Offended Patron Walks out of Falcon Theatre Production

Theatre Artist and Theater Patron, Ken Narasaki, was offended by a couple of jokes in the play Dissonance now playing at the Falcon Theatre, that, as Ken puts it, offered some offensive language at the expense of Asians all for the sake of a “cheap laugh”. I found his open letter over at the Blank the Audience site. I believe it was posted as an open letter on Facebook as well.

Here’s the letter:

I walked out of DISSONANCE last night because of the main character’s “comic” use of the phrase “squinty-eyed bastards” and “Japs”. I have been involved with theater as an actor, writer, director, literary manager and a story analyst for the past 35 years, so I do understand that theater should not be constrained by “political correctness” and I do understand that the character was supposed to be a jerk, and I do understand that you should not be censors because there are things in most interesting plays that could potentially offend any number of people.

I just want to ask you this: Would you have presented the play as is if the character had said “black bastards” and “niggers”? How about “Jew bastards” and “kikes” in the context of a cheap laugh line?

I’m fairly certain that you would not, and I’m fairly certain your audience wouldn’t have laughed as they did last night.

Context is everything and I believe no words should be “taken off the table” because sometimes racial epithets can make important points in illustrating attitudes and illuminating characters. In this case, I saw absolutely no need for these words and believe it is only because the writer and the artistic personnel involved in the production simply discounted how disgusting these words would be to any of your Asian American audiences. Indeed, not every Asian would feel the same sort of horror that I did, but I feel it is important to let you know that it was a surreal experience to sit in what appeared to me to be an all-white audience, to hear those epithets, and to hear the audience LAUGHING. I felt like I’d been tossed back in time to the 1960s when I used to hear words like that on the schoolyard by racist bullies and ignorant classmates who found things like that hilarious. I had to leave because, honestly, I was emotionally sickened by the experience and flabbergasted that it was used so lightly and with so little reason or purpose; it was ugly to me, and a little shocking to realize that my fellow audience members apparently found such racist speech “naughty” or “daring” enough to laugh.

I would also suggest to you that ignoring the impact these kinds of words have on the few minority members in your audience probably have an effect you may not notice: A lot of audience members may wince, but stick it out and in the end, wouldn’t be angry enough to write you a letter, but on the other hand, may never return – in other words, you may be driving away audiences not angry enough to let you know because, after all, it’s not THAT big a deal; on the other hand, they know that your theater is not for them, so you’ve lost them without ever knowing why.

I hope you’ll give this some serious thought and discuss this because I seriously doubt that I will ever return to the Falcon.

Sincerely,

Ken Narasaki

Now Ken makes some good points and he’s probably right that the laughs wouldn’t have come so heartily if the jokes had targeted Jews or African-Americans, but whenever I hear about someone being offended I always find myself taking a closer look at the offendee rather than the offender, because as we know (or should) no one in a free country has the right to be NOT offended. It is the essence of Free Speech. Ken touches on this a bit, he seems to understand that theatre is hardly the place to be playing patty-cake with political correctness, but I’m just not sure why the offense has cut him so deeply that he’s considering never returning to the Falcon.

Obviously that’s his right and I defend it and clearly I’m male and whiter-than-white and though I’m blessed with a vivid imagination and a sensitivity to the plight of racial minorities I will never truly know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of any real ethnic bigotry.

But I still gotta ask the question: what’s the big deal?

I remember, years ago, a Japanese-American friend once floored me when, out of the blue, she pulled out the old DWA joke. You know the joke – though I’m sure you’re afraid to admit it – DWA: Driving While Asian. The stereotype is that Asians are horrible drivers, unfortunately, whether anyone wants to admit it, there is some truth to the cliche. I often find myself behind a car that is driving so badly it makes me want to run them off the road, when I finally get up close to them nine out of ten times they are either Asian or very very old. Sorry. That is simply an empirical truth that I have had to embrace in my 30 plus years of driving the roads of America. Most of you know it’s true as well, but I’m guessing you don’t have the balls to admit it. Certainly being a bad driver isn’t exclusive to these two groups, but it’s like the old adage, all Republicans aren’t racist, but if you’re a racist, you’re probably a Republican. Like the DWA joke, I find this Republican joke to be both amazingly shallow, narrow and containing a kernel of truth.

So back to this friend of mine, this was many years ago, I always knew my friend had a sense of humor but had never really seen it in action. Then one day I was driving and we were trying to avoid a careless driver and then pulled up and saw that the driver was Asian. She shook her head mournfully, “DWA”, she muttered. It was the first time I’d heard the phrase. I asked her what it meant. She told me, “Driving While Asian”. I laughed. Then asked her to explain. She looked at me deadpan and said, “Don’t you know? It’s because we have these squinty eyes and can’t see as well as other people.” I almost drove off the road I was laughing so hard. She laughed as well. She admitted that she sucked as a driver and really had no real answer as to why Asians are such bad drivers but that they simply were so she offered the “squinty-eyed’ excuse. Of course it was absurd and yet somehow plausible and I had never thought of it before, but it was simply a joke, based – barely based – in a truism. And so we laughed and enjoyed the absurdity of it all.

