From The Hip

Are Chinese Americans overreacting by comparing Jimmy Kimmel to Hitler?

Kimmel's "anti-Chinese" skit may have been in poor taste, but are protests the answer?

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 November, 2013, 6:06pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 November, 2013, 12:03pm

More than three weeks after the fact, America’s Chinese community is still up in arms over Jimmy Kimmel’s perceived anti-Chinese skit.

Thousands of protesters in 27 different US cities took to the streets last week demanding more apologies by both Kimmel and television network ABC. 

Many are claiming that the Jimmy Kimmel Live skit, which contained a comment by a six-year-old who said that America should “kill everyone in China” as a means of settling the US debt crisis, was reminiscent of rhetoric used against Jewish people in World War II. A White House petition asking the US government to investigate Kimmel’s late night television show has received over 100,000 signatures, and in protests across the US, demonstrators have been holding up placards comparing Kimmel to Adolf Hitler.

The South China Morning Post was one of the first media outlets to break the story on the Kimmel skit, and I personally wrote three articles on the subject, focusing on the original controversy, the reaction from the Chinese community, and the apologies issued by Kimmel and ABC. As an American of half-Chinese heritage, I originally felt that the debate surrounding Kimmel’s show was one worth investigating.

But as angry groups of Chinese Americans continue to wage war over a matter that’s now more than a month old, I can only wonder if this commotion is truly worth it.

Watch: The original “Kid’s Table” skit

The original skit, which aired on 16 October, featured a critique of the US government shutdown. In it, Kimmel presided over a discussion panel called “Kid’s Table,” and started a debate with several six-year-olds over the US debt crisis and how the nation should deal with China. One of the children suggested that the US should “kill everyone in China,” and Kimmel laughed the matter off, calling it an “interesting idea.” He then jokingly put it to a vote with the other children.

Much of the outrage against the skit revolves around this pivotal moment – where Kimmel calls the idea of killing Chinese people “interesting.” In the eyes of many protesters, while the six-year-old’s comment can be dismissed as childish ignorance, Kimmel’s reaction cannot, and it is his failure to admonish the child that deserves criticism.

These angry voices are forgetting that the “Kid’s Table” skit was satire, which is defined in the Oxford dictionary as “the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”

It is also important to point out that the original skit was not even about China in the first place – it was about an American debt now exceeding 17 trillion US dollars and a federal government that had to instigate a complete shutdown for over two weeks.

“Kid’s Table,” which had children debate grown-up issues – in a sense saying that the United States Congress is no better than a pack of six-year-olds - was likely not meant as an attack on Chinese people, but rather as a jab at the flaws of the US government, which admittedly does have a tendency to blame many problems on China.

The whole thing was done in the tradition of Kids Say The Darndest Things, an American comedy show that was successful in the 50’s and 60’s for putting a bunch of children on camera and having them spout outlandish, exaggerated thoughts.

While much hubbub has been made of Kimmel’s “that’s an interesting idea” line, a closer look shows that his response is followed by a scoff, showing that he does not take the concept seriously and is only playing along in the way that any improvisational comedian would do when dealing with children. Anyone who is seriously suggesting that Kimmel finds the idea of killing billions of Chinese "interesting,” especially after he has apologised profusely and promised to remove the “Kid’s Table” segment from all future episodes of Jimmy Kimmel Live, needs to keep that definition of satire in mind.

Video: Kimmel apologises again outside Hollywood studio

In the end, what is the point of all of these ongoing protests? It seems that the protesters themselves can't even agree. One of them, a chairman of the Roundtable of Chinese American Organisations named Charles Lu, said that he wanted a more formal apology from ABC to all Chinese people across the world. Another, an unnamed online netizen, wrote that the protests were “playing an important role in improving…[the] prestige and national cohesiveness…of Chinese Americans in the US.” Others on a particularly vocal Facebook group have simply said that they want Kimmel to be fired.

One thing is clear. Many of these voices, caught up in mob mentality, have failed to realise that it is unlikely that the ABC network will fire Jimmy Kimmel. As a popular talk show host, he is a television moneymaker despite whatever controversy he courts. (And one could summise that all of this controversy has helped him and brought more viewers to his show than ever before.)

Furthermore, what more is there to achieve now that multiple apologies have been issued? Perhaps the White House will make an official statement on the matter, now that the petition submitted to them has received so many signatures. But realistically, the US government has far bigger things to worry about, including that pesky 17 trillion dollar debt.

Subtle racism against Chinese Americans – and Asians in general – is a real thing in the United States. Asian actors are marginalised in Hollywood, Asian women are sexualised for their perceived exoticism, and it’s true – Kimmel and his scriptwriters probably would not have allowed the “Kid’s Table” skit to air if the children on screen had made a derogatory comment against African Americans or other ethnicity groups.

But there are more productive ways to deal with this tide of prejudice. There are plenty of Chinese American support groups in the US that can organise dialogues or events in the wake of this controversy to increase awareness in the general American community. There are journals that can publish editorials to critique the situation and offer fair analysis on the plight of Chinese immigrants in the United States. All of these efforts will make more of an impact than comparing Jimmy Kimmel to Hitler as a means of improving the “prestige and national cohesiveness” of Chinese Americans in the US.

“I come to you with nothing but love in my heart,” Kimmel said in an apology last week. “I’m a comedian; I was trying to make people laugh. I’m sorry that I did this.”

Enough is enough.