big Lebowski (1998). Walter Sobchak (John Goodman): "The Chinaman is not the issue here, Dude. I'm talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude. Across this line, you do not . . . Also, Dude, Chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature. Asian-American, please." And there's the matter of "some Chinaman" in the Korean War.

A quick perusal of stories that include the word "Chinaman" in the headlines of that hoary American newspaper of record -- the New York Times -- reveals a lot about what constituted "acceptable language" and widespread attitudes in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

November 22, 1884: "A CHINAMAN A CHINAMAN ALWAYS." This discusses the legal status of one Ah Kee, born in Hong Kong. ". . . Judge Brown held that a Chinaman was a Chinaman, no matter where he was born or where he lived. A Chinaman could never lose his nationality . . ."

October 2, 1885: "A CHINAMAN STRIKES BACK." This was an incident reported from Bismarck, "Dakota:" a "slightly intoxicated" man named Thurston "passed a Chinaman who was sitting in front of his laundry. Turning around, Thurston slapped the Chinaman in the face, saying: 'What the ____ are you doing here?' The Chinaman sprang to his feet, knocked Thurston into the street, and would have killed him if he had not been pulled off."


One Lo Ye reportedly died of a heart condition during a Sunday school session. "He had given up his habit of worshipping brazen images and material representations in hideous forms of beneficent heathen gods, and intended to become as good a Christian as soon as possible . . ."  Afterwards, "scores of Mongolians came to the chapel to gaze upon the feautures of the dead. With impressively sad countenances, they came, gazed in silence for a moment, and then with even more sorrowful faces went away."

October 18, 1888: "A CHINAMAN IS A CHINAMAN." (Sequel to 1884 story above).

July 8, 1904: 'CHINAMAN ROUTS ITALIAN. With Hot Iron and Water He Resents Attack on His Queue."

One John Trepori, "an Italian," reportedly was harassing one Lang Ung "at 36 North Fourth Avenue." A stiletto was involved,  and then a pistol. As things went from bad to worse, Trepori "drew a revolver . . . and fired point blank at the chattering Chinaman," who was not seriously injured. Both men, however, were arrested.

July 28, 1907: "AGAPE AT CHINAMAN'S WIFE. White Woman Lectured Harlem Mob Which Threw Things -- Police Called."  This story revolves around one "Wo Lee, Chinaman, at 1329 Amsterdam Avenue . . . near 125th Street." A woman identifying herself as Mrs. Wo Lee reportedly asked a gathering crowd, "Didn't you ever see a white woman married to a Chinaman before? I am sure you must have. Why, I have even known white women to marry
negroes . . . Please go away now."

And so on. Today's syndicated news outlets are slightly more subtle in revealing many such biases and prejudices, yet they're still quite outrageous when you investigate closely. Can you imagine looking at 2012 from the perspective of a hundred years from now? 

As for Big Bird and Sesame Street, in November I'm voting for Barack Obama again -- just as I did in 2008. Even a hundred years from now, I suspect, my voting record will stand proudly. 

Today's Rune: Joy.


Adorably Dead said...

The slight change in tone from the first to last headline is very interesting.

I like reading news from older days.

the walking man said...

I am so fucking sick of Romney and the rest of them saying shit like :"Borrow from China..." they either do not know or are all deliberately lying their fat asses off.

Foreign - $5.135 trillion
(China holds 1.5 Trillion of this amount)

Federal Reserve - $1.6 trillion

State and Local Government, including their pension funds - $624 billion

Mutual Funds - $854 billion

Private Pension Funds - $595.9 billion

Banks - $307.2 billion

Insurance Companies - $254.1 billion

U.S. Savings Bonds - $184.8 billion

Other (individuals, government-sponsored enterprises, brokers and dealers, bank personal trusts and estates, corporate and non-corporate businesses, and other investors) - $1.23 trillion.

(As of December 2011. Source: Treasury Bulletin, Ownership of Federal Securities, Table OFS-2)

If America were to default on the national debt far and away the ones who would be hurt more than anyone else are the American people who the congress has raided all pension funds with by taking their cash and substituting T bills and Bonds for. This is the shit they do not want to pay back.

In short China may get a swat on the ass if we defaulted but every single American would take a big one up the ass.

One thing Romney and Big Bird have in common is they both are yellow, but one is a dog and a liar.

WAS said...

Those are some great "should have said" debate comeback lines, Erik.

You make an excellent point. Compare Hollywood's promotion from stereotype of African-Americans, Hispanics, gays and (to some degree) women to the still-stereotypical (and rare) portrayal of Asians and Asian-Americans. And why can't more Americans get that we are totally screwing China economically, just like in the olden days (before the Boxer Rebellion), where Britain used opium and guns to get back all the silver that was lost from tea trading. But China is helping how to undermine the dollar as reserve currency now, and preparing for when that inevitably happens. I just wish more Americans were doing the same.