It was a refreshing moment, to say the least.

But why?

Because a simple truth about race was acknowledged – couched in humor – and no one was hurt by it. And probably because an Asian person had instigated the joke. There was no hatred, no malice intended, no feelings of inferiority, just a good old stereotypical joke. I’m Scottish and I constantly get nailed by jokes about drinking and  stinginess with money. Neither which is true of course – ahem – and yet I find these jokes very funny and whether I care to admit it or not (I do btw) they carry some truth.

So what’s my point?

That these stereotypes and cliches, though they can be used in hateful ways and obviously still are, have within them a kernel of truth, and by airing those unspoken sentiments, sometimes laughing at them, we free ourselves from their dominance. Name the Beast and the Beast loses its power.

It makes me think of the brilliant Clybourne Park which just played at the Taper, how we just can’t help tripping over ourselves in an effort to not appear “racist” when talking about race. EST-LA is mounting an even more provocative play this month called The Many Mistresses of Martin Luther King. I have read the play. It is going to offend all sorts of people and probably provoke all sorts of controversy. In a good way.

The great comedian Lenny Bruce understood this truism. He used to pick out a black guy in the audience, lock eyes and just start raining down racial epithets on the guy, “Nigger. Jungle Bunny. Sambo.” Until the guy was ready to kill him. Then Bruce would stop and smile and tell him that they were just words and they only hold dominance when we allow them to: our response to the attempt at offense is what matters, not the offense itself. He’d then have the guy do the same to him just out of fair play.

It’s one of the reasons I find the bleeping or editing of “offensive” language on Network TV ridiculous. Everyone knows what was actually said and now that you’ve bleeped it we’re thinking even more deeply about the word we know that you have tried to conceal. By trying to conceal it you draw even more attention to the thing that you are trying to conceal. By the attempt to censor you have made the very thing you are trying to hide even more powerful than it should be.

So yes, Ken, “squinty-eyed bastard” was an easy cheap laugh (I saw the play), but it had some basis in context and in character – as you were able to admit – and yeah I laughed a little bit, wasn’t exactly a belly laugh for me – but unfortunately I think the fact that it has wounded you so deeply says more about you then it does about the play or the Falcon’s decision to produce it.

And in answer to your question, Ken, yes, I would probably have laughed if the joke was geared towards Jews or African Americans, if it was a well told joke.

What was more offensive to me about Dissonance was the fact that everybody on that Falcon stage seemed to be doing a hell of a lot of ACTING which told me that the director LET THEM, add to that the fact that the story pretty much had NO rising tension or central conflict WHATSOEVER and add to that how most of the critics that saw the play didn’t mention ANY of this in their reviews.

Now that’s offensive.

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Colin Mitchell About the Author: COLIN MITCHELL: Actor/Writer/Director/Producer/Father, award-winning playwright and screenwriter, Broadway veteran, Marvel comics scribe, Van Morrison disciple, Zen-Catholic, a proud U.S. Army Brat conceived in Scotland and born in Frankfurt, Germany, currently living in Los Angeles and doing his best to piss off as many people as possible.

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  1. Eric says:

    Yeah, people choose to rile themselves over words. People choose to be offended. What offends one person, isn’t going to offend everyone.

    I remember working on a production of Showboat many years ago and the whole thing about using the word “nigger” came up. Funny thing was, the white people were more offended by it and nervous about it than the black people in the cast.

    So often in this PC day and age, I see people getting on their high-horse about things like this. It’s one thing to choose to be offended by something and quite another to announce your offense to the world and try to get them to come along with you and agree?

    I haven’t seen the play, but from the description, it seems perfectly in line with the character to have said the things he said.

  2. Yeah, that is something that definitely struck me about this, Eric, Ken’s desire to make this a PUBLIC outcry. Just seemed a little extreme.

    But as you say, it is often a very subjective realm, the realm of offense.

  3. re Dissonance — “everybody on that Falcon stage seemed to be doing a hell of a lot of ACTING which told me that the director LET THEM… most of the critics that saw the play didn’t mention ANY of this in their reviews.”

    Not true at all.

    From my LA Weekly review — “…but the director fails to orchestrate a uniform acting level from his troupe; sometimes emotion is mistaken for loud volume.”

  4. You’ll notice I said “most” critics. You were the only saving grace in this particular instance. Kudos for getting it right, Pauline.

