Saturday, August 18, 2007

Yellow Peril

The line between hyperbole and slander may be hazy, but it is there and it is regularly crossed. The USA, being in dire need of external enemies that can be used to distract us from the self destruction we're engaged in, is far from scrupulous when it comes to accurately portraying that vast and growing country upon which we have become heavily dependent: China, or as Lou Dobbs loves to call that authoritarian capitalist nation in order to invoke those dear dead cold war days, Communist China.

Today's New York Times gives us three inflammatory cartoons. One shows a giant and horrifying dragon in the form of a jack-in-the-box toy looming over two terrified children and with a caption reading "Chinese business ethics." Another shows a man trying to commit suicide by playing with a "made in China" toy and a third is a scene of smiling Chinese workers, some in Mao hats, making poison filled toys. It's titled Santa's Little Helpers.

Dangerous toys used to be a pet theme amongst left-leaning Americans in the last century. Television specials, holiday horror stories and endless Saturday Night Live skits portrayed unscrupulous and greedy capitalists as child murderers, but in our new Corporatocracy, it's been turned around with the help of hyperbole and hysteria and some good old fashioned xenophobic lying. It doesn't matter that the levels of lead we're talking about would only be dangerous if your child were to eat Thomas the Tank Engine for breakfast every morning for years and it doesn't matter that domestic food is as likely or more likely to be contaminated as is Chinese fish, it's so much more fun to externalize the dark side of unregulated capitalism then to face it.

In fact, the problems with Chinese goods have been due to that country's explosion into crony capitalism and our country's relapse into crony capitalism where regulatory agencies are seen as the enemy not the protector of the consumer and staffed with republican hacks. That doesn't stop cartoonists from depicting thirteen hundred million people as evil, Fu Manchu inspired enemies without "business ethics" while neglecting to note that the Asiatic entrepreneurs who cut corners or who were duped into buying tainted commodities by other unscrupulous entrepreneurs have either been shot in the back of the head by the Chinese justice system or killed themselves before facing the firing squad, whilst those charged with protecting the American public rarely face any consequences at all.

Interviews of the thousands of Chinese workers now out of a job and furious at their greedy employers and their incompetent regulatory agencies aren't as satisfying to our bigotry as racist cartoons or moldy old references to Communism and the Yellow Peril. When your Sony goes dark and is unrepairable the day after the warranty ends, you usually blame Sony, not the Japanese people. You don't make grotesque cartoons of sneaky Japanese workers plotting to ruin your day. We've learned that such things aren't socially acceptable, but that still doesn't apply to China. Some company makes a fast buck from substituting Glycol for glycerin and it's just fine to draw pigtailed bucktoothed caricatures of The Chinese.

Nobody in the US blamed American workers or capitalism itself when Ford Explorers shredded their right rear tires and went out of control into roadside ditches or when Ford Pintos blew up when hit from behind or when Tylenol started appearing with cyanide in it or when massive quantities of foodstuffs tainted with mercury, salmonella and e-coli endangered the public health, or when some diet drug or arthritis drug or diabetes drug gave you a heart attack. We wouldn't laugh at cartoons showing Americans smiling while putting Vioxx into bottles with skull and crossbones on them. Just keep laughing and remember when hiding your head in the sand, to keep your eyes closed.


d.K. said...

There's definitely something to what you're saying here. After we learned of Neil Bush's role in the Savings and Loan scandal that bilked thousands out of their life savings (I never saw a comic of Neil stealing elderly people's nest eggs), we went on to elect his father and then his brother to the presidency. No association attached at all. Xenophobia is alive and well in the mainstream, and we'd better get used to it.

Also, I see you used "Asiatic" as an adjective. Good for you. I stopped using it after I read your post some months back discussing how the "language police" had now outlawed this term, for fear of offending someone...

Intellectual Insurgent said...

Also, what the racists in the media fail to mention is that it was American companies that sold these allegedly poisonous toys. Perhaps if those companies actually cared about Americans and kept their factories here in America, this wouldn't happen. But in their quest to increase the CEO's bonus, they offshored operations, with the knowledge that corners would be cut on everything from materials to labor costs and now they have the nerve to blame the Chinese as if this is something inherent to them and their culture.

Such nerve.

Capt. Fogg said...

I use Asiatic specifically to annoy people who insist that it is offensive when applied to people yet inoffensive when applied to things. I find it offensive to be forced to avoid invisible cracks on a sidewalk that doesn't exist.

Asian, oriental and Asiatic are used differently in different countries. The English seem to mean Indian when they say Asian, for instance and nobody in the US seems to use Asian to refer to people from Asia unless they look something like the Han Chinese. As I've said before, the standard language Nazi position is that Asiatic or oriental "tends to evoke the prejudicial and offensive stereotypes of an earlier era." I think I'm perfectly capable of making my intentions clear without consulting the code book. When I'm insulting someone it will be obvious.

Wikipedia tries to convince us that Asian refers to an ethnic group meaning that Eskimos and the Japanese and the Tibetans belong to the same ethnic group and that the physical similarities come from culture! I've just had about enough of this insane racism obsession. It makes us all sound like idiots when we're afraid even to call Jews Jews or Arabs Arabs. You have to pretend they're all "communities" when they are not.

I'm waiting for someone to insist that I'm a racist who hates the Chinese so I can tell them to kiss my white Pi-gu.

Intellectual Insurgent said...

I always thought Oriental meant the same as Eastern. So it is appropriate to use the term when describing people of the East, although, to describe people as Eastern or Western is an equally false construct and equally racist considering that we live on a planet that is not flat (unless you ask Thomas Friedman).

Here's a cool piece that addresses the hypocrisy of the China propaganda these days -

Capt. Fogg said...

Roberts makes good points, but I think the process of turning the US into a third world nation is at least in part intentional. It's good to be rich in a poor country.

Orient comes from latin and Asia from Greek and the direction east is from their viewpoint. In my viewpoint, I'm not going to spend my days proving to some self righteous professor that I'm not a racist. Racism is as racism does.

Doesn't the Bible imply that the world is flat?

NeoAuteur said...

Well, Japan also faced criticisms when they first brought their products to the US.

Capt. Fogg said...

Of course. People used to cringe when they found that "made in Japan" label. Now they are willing to pay more for it. Part of the reason we're not seeing massive inflation is that we're buying from China, but whether that's good for us in the long run is doubtful, in my opinion. Is it a good thing when we buy cheaper but are forced to because we have less money?