INTO THE NEXT STAGE: The 21st Annual Wise Guy Awards

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By GUY AOKI

There’s no contest. When you think of Asians who made an impact on the media this past year, the first two names you think of are Jeremy Lin and Korean dancer/rapper PSY.

Lin was a welcome breath of fresh air, exploding out of nowhere on Feb. 4, exciting Asian Americans hungry for an athlete in one of the top sports (basketball, football, baseball) to cheer for, and inspiring people of all races (“Linsanity!”), especially those who were never given a chance to shine. With the New York Knicks, the 23-year-old Harvard grad finally saw an opening and blasted a hole though it. Of course, this led to the expected racist reactions — more on those later.

The flat-faced, chubby PSY’s unexpectedly deft – and comical – dance moves on “Gangnam Style” became the most “liked” and eventually most watched video in YouTube history, with over one billion views and a bona fide hit that peaked at  No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks and sold more than 2 million downloads.

On the new media front, YOMYOMF (You Offend Me, You Offend My Family) showed how it used some of the $100 million YouTube invested in its channel with an attention-getting/special effects-laden short featuring an assortment of Asian American celebrities and friends.

Ann Curry became the fall woman when “Good Morning America” (ABC) beat “The Today Show” (NBC) for the first time in 17 years.  Her tearful goodbye led to an angry backlash against the show, remaining co-host Matt Laurer and NBC, from which it’s never recovered (see July below).

For the first time in 4 1/12 years, an Asian American was the primary star of a series on one of the top four television networks – Mindy Kaling in the show she created for herself, “The Mindy Project.”  TBS gave Irish/Korean American Steve Byrne the opportunity to star in his own sitcom “Sullivan And Son,” which has already been renewed for a second season. And Lucy Liu got to play a female and Asian American version of Watson to Sherlock Holmes in CBS’s new “Elementary.”

Here in chronological order, is my assessment of the media issues, people, and events that affected Asian Americans in the past 12 months.

January

Wait, This Is Not William Hung Part 2? Award to Hee-jun Han. Although viewers initially assumed we were about to hear another embarrassing “American Idol” audition by a clueless Asian immigrant, Han shocked everyone with his soulful voice and dry sense of humor, which eventually helped land him in the Top 10.

February

Just Shut Up, Fool! Award to Fox Sports commentator Jason Whitlock, who tweeted a crack about Jeremy Lin’s penis size.  He later apologized, explaining his “comedic nature… honed as a child listening to my godmother’s Richard Pryor albums… [made me]still want to be a stand-up comedian.” How about working on becoming a stand-up human being first?

You Call That An Apology? Award to Nick DiPaolo and Artie Lange. On their syndicated nighttime sports talker “The Nick & Artie Show,” the hosts asked their listeners to call in with the most racist jokes about Lin and Asian Americans they could think of. When pressured by their bosses to apologize, Lange referenced the New York Post headline ‘Amasian’ and said he took that as a sign it was fair game to ask his listeners to call in with other Asian puns. DiPaolo corrected him, admitting they’d actually asked for stereotypical jokes. Derek Chang, executive vice president of content for DIRECTV, told them the apology wasn’t acceptable and placed them on probation.

Couple of the Year Award to Agent Cho (Tim Kang) and Summer (Samaire Armstrong). The troubled prostitute-turned-police informant forced the stoic cop to admit he liked her, which led to them living together until she returned to one of her bad habits (drugs). But the upbeat blonde was good for Cho and they were cute together, so the scene of a devastated Cho (almost in tears) sending her away to get cleaned up was haunting. She returned in December pregnant and about to marry a new beau, but something tells me the saga of Summer and Cho isn’t yet over. At least I hope not.

March

How Asian of You Award to George Takei and Tia Carrere, neither of whom put up much of a fight in “The Celebrity Apprentice” boardroom when they were in danger of being fired by Donald Trump. Carrere even asked Trump, if she volunteered to be fired, would that spare another one of her teammates from getting the axe (he said it would; she quit).

April

Be A Stranger Award to Alex O’Loughlin. Only when the (undeserved) star of “Hawaii Five-O” took a leave of absence to deal with murkily described prescription medication problems did the Asian American cast members – especially Masi Oka – get a chance to shine with the haole/API quotient finally balanced in favor of the “locals.”  With O’Loughlin out of the picture, Daniel Dae Kim took his place in the “Five-O”/“NCIS-LA” crossover episode, which made more sense than two white guys going to L.A. representing the 50th state.

May

Last Straw Award to “American Idol.” Its historic southern bias in both contestants and votes reached the tipping point when, for the fifth straight year, a WGWG (white guy with guitar) – Phillip Phillips – won over a better singer — Jessica Sanchez (who’s half Filipino).  The show deservedly lost 23% of its audience from the previous season, 30% in the more important 18-49 age group, which led to the exit of judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and almost Randy Jackson.

June

Inspiration Award to Christine Ha, the blind contestant on “Master Chef” who surprised judges, fellow contestants (and sometimes herself), and viewers by being able to not only keep up with her competitors but create better-looking and tasting dishes to eventually win the competition.