  5. Eric, I also haven’t seen the play, and I think if it is tastefully done, or makes sense for the time period that the play takes place in that those words should be welcomed in the theater, especially because of those lines and to cross boundaries. However; knowing Ken personally, I know that for him to write about something like this, It must not have been done with good taste or reason. One of the reasons we posted this is to get response as to where audiences and theater practitioners alike think the line should be drawn if at all, so this dialogue has been intriguing.

    Colin, your comment on his ‘desire to make this a public outcry’ is kind of funny since you reposed the letter to further the ‘public outcry.’ Truth be told, he only posted it on facebook. He hadn’t intended to blog about it, we approached him to ask if we may re-publish his letter, so it wasn’t even necessarily his intention to make this a public outcry other than through his social media site as he was legitimately offended. I’d rather someone write about that on facebook than the fact that they are ‘so tired’ or ‘going to eat pizza’ or some other trivial thing. Why not use your personal social networking site to write a letter to people you know?

    Reading the same description you read, Eric, it looks like it wouldn’t fit in line with the character, and was just done for a cheap laugh and not necessarily needed. I guess that is just point of view though. I’m not sure where you read that it would be in line with the character other than in Colin’s remarks and not in Kens letter, but I would love to hear more about how you arrived at that conclusion. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was on a high horse, the letter seems intelligently thought through and brings up some valid points, it wasn’t just a rant for the sake of ranting or to ‘rile themselves up.’

    I agree it does seem silly at first to blame the Falcon Theater, and I agree it’s a dialogue to have, perhaps, with the playwright, if in fact it was done without contemplating the meaning, or having a purpose in the play, or just being used for a cheap laugh. At the same time the Falcon did decide to produce the piece. So it just depends on how you view it I guess.

    Now I wish I had seen the play, in a way, just as these kind of conversations are hard to come by and I relish them. Although based on Colin’s review at the end of this article I am glad I did not.

  6. As I’ve readily admitted, Ken made some good points. But I’ll have to differ with you on one point, Shaunessy, if someone posts something on Facebook they want it to be “public”. It’s simply a product of our times. Nobody really writes a letter to the editor anymore, they post their differences on their social medias, Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus. That is the new “public” these days.

    But I agree, a dialogue on the subject, in my opinion, is always a good one.

  7. Ken Narasaki says:

    You find my desire to make a protest about racism in the theater public extreme? Their racist joke was public, should I just keep my complaint to myself? You write a snarky blog to make public your opinions about your fellow theater artists…is that extreme? No, just supremely egotistical.

    Any my point was that the “joke” was not funny: “Squint-eyed bastards” was pretty much the entire joke and the fact that you laughed probably says as much about you as the fact that I chose to complain about it on Facebook says about me. And as a way of illuminating his character? By that point, it was screamingly clear that he was a tyrannical English asshole, adding racism to the mix was simply adding more stink to a pile of shit. And the fact that your Asian friend wanted to prove how hip she was by making a Driving While Asian joke says more about the company you keep than it does about the truth of that ugly stereotype.

    I do write letters to the editor, by the way, but Facebook is easier, faster, and you’re guaranteed to get “published”. Sort of like a blog, I guess.

  8. Yes I do find it “extreme”, Ken, as in the reaction seems out of pitch with the “offense”. Almost melodramatic, if you will.

    Nevertheless, as I’ve said, I defend your right to make that extreme reaction and always will. As a matter of fact, by highlighting it here, I’ve given you an opportunity to clarify your position even further. You should be thanking me!

    And as far as this blog being “extreme”? You’re darn tootin’ we’re extreme! We’ve been publishing Bitter Lemons for almost four years now, Ken, and our audience has never stopped growing, so clearly our “public” doesn’t mind a little “extreme” now and then. As a matter of fact this particular post is turning into one of the best read of the month – so thank you for giving us a starting point on the subject. I mean that sincerely.

    Oh, and I’ll be the first to agree that the company I keep is nothing but a band of heathens, hooligans and harlots. Best to not get any where near me, pal. We have far too much fun.

    My friend wasn’t TRYING to be “hip”, she already was.

  9. Hey, you’re right, Flash Theater LA! It’s the same Kenny Boy! But personal? Nah, not on my part I can assure you.

    To be honest, I did not make the connection. I rarely hold grudges – this is just a freakin’ blog after all – and people’s unpleasantness or personal attacks usually just go the way of the wind in my world, it’s too exhausting to hold onto the negative, so I didn’t even put the two together. Too funny!

    Seriously, I was just intrigued by the story.

    Though it’s all starting to make sense now… Thanks for connecting the dots. I’m slow that way.

  10. I don’t have much stake in this article, but I would like to point out that Bitter Lemons runs paid advertisements for Dissonance at the Falcon Theatre on their home page, so I wonder if Colin’s response is biased based on that. I also find it hard to swallow that a writer wouldn’t remember names.

