Saturday, June 21, 2014

Beam me up Scotty: It got better for Mr. Sulu

IT GOT BETTER for actor George Takei.

People may laugh to learn that I'm a die-hard fan of the TV show Star Trek, a pop culture icon that doesn't shy away from its science fiction roots. The genre is often looked down upon by the intelligentsia or literary snobs.  

While I can't claim to be a Trekker (Don't call me a Trekkie) I can't tell you how influential Star Trek has been in my life. There may be a book out there already written entitled "All I really need to know about life I learned from Star Trek." If there isn't, there should be. Hmmm?

When George Takei "came out" it was not surprising that the news didn't create such a fuss among  the many fans of Mr. Hikaru Sulu, chief helmsman of the original Enterprise crew. Besides the gadgetry, Star Trek was about diversity, tolerance, passion, compassion, logic and friendship. Also not surprising, most of the cast rallied around him with the notable exception of one starship captain.

With an interracial cast, the sci-fi series has always dealt with race either metaphorically or allegorically. It featured TV's first interracial kiss (Kirk and Uhuru) and a number of episodes dealt with inter-species prejudices and discrimination, just like we deal with race on Earth.

But, I digress.

Despite the daring themes Star Trek tackles, Sulu's role - and I dare say, Uhuru's role too, is just a cut above the red shirts, those unknown cast members who end up dying whenever the crew tackles dangerous missions. Their backstories don't get filled in years after the series ended in the books/novels/comics or follow up movies featuring the characters whose fans won't let them fade away. Only do the characters of Spock and Worf get rounded out.

In the five years since coming out, Takei's career has skyrocketed. To say he has been "busy" is an understatement.

Takei's role as mentor for Asian entertainers and elder statesman continues to grow. He is also cemented as a civil rights activist, not only for gays but for all people living on the Edge. His most recent project is a musical called "Allegiance" about the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. The Broadway-bound production also includes Tony-award winner Lea Salonga in its cast.

In the meantime, catch the premier of the documentary "To be Takei" on DirectTV starting  July 3 through August.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

That darn football team that shall remain nameless

HERE'S THE GREAT commercial that aired during the NBA championship game on Tuesday (June 10).

If the National Basketball League can force Donald Sterling to sell the Cliippers after his racist rant was made public, the National Football League (NFL) can do no less.

The owners of the Washington DC NFL franchise fall back on "tradition" for ignoring the public pleas to change the name to something besides the racial slur that has been compared to the N-word.
Imagine a team named the Gooks, or the Slopes, Kikes, Wetbacks, or any number of racial insults. There would be unquestioned outrage, right?

The hollow argument of "tradition" falls apart when you consider that it was tradition that allowed southern schools to use the Confederate flag as its logo; tradition that kept blacks from playing on baseball teams with whites; tradition that kept country clubs lily-white; tradition kept women in the kitchen and blacks in the back of the bus, tradition allowed segregated schools and poll taxes to prevent African Americans from voting.

While many of those "traditions" have fallen by the wayside one-by-one, the current owners of the Washington team remain steadfast in their knuckle-headed refusal to join the 21st Century.

In the hullabaloo that followed Sterling's diatribe, it is almost forgotten the actions of the team's corporate sponsors. They didn't want to be associated with a racist and they began withdrawing their financial support. That may have been what really forced the NBA to act as it did.

Moral outrage is fine and can be a powerful force, but it is the threat of losing almighty dollars that may have forced the NBA to do the right thing. Maybe that same thing can happen if enough people tell the sponsors of the Washington franchise -- Nike, the brewers and the automakers -- that they disapprove of their association with a team named after a racial slur.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Isla Vista: Making of a wannabe white guy

Elliot Rodger
IF ELLIOT RODGER hated anybody, it was himself.

I've avoided commenting on the shootings at Isla Vista where Elliott Rodgers went on a rampage because a lot of people with more expertise on the topic wrote tons of material trying answer the question of "Why?"

