Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reinforcing Stereotypes: Nail Salon Skit by Anjelah Johnson

I get disappointed when I see comedians take this approach with their stand-up acts because instead of focusing on a particular situation, her kickstand to the entire skit is imitating a Vietnamese accent.

I can appreciate jokes about certain aspects of Asian culture, for example, within Filipino culture we love karaoke and line dancing.  We bring an enormous amount of food to every event and we have certain personality quirks.  

Anjelah Johnson, who is Mexican-Native American, could have done the nail salon jokes, with the same impact of hilarity without incorporating her take on the interpretation of attempting a second language.  I've seen her other skits and she'll poke fun at Mexican-American or Latino culture, but it was definitely a different style than when she talked about her trips to her local nail salon.  It would have been nice to see the same amount of courtesy given to another ethnic group without amplifying another stereotype.  Her "normal" dialect was used without bringing in some cheap, stereotypical version.

Being Filipino, both my mom and I learned English as a second language.  Growing up in the states, I adapted to English very quickly over Tagalog.  My mom occasionally gets an accent, but her English is otherwise flawless.  She has my brother and I look over letters, e-mails, text messages and Facebook posts to insure that her English is without spelling or grammatical mistakes.  
I even do the same for my own work.
 I've also experienced people "not understanding" what she's saying,
and let me tell you that I was highly critical of our speech impediments growing up.  People become rude, tactless and just vile when they can't "understand" someone.
One of my most recent experiences was a college Christian conference where the guest speaker chose to imitate the language of the Filipino natives that he was "helping" on his mission trip.
I have several opinions on mission trips to help "others" but that's for another blog post.
I had never felt more humiliated or degraded in my life and here was a guy up on stage thinking that he was hilarious because of his imitation of something that he deemed as "other."

Here are some of the YouTube comments that caught my attention:

 Her comedy act doesn't actually become humorous until much later in the skit.  The offensive aspect isn't the jokes, it's that she relies on grammatical mishaps from learning English as a second language.  An entire skit shouldn't play on someone learning English, especially since more often than not, I hear, "Well everyone should just learn English."

 Twisting business sense, such as providing customer service and incorporating products into the actual service, is not a unique technique solely found at Asian nail salons- that's just general business.  I personally don't understand how you can just say, "yes" to something if you actually did not understand what they were saying.  
If you didn't understand something in life, would you just pay for it anyways? 
No, that would be called stupidity.
I also appreciate the comment about coming up with a different language and then offering "Mexican" as the option.  No dear, that would be called Spanish and that's been around for quite awhile.  Ya know conquistadors and all that.

 Love this comment because this type of retort is often what I hear when I bring up any type of blatant ignorance.  A stereotype is a negative connotation, so saying that there will always be an exception is kind of limiting the scope here.  Anjelah, as a woman of color, could come up with vast amounts of material that has nothing to do with other women of color.  Instead she focuses on them because focusing on anything else = "people would find them difficult to relate to."  
In terms of "people," I'm going to assume that's a reference to anyone who is not Vietnamese or Asian or even a person of color.  
When did anyone with those ethnicities become something other than "people"? 
To be blatantly honest, I shouldn't have to explain or make my experience "easier to relate" to other people and I certainly am not about to belittle it by reinforcing stereotypes.

I can appreciate jokes about being Filipino- but this comedy act was just bad 
and had only a few jokes of actual comedic value.  What's a shame is that people are confusing humor with that which is considered "different."

P.S. I found this on one of my favorite blogs with comments from the blogger 
phonetically expressing her nail artist's accent

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