    ~NP
    XOXO

  11. I know it is pretty pathetic, Nicole, but I really am not very good with REMEMBERING names. I can make them up like nobody’s business, but I’m always having to work very hard to permanently attach names and faces. And considering that I’ve never met many of the people that post and comment here, I simply CAN’T attach a face to the name. But I’ll remember Ken from here on out, don’t you worry!

    But your other point makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. If you read the entire article you’ll see that I completely lambasted the play Dissonance at the end. I didn’t think it was very good and was surprised that so many critics liked it. If I was biased in favor of the show why would I have criticized it so harshly?

    We have a very clear separation of “church and state” here when it comes to editorial and sales and our advertisers are aware of this. People advertise here because we have good traffic and the audience is made up of people who go see theatre. But advertising here in no way protects you from the opinions of our contributors, mine included.

    Sorry, Nicole, but that part of your comment holds no water.

  12. Ok, so if it’s not personal, and its not biased… I’m wondering why are you so angry? I guess you’re just racist then. (:

    ~NP
    XOXO

  13. Yup, that’s it, Nicole. The sheer elegance of your logic has found me out. And if you think that was one of my ANGRY articles then you clearly haven’t read anything else I’ve written.

    And enough with the hugging and kissing! We barely know each other! Plus I’m a racist…

  14. Howard says:

    Is this article supposed to be ironic? You’ve never experienced racial bigotry, AND you don’t think racial bigotry is enough of a big deal to be offended. I wonder if there’s any connection between the two???

    Unless of course this is your audition for The Onion, then by all means…

  15. Sure, Howard, if it makes you feel more comfortable, then yes, this article was meant to be ironic.

  16. Jon Lawrence Rivera says:

    For the record, since I am the face of FLASH THEATER L.A. — one of the notes above from FLASH THEATER L.A. is from one of our administrators, NOT me. I have sent them an email refraining the use of FLASH THEATER L.A. in their responses.

    Thanks.

  17. I’m riling up your employees, Jon!

    Thanks for clarifying, sir.

    Hey when’s the next Flash scheduled for? Or is that on the hush-hush?

  18. Colinsignorantanddisentkmowit says:

    Wow you’re racist and don’t even know it. A kernel of truth to why there are bad Asian drivers is because of their squinty eyes?? Are you an idiot? You speak and think in generalities. Just bc one person,i.e. your Asian friends thinks its funny and “true” doesn’t mean all asians do. WOW… Empirical truth? How about you have a preconceived notion of what a bad driver looks like and when you see it’s an Asian it re-enforces your small thinking and the times you see it’s another race you disregard it as it wouldn’t back your ignorant thought of what Asians do and don’t do. I’m going to guess you don’t Harvey many asian friends especially native Asians so your knowledge of them is very limited. If you did you would find out that they are just like anybody else… Douche… And it’s arrogant of you to tell ppl how the should feel especially if you do not know what it’s like.

  19. Sometimes you just have to let certain comments stand on their own merits. So I won’t respond to this one directly.

    But just so we’re clear, whomever this is, we’re not big fans of name-calling or personal attacks here at the Lemon. Heated arguments, energetic exchanges of differing ideas, a little clever insult here and there, no problem – but if you want to continue commenting here and be heard by your fellow theatre folks, you’re gonna have to find a more civil and less-adolescent way of doing it.

    And now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

    Sincerely,
    The Douche

  20. An says:

    It boggles my mind sometimes that such enlightened, post-racial savants cannot comprehend how their oh-so-clever hipster racism may offend potential patrons and their family, friends, those who seem them as more than an easy target for white audiences to mock and laugh at (ironically, of course).

  21. Ken Narasaki says:

    Your “empirical truth” about Asian drivers pretty much defines you as the racist you are. After all, 9 out 10 racist assholes I see are white dudes like you, yet I don’t say that it’s an “empirical truth” that white dudes are racist assholes. I will, however, say that you have provided your own proof that you are indeed a racist asshole. I also find it ironic that you say your not a fan of name calling, though you did find “squint-eyed bastards” funny. Or is that more empirical proof of what you are?

  22. Good point. I wasn’t much of a fan of the play in the first place so the offending joke may just have been a case of laziness by the writer.

    And I do appreciate you actually addressing some of the points in the article rather than devolving into elementary school name calling.

  23. Ken Narasaki says:

    *you’re*

  24. Again gonna let Ken’s comment just stand on its own and be judged on its own merits. But as I mentioned to an earlier commenter, Kenny, you’re gonna have to raise the bar of your discourse or you’ll be sent to the woodshed young man.

    Or at least your comments will be.