Why would someone who -- on the outside-looking-in -- had "everything?" Why kill six people, wound a dozen others then kill himself? He came from an upper-income family, drove an expensive BMW, was going to a good university which would normally give him a good foundation for success. If he wanted to, he already had his foot in the door if he wanted to enter the entertainment industry because his father was in the motion picture industry, which allowed the young Rogers to occasionally rub shoulders with the rich and famous.

Immediately after the carnage, pundits wrote about white male entitlement, mysogyny (hatred of women), mental illness, when, truthfully, all of them were part of the reason that led a young man to go on a shooting spree, stab his roommates and run down several others with his car.

To this list, I'd like to add one more: Rodgers was a white-guy wannabe.

Very few writers mentioned that Rodgers was biracial, with an Asian mother and a white father. In his hate-filled screeds found in his computer and a delusional manifesto, he often referred to himself as "Eurasian" and considered himself a cut above those who considered themselves as 100% people of color.

At the same time, he saw himself "less" than his full-blooded white counterparts.

I certainly don't want to give excuses for his inexplicable and despicable behavior, but in a way, it can be argued that he was a victim of our own Euro-centric society where our ideas of beauty, power and reward derive from the standards set by our culture and perpetuated and reinforced by our media.

Only in brief spurts did anybody question the idea of what and who is beautiful -- i.e. most notably the groundbreaking Black is Beautiful movement spurred by the militant 1960s, and more recently by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o, who used her moment of fame during the Academy Awards to speak about her own doubts of acceptance because she didn't meet the traditional (nee caucasion-based) standards of beauty.

Rodgers especially wanted the attention of blonde women, who -- in his twisted mind -- were the ultimate gauge of his masculinity.

At this point, we need to remind ourselves of the desexualized, unassertive, wimp Asian male stereotype in American pop-culture. Although Rodgers didn't say it outright, he thought his Asian roommates were "ugly" and he had no problem stabbing them to death while they slept, thus acting out his unspoken hatred of himself, or at least that half of himself that he never could accept.

He thought that since he was half-white, he should be deserving of all the trophies of being a white male, which included sex with white women and easy access to money (he spent a fortune on lotto tickets thinking a big bankroll would give him access to acceptance by the white power structure).

Instead, his inability to reach his goals in status, sex and fortune led to his frustration and ultimately to his instability: He was a virgin, he was middle-class but not uber-wealthy and he was half-white. He seemed to ignore his Asian half but he thought he was white enough, which he believed should have given him access to the white-guys' club with all the benefits bestowed on that membership.

Like many angry white males in our society (and he considered himself more white than Asian) Rodgers thought he was entitled to certain  rewards simply by his privileged standing in our society. In his twisted logic, anyone who is not white, but were obtaining those prizes that were rightly supposed to be "given" to him, only compounded his anger and drove him over the edge.

The rewards of being white have been drilled into us from the moment we are born, the books and magazines we read, the movies and TV commercials we watch, the history we are taught and the heroes we worship. It is not a simple thing to change that world-view, consciously or subconsciously, imposed on all of us -- no matter what color we are.

Only by reexamining our values, definitions of beauty and by making a conscious effort to change what we are told to believe will we, as people of color, be able to gain a sense and respect of one's self. Fortunately, that's not a new lesson. It is a well-traveled road many have had to explore in order to maintain a sense of sanity and self-worth.

The amount of melanin in our skin doesn't determine the degree of perfection,  neither do almond-shaped eyes need to be surgically rounded, black hair doesn't need "highlighting;" rounded noses don't need to be pointed and ... stop being so conscious of height.

Rodgers is literally and figuratively, a person who was not comfortable in his own skin. But he is also an example of someone who allowed himself to lose himself in our culture's unrealistic standards of perfection, especially those highly imperfect benchmarks based on race or ethnicity.
For more insight, link to:
-In his own words, "My Twisted World"
-Elliot Rodger's Vlog: