One of the most annoying things about social progress is that it can be incredibly inconvenient. Whereas once it might have been totally fine to hurl abuse at anyone, nowadays you really have think on your feet if you wanted to get by as a bigot.
Even if you wanted to treat yourself to the occasional racial slur, there's the awkward business of backlash. Or worse, you could be forced to hang out with neighbourhood hipsters for the modest pleasure of disguising your prejudice as 'irony'. The bottom line? We've all become too spoiled by politically correct insults.
So when a giant slab of racism lands before your eyes, it can feel strangely confronting sometimes. Last week, LA 'alternative rock group’ Day Above Ground (DAG!) brought us just the thing when they uploaded their new single 'Asian Girlz' on Youtube. Within 48 hours of going live, the video clocked up 235,000 views -- a sharp jump from their usual 800 or so clicks a year.
The band sings to Asian model Levy Tran while trapped in a bird cage.
If you hadn't guessed from the title, the song is NSFW. Basically, it features Asian American model Levy Tran in various states of undress and the band members trapped (for no discernible reason) in a bird cage singing line after line of obscene racial slurs about their obsession with dating Asian girls.
To give you an idea, the song starts with an oriental riff followed by screen credits in a red, ‘Chinese restaurant’ font. You're then greeted by someone with an early Backstreet Boys cut (that would be lead singer Joe Anselm) who passionately crams in the most number of random, crass and sexually explicit Asian stereotypes you're likely to ever hear in any five minute stretch of your life. It starts with things like, "I love your sticky rice…I love your creamy yellow thighs/ Oh your slanted eyes."
I will spare you from the grossest bits, but the lyrics really range from absurd ("Your momma's so pretty/ Best nails in the city") to deeply creepy ("And you age so well/ 17 or 23? Baby doesn't matter to me") -- devolving finally to what what can only be described as a word salad of arbitrary Asian slurs, "Bruce Lee, Toyota, Spicy Tuna, Sashimi, Fried Lice (yep, that made it in) , Tasty Garden, Sailor Moon".
Levy Tran stars in Day Above Ground's video.
And just in case you’re wondering if DAG is equally invested in sexism, at the end of the video, miniature versions of the band members dive into a bubble bath with a naked Tran. One of them turns into a kind of bath sponge which she proceeds to rub on her chest while another actually attempts to swim towards her vagina.
I remember clicking on the link at work (which I don't suggest you do, by the way) and oscillating between being convinced that it was a parody to gasping at the possibility that it could be 'real' and back to utter disbelief again throughout the entire auditory torture.
Unsurprisingly, DAG's little experimental ballad wasn't well received. The Huffington Post called it "The Most Racist Song In Recent Memory". Blogger Angry Asian Man concluded it was “pretty much the worst thing ever made”. Hundreds of angry tweets and online missives were aimed at the band and the female star of the clip, Levy Tran, and a petition was launched to have the song removed from Youtube (which the band has promised to do by midnight 3 August -- but was still up at the time of writing -- which has now grown to 1.3 million views) .
The zinger, however, is DAG’s ‘official statement’ in response to the criticism of the song. On the band’s Youtube page, they noted: “This video is intended to be a satirical, provocative, absurd, & even silly work of art. The lyrics, story, and visuals are so completely over-the-top and ridiculous that we thought it'd be impossible to miss the point.”
As is the case with viral hate bombs, two groups of defenders tend to emerge from the woodwork: those who thinks everyone should “lighten up” because it’s “obviously just a joke”. And others who blame the critics for “giving these nobodies the attention they don’t deserve”, thus making matter worse.
But both kinds of commenters are missing the point here. In the case of ‘Asian Girlz’, it’s not so much the song, but the band’s reaction to the furore that’s worth talking about. Specifically, can blatantly offensive remark actually be written off as “satire”? And who gets to decide when something is racist?
The Satire Defence has always been a favourite disclaimer for intrepid racists. It’s basically the real life equivalent of putting (Jks!) after any offending statement, act or intention. The genius of hiding something behind satire is that you can always use the same comeback of ,”Well, you just don’t get it, guys!”
But merely adding a ‘z’ at the end of the song’s title does not a work of satire make. As much as the band claims that the clip is an attempt to poke fun of themselves, the punchline, in this instance, is not about the white guys, but the “Asian girlz” who have been relentlessly caricatured and objectified.
As Anthony Sharwood explains in an earlier opinion piece for The Punch, “What people ... don’t understand is that satire has nothing to do with painting white skin black, or regurgitating sad old one-liners and racial epithets. Satire doesn’t ridicule those who are different to us. " Instead, it uses humour to expose us to our own prejudices.
Racial parody doesn't have to be tasteless. Perhaps DAG should've looked to comedian Jen Kwok to see how it’s done.
Update: Asian Girlz has now been taken off Day Above Ground's YouTube page.