  25. An says:

    Elementary school name calling? Yeah, I think there’s a slight difference between the ignorant bully and the kid who learns to stand up to that bully and call him by his true name. Here’s a book that could improve your life significantly:

    http://www.amazon.com/White-Like-Me-Reflections-Privileged/dp/1933368993

  26. Jose V. says:

    Your blog asked “What’s the big deal?” But the question was answered in Ken’s letter to the Falcon. He clearly mentions that the language opened up old wounds for him, and he had to leave because of the emotions it brought up. For him, that was the big deal. The rest of your blog goes into the nature of stereotypes, and why they seem funny, which is something I’ve heard before.

    I have no problem with plays using whatever language or humor the playwright deems necessary to get his or her point across. By the same token, I have no problem if people offended by the language speak out against the play. It is their right, and hopefully a constructive dialogue can ensue.

    The debate here(or any debate regarding PC-ness) brings up a bigger issue, which I don’t think Bitter Lemons should get into (there are plenty other arenas for that)…it becomes a problem when the majority tells a minority what it should not be offended by. The easiest thing to do is tell the ones offended to “get over it,” or “it’s just a joke.” It is a problem when people with privilege try to diminish those who don’t when they speak up about it.

  27. Again, good points here, especially on whether the majority can even be included in the conversation of race without being thought of as a racist. I find that to be a fascinating topic.

    I unfortunately have to run out the door so won’t be able to address any more comments until much later. But feel free to continue without me. Or not.

  28. DarrellKuni says:

    “…I will never truly know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of any real ethnic bigotry.

    But I still gotta ask the question: what’s the big deal?”

    If you have to ask, you’ll never know.
    Louis Armstrong.

  29. Diane says:

    As a writer, my instinct is to defend the playwright who perhaps didn’t write the line intending it as a cheap joke. But when an audience responds to racist language as though it is nothing more than a cheap joke, what the laughter reveals about our society is chilling. It is a big deal. And very much worth a public airing and objection.

  30. You may be right, Darell, I may never know, but what I’m quite certain of is that I will never stop asking the questions.

    They are far too revealing to be left unasked.

  31. AL says:

    I’m of Asian ancestry. Colin reminds me of a white friend of mine — otherwise one of the most well-read, knowledgable and well-spoken people I know — who once told me with a straight face why Sarah Silverman’s use of “chink” on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,” was, in fact, NOT offensive to me. (Never mind the indignation I instinctively felt.)

    White people have a luxury that minorities do not: the luxury to look at racism in purely logical terms. (“‘Nigger’ is just a word!” “Saying ‘gook’ is funny because it illustrates America’s postracial hypersensitivity!”)

    The problem is, Colin and other postracial prophets, there’s nothing logical about racism to begin with.

  32. I agree! Thank you, AL, for joining the fray.

    There IS nothing logical about racism and that is why we – those who find the notion that someone is inferior because of their race so wholly repellent – must always try to move the conversation away from the emotional and into the logical. Because it can’t hold up under the glare of reason! It just can’t, because as you say, it’s illogical!

    MLK and Gandhi understood this. Let those that perpetrate violence come face to face with peaceful conscientious objection to their inhuman and illogical actions and when they try to stamp out that movement with their violence, those of us who are decent and intelligent will see them for what they are, eventually, and we will do something about it. Many of the Gay Rights activists are finally understanding this. Women’s activists, those that have moved the bar, understood this.

    Clearly it’s more difficult for those of you who are the targets of racism, I would never deign to cheapen that or dismiss that in any way, it remains incredibly emotional for those on the receiving end, and should, and that is why I find it rather bizarre that when someone, such as myself, tries to come at if from a purely logical point of view – even as we agree on the main premise that racism is nothing more than ignorance aligning with hate – I get called a “racist” for “never being able to understand” because I’m white? How does that help the situation?

    We must constantly put racism under the light of reason, again and again, because it will wilt and die under that scrutiny, because, simply put, racism is at its heart, untrue.

  33. Ken Narasaki says:

    Let’s be clear: It’s not that you will never understand racism because you are white, and people are not calling you a racist because you “come at this from a purely logical point of view”. And you say you would never “deign to cheapen or dismiss” people who have experienced racism – you already have, on this very thread. You may or may not understand racism, but as long as you presume to tell people of color (or any of the politically marginalized people you mention in your post) how they SHOULD or should not feel, based on your own feelings about THEIR experience, then of course you will never understand because you’ll be too busty pontificating from your perch. And until they invent a better word, as long as you think concepts like Driving While Asian is “empirically true”, then…you will be/are…a racist.

  34. Find even ONE instance in my article where I told you how you should or should not feel about your experience at the Falcon and I will humbly cede the point and end this conversation.

  35. Wow! This got so heated so quickly! What great dialogue with heated opinions. In order to keep this short, I will only reply to the last comment.