July

Ann Curry put on a brave face for her tearful “Today” farewell.

Bachi ga Ataru! Award to “The Today Show.” When Savannah Guthrie officially took over as co-anchor from Ann Curry, instead of the expected bump in interest, ratings dropped to the lowest point in over 17 years.  A week later, “Good Morning America” beat it in both overall and 25-54-year-old viewers.

Liberals Aren’t Out to Get You Award to WYSL-FM’s Bill Nojay and Bob Savage. The right-wing New York DJs thought MANAA’s criticism of their racial attack on Democrat congressional candidate Nate Shinagawa (they played “Sukiyaki” by Japanese national Kyu Sakamoto) came from a left-wing group – one that had previously gone after liberals like Rosie O’Donnell and Sarah Silverman.

Slimeball Award to Christopher Ashley. On KPBS, the artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse tried to justify casting five white guys as Chinese men in “Nightingale” by insinuating if Asian American actors were allowed to play “white” roles, they had to accept whites taking the few roles written specifically for Asians.

Ted Koppel Award to actress Cindy Cheung. On the panel discussion at LJP, she asked director Moises Kaufman if she would cast a white man as an African king.  When the coward reiterated his rational for using a “multi-cultural’ approach to “Nightingale,” she pointed out he hadn’t answered the question and asserted that he wouldn’t because there’s more respect for the black community than the Asian American one.

Nincompoop Award to moderator Janine Hillis, who tried to soften Cheung’s points, didn’t hold the LJP to any reforms in the future, and rudely refused to allow MANAA’s Aki Aleong to speak even though the associate producer had previously told her repeatedly he was supposed to.

August

Sarah Silverman-Wannabe Award to Megan Lochte, Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte’s sister. Her 2008 interview on a Boston TV show surfaced showing her throwing around “chink” and “chinks” with disturbing ease and comfort.  When she later apologized, the would-be comedian said she was playing a racist character and, like Silverman – who used the slur on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien” in 2001 – asserted the controversy had created much-needed dialogue around race. Gee, thanks.

September

You Hate Us! You Really Hate Us! Award to “Hawaii Five-O” executive producer Peter Lenkov, who deliberately and consistently casts Asian Pacific Islanders mostly as suspects/villains whereas white mainlanders are the guest cops who tag along with the team and are also the sympathetic victims. After inflicting the boring Lauren German (who got more screen time than “real regulars” Grace Park and Masi Oka) on us for most of Season 2, Lenkov added another white actress – Michelle Borth – to the opening credits in Season 3.

October

Korean rapper PSY galloped his way to international stardom as his “Gangnam Style” was viewed over one billion times on YouTube.

John Ritter Physical Comedy Award to Bobby Lee for prompting some unexpected laugh-out-loud moments on NBC’s “Animal Practice.” Unfortunately, the ratings-challenged show was cancelled.

Gag Me With a Spoon Award to the producers of ABC’s “Last Resort” for the clichéd, predictable, unmotivated romance between Navy SEAL James King (Daniel Lissing) and bar owner Tani (Nichen Lachman). Once again, a white guy and Asian woman fall for each other for no given reason.

Groundbreaking Storytelling/Old-Fashioned Racist Casting Award to the directors of “Cloud Atlas.” While actors played different races and sexes, most of the Asian roles were portrayed by white men in bad yellowface make-up and Maoris by blacks. Even these “taboo-breaking” filmmakers weren’t brave enough to use blackface make-up on any white actor.

You Can’t Fool Us Award to Ben Kingsley for trying so hard to hide his British accent as the Mandarin in the trailer of “Iron Man 3” that he overly curls his R’s.  Annoying.

November

“Rising Sun”/“Pearl Harbor” Racial Sensitivity Award to the producers of “Red Dawn.”  Like those past films of Asian foreigners invading/taking over the United States, there weren’t enough Asian American good guys to counteract the impression that anyone with an Asian face was a bad guy deserving to be feared and hated.

December

Stubborn Brat Award to Jay Leno.  After being repeatedly told over a 10-year period by community activists to stop making jokes about Koreans and Chinese eating dogs and cats, the host of the “Tonight Show” continued to as if to spite the community. After a secret behind-the-scenes campaign, we are now told by a source in ‘high places” those jokes will end.

Sayonara/Arigato Award to Sen. Daniel Inouye, whose presence on both the televised Watergate and Iran-Contra Senate committee hearings often prompted racist reactions from white America, who were nevertheless reminded of the significant presence and power of Asian Americans. His death, after almost 50 years in the Senate, marks the end of an era and leaves a vacuum in Hawaii politics that will never be filled. The struggle continues.

As always, thanks for your support of this column, now going into its 21st year. Let’s hope 2013 is a better year for Asian Americans in the media. If you’re interested in doing something about these issues, come to MANAA general meetings, which are held on the third Thursday of each month in Chinatown. For more info, go to manaa.org or call (213) 486-4433.

Till next time, keep your eyes and ears open. And Happy New Year.

Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at [email protected] Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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