    Can I point out three instances, Colin, where you inferred to Ken how he should or should not feel?

    “But I still gotta ask the question: what’s the big deal?” – You are basically telling Ken that the joke he found offensive was not a big deal and that he shouldn’t be offended by it. You’re basically saying its an arbitrary reaction, and defending what you found humorous. In this way you told him that he should have thought the joke was funny. You were telling him, as an audience member, how to feel in that instance.

    When you define what your Asian friend found humorous, it appeared as though you assumed that her humor was representative of all Asians, which was a assumption that leaned on stereotyping the Asian community as a whole.

    “I think the fact that it has wounded you so deeply says more about you then it does about the play or the Falcon’s decision to produce it.” You are discrediting his emotional reaction, while defending the play and the Falcon. Therefore putting him down based on his experience, making his reaction something to make fun of and therefore not a valid reaction in your eyes. Which basically seems as though you are saying Ken shouldn’t have been offended.

    The reactions you are getting on this thread are based on those two quotes from your article and the Driving While Asian story. Had you kept it a discussion about how racial epithets are allowed to slide by on the stages of a city as culturally and ethnically diverse as Los Angeles, the commenters may not have taken to try to attack your persona.

    You were right about one thing, lots of people are reading this, and if the stats on BlankTheAudience.com are accurate, I can only imagine the numbers you are getting here on Bitter Lemons.

  36. Trevor Thomas says:

    This sad thread has degenerated into a lot of ugly and high-falutin’ hissing and spitting, so let’s review the facts on the ground.

    A Ken Narasaki, self-professed theater professional, attends a play. In this play, a character – not a real person, a character – says something racist about Asians. The audience, largely white as Mr. Narasaki describes it, laughs.

    At this point, Mr. Narasaki decides to inject himself into the play by making what in all probability is an ostentatious and theatrical display of huffing out in a state of outrage, establishing in his mind himself as avatar for the tens of millions of Asian Americans not in attendance that night.

    Not content with this, he later pens a public and angry letter to the theater stating that he will never again set foot in the place (which is after all, just a building). He attempts to augment the import of his one-man boycott by suggesting there are many others, souls more timid than he, who will likewise withhold their custom until the Falcon’s artistic management becomes more – what is the word? – sensitive to the sorts of material he found objectionable.

    His fury is really directed at the white audience, which makes the entire episode is rich in irony if for no other reason than Los Angeles audiences, and particularly those at the Falcon are notoriously conscious of such things as offended Mr. Narasaki. That venue is after all home to Matt Walker’s Troubadours who routinely lampoon white Americans, particularly those of the Republican persuasion, to the general merriment of its patrons.

    Said patrons in this case laughed at an outrageous comment by a thoroughly unlikeable character and did so in complete innocence of how that might hurt Mr. Narasaki’s feelings. I doubt, before he flounced out, they had even noticed he was there. After all, they were there to enjoy a play. Had a real person uttered words that vile, is there any doubt of the opprobrium that most of those alabaster faces would have heaped upon the jackal who spoke them?

    Good for Mr. Narasaki. He is exercising his rights as an American to not pay into things he finds objectionable. The Falcon is one of the few Los Angeles theaters with a rock-solid subscriber base and a consistent record of achievement. Other butts will fill the seats Mr. Narasaki has vacated, and that is also an American thing: the right each of us has to choose for ourselves what we wish to see and hear.

    For its part, I hope the Falcon resists any temptation to tailor its fare to the angry responses of such as Mr. Narasaki. As Colin pointed out, there is no constitutional guarantee of freedom from offense. Much in life is offensive, but there is no greater offense against artistic freedom than the desire of some to shape it to their personal politics. As example from Narasaki’s cultural backyard: consider the eviscerated empty hulk that was once the magnificent Beijing opera once Jiang Qing shanghai’ed it (you’ll forgive the expression) in service to her husband’s murderous political ambitions.

    No, what Mr. Narasaki is doing for himself is right on the money. What he seeks to do to the rest of us is unconscionable.

  37. Thanks, Trevor, for your as usual elegant summation. I think I’ll let that stand as the last word for me because it seems to encapsulate the proceedings quite well.

    And Shaunessy, while I appreciate you taking up my challenge, there are just an awful lot of “basicallys” and “seems” and “it appeareds” in your examination. I don’t discount them, but they speak to something that is essential to all of this; one’s subjective experience does not always translate into the facts on the ground. How one feels about something they perceive is most definitely important, it’s what makes us human, but in my personal life I’ve found it’s best to use the emotion as a starting point to discovering what’s really at the heart of the matter. If you stop simply at the emotion, then no productive discussion can ever take place on anything important. In that same vein, coming from the other end of things, if you stop at the borders of logic never considering how one feels, then you discount ones personal humanity.

    Thanks to everyone for joining in the conversation. Even Ken. I mean that sincerely. Those who know me well know that I thrive on the exchange of ideas and though it’s difficult to be called a racist by people I don’t even know, in the end, I don’t take it personally and hope that this exchange of views in some way clarifies the discussion for some of you. It has for me.

    Peace.

  38. Brian says:

    I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been spoken except to point out that, as Ken himself mentions, “context is everything.” I don’t know this play so I can’t speak to what happens from the point Ken left, but you lose the ability to speak to the context of a play when you leave. These jokes could be a set up for a pay off later. Their racist nature could be intentional as a way of revealing something about the character, or even about the audience later in the play. I don’t judge Ken’s reaction. He feels however he feels. But context is everything.

  39. Nicki Galido says:

    White people…[sigh] you just won’t ever get it, will you?

  40. Ken Narasaki says:

    @Brian: I did not make a theatrical display and I did not “flounce” out – I walked out, a little angry, but I did so quietly, only noticing how white and merry the audience was on my way out. As these things go, I was upset by the actual words, and as I left, became more upset by the laughter. I wrote the post when I got home because, by that point, I had words to put to my feelings. I also took the trouble to read the play to see if my initial feelings were correct – that the “joke” had nothing to do with the story, and indeed, it did not: It was simply laughter from the words’ shock value, and as I pointed out to the theater (and they said they’d pass it along to the playwright), I don’t think the patrons would have responded to “nigger” or “kike” or “fag” in the same way because apparently, we as Asians, have not yelled loud enough or often enough to get the word out: Asian slurs are NOT OK for most of us, despite what Colin’s self-hating friend might think. Thus, I went public with my protest, so not only the Falcon, but anyone who might stumble upon my open letter would know: “Squint-eyed bastards” and “Japs” will PISS US OFF and now, you can’t claim ignorance however you decide to use those words.
    @Colin: You pretend you are innocent in this, and you ask me to point out how or where you told me how to feel: You mocked my concerns by calling them “extreme” and “melodramatic” and tried to bait me in other ways. Your words only served in pissing me off further, but they also have a chilling effect: Any Asians having similar feelings might hesitate before publicly complaining in the future because they know they might get called out or mocked publicly by assholes such as yourself – look, no one wants to be seen as a whiner or a crybaby, and that’s basically how you and a couple of other posters characterized my original post.
    So, are we done? I’m done.

  41. Ken Narasaki says:

    I lied. I wasn’t done.
    @Brian was actually partially meant for @Trevor. I did not inject myself into the play. I left. And if public protest is doing something “unconscionable” “to the rest of us”, then you don’t believe in democracy. And…who is “the rest of us” in your statement? I agree that a playwright has a right to say whatever he or she wants to. So does an audience. And also Trevor, China is not my cultural backyard – you have unconsciously fallen into the Asians-as-perpetual-foreigners trap. Seattle is my cultural backyard, Los Angeles is my home. I identify as Asian because, as a theater artist and performer, that is how everyone else defines me. Race is unfortunately part and parcel of theater when it comes to casting (and writing if you write about people of color)in a way far more intrusive in our professional lives than is legal in most other professions, so there’s another reason why racism stings more sharply in our profession – apparently, civil rights laws don’t apply to theater.

  42. Brian says:

    @Ken, I don’t think your comment (either one) is in reference to what I said. I was only talking about context. This is what I wrote “I don’t have much to add that hasn’t been spoken except to point out that, as Ken himself mentions, “context is everything.” I don’t know this play so I can’t speak to what happens from the point Ken left, but you lose the ability to speak to the context of a play when you leave. These jokes could be a set up for a pay off later. Their racist nature could be intentional as a way of revealing something about the character, or even about the audience later in the play. I don’t judge Ken’s reaction. He feels however he feels. But context is everything.”

  43. Howard says:

    Have I been banned?

  44. Howard says:

    Your comments box wouldn’t let me post what I wanted.

    Please look up “hipster racism” and find out what that means. You’ll find a definition that is both pertinent to this discussion and also possibly illuminating an issue the writer and readers of this blog, as logical and curious as you all may be, haven’t yet considered.

  45. Ken Narasaki says:

    @Brian: Sorry I mixed you and Trevor up. The one thing I wanted to tell you was that I did read the script and found my feelings were correct: The lines had nothing to do with anything, beyond providing a laugh line and for showing the audience that this character (who is really supposed to be sympathetic despite his complete and utter arrogance) is an even bigger jerk than the audience has gathered by that point. It was simply not necessary, and again, that was part of what made me so angry – that and the fact that I was reminded that the Falcon Theater, like so many all over the country, is a white person’s theater and the rest of us are merely visitors…and even as a visitor, we can be called names and if we don’t like it…all we can do is leave. And if you believed that by leaving, I’ve forfeited my right to say anything about it, then I hope this exchange will change your mind about that.

  46. Brian says:

    @Ken I don’t believe you forfeited your right to say something. I appreciate you doing your homework and reading the script. But I do think you put yourself in a precarious position in this discussion. Had you not read the script, your point about context (that I agree with 100%) would have made you seem hypocritical (which I don’t think you are.)

  47. Jason Rohrer Jason Rohrer says:

    Mr Narasaki, you apparently feel yourself slighted by a world that insufficiently appreciates your feelings. I’m certainly glad that American theater has not been sufficiently cleansed of ideas that might possibly offend you, and me, and everybody sometimes, because I think that’s a basic component of the intellectual life.

    When I sit at the East-West players and hear Julia Cho’s repeated pronouncements (through her characters) that “English is the language of anger,” of course I remember the Japanese spoken at the Rape of Nanking and the Cantonese shouted at Tiananmen Square, and I question her sense of history; but I don’t storm out. Does that make me a self-hating white man?

    So I wonder, Mr Narasaki: do you mitigate your self-marginalization by labeling as “a racist asshole” anyone who disagrees with you? Does your possession of an epicanthic fold give you a special dispensation to define and circumscribe, and incidentally lower, the discourse on race? There are those who would take issue, for example, with your use of the term “nigger” in any context, and yet your open letter includes the term, largely I think for shock value. Would it be okay for blacks to call you a racist asshole for using the term to further your own ends?

    And since we’re on the subject, you suggest in your letter that racism against Asians is stronger than that against blacks, since you feel that the audience would not as readily have laughed at a black slur. Does the number of Asian doctors and lawyers and CEOs and white-collar civil servants in this country vs the number of blacks in the same professions back up your implication about American institutions?

    In other words, did you consider everyone’s feelings on the matter before you spoke? You didn’t, and you shouldn’t have to, and neither should any of us. You left the theater, which is your right, and you bitched about it publicly, which is your right. Good for you and for all of us with the freedom to do so.

  48. Howard says:

    Seriously, that’s the only example you can think of??? “English is the language of anger” is not an insult. It was said by someone who could speak English and who said it in order to describe the difference between English and the other language she spoke. If that’s the closest example you have to experiencing some kind of racial bigotry against you, then boy do you have it good.

    My only point against Colin is that he has not been the target of bigotry but somehow believes he knows what is best for people who have. And I believe I know where such a sentiment comes from. “Hipster racism” is where people who know in their hearts they are not racist and believe racism is wrong still succumb to repeating racist ideas/phrases with the notion that it’s no longer pernicious or wrong and should be accepted as “ironic” or “hip.” Unfortunately, those comments are still hurtful as evidenced by the racial epithets used against Jewish and African American people which persist.

    No one, least of all Ken Narasaki, was asking for censorship or eliminating discussion or words from public life…instead, he was offended by the carelessness these words were used for a cheap laugh at his expense. In my view, he was hoping this theatre company (and perhaps others) could place more care and thought into using these racial epithets the same way they might with other taboo words that carry the same demeaning effect.

    Finally, as an LA theatre artist myself, I find this discussion really alarming. I believed that theatre was a community built upon openness and understanding and diversity. But many of the more virulent comments here (including those of Colin) tell me that we have a long way to go. I hope we get there.

  49. Jason Rohrer Jason Rohrer says:

    Howard, using three question marks and clueing us in to your use of Urban Dictionary does not make your points valid, or hip.

    I’m sorry you missed the critique of European culture in Ms Cho’s use of language, but please don’t ascribe your limits to me. And you jog my memory: at a propaganda event for a Fred Ho spectacle in New York some years ago, I was so disgusted by Mr Ho’s virulent racism that I did leave the room; the fact that my girlfriend was in his employ to direct the opera in question prevented my engaging him in further discussion. It did not occur to me to tell other people how to feel about Mr Ho; the shittyness of his work speaks for itself. So yes, I have in fact been insulted by an Asian from a stage. So what? Now am I qualified to discuss racism with you?

    Your pronouncement of what is and isn’t insulting to me sounds very like the prescriptivism Mr Narasaki complains about above. In direct contrast to your stated intentions, you are both asking for censorship and attempting to eliminate certain words from public life; otherwise, if Mr Narasaki’s feelings are to be the measure of harm, I suppose he could just tell the Falcon what it can or cannot say.

    Or are you overstating your position when you say that the Falcon should use “more care and thought”? How do you define care and thought? What if I think care and thought have been used, and you still don’t agree with the company’s decision? Is that okay, or are the theater and I still racist as long as we disagree with you? Isn’t the “care and thought” you want us to use actually your care, and your thought?