Warp, Weft, and Way

Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學

Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Kids Table’ Show Suggests the US Kill Everyone In China Instead Of Repaying Its Debt

I am posting this for friend-of-the-blog Huaiyu Wang; please direct any comments to him.

When asked about how the US should deal with the huge debt to China, one kid suggested to kill everyone in China. Jimmy commented: “That is an interesting idea!” The audience responded with a great laughter….

The content of the show (including a video clip) can be found at:

http://www.businessinsider.com/jimmy-kimmels-china-kids-table-segment-2013-10#ixzz2j1W6iACS

A Whitehouse Petition to investigate the racist content of the show was started on Oct.19:

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/investigate-jimmy-kimmel-kids-table-government-shutdown-show-abc-network/tLxzbBjg

With the number of Petitioner reaches over 55,000, ABC networks issued an apology on Oct. 27.

*    *    *

It is true that one should not blame the kid too much as he is still too “young and innocent.” But on the other hand, would it be particularly horrible that such an idea of genocide should come out of the mouth of a young kid? Does this prove exactly the “lack of innocence”? What are more disturbing than the kid’s remarks, of course, is Jimmy Kimmel and the audience’s responses. It is puzzling how the suggestion for genocide can be “an interesting idea” and what makes it so funny to provoke a great laughter from the audience (or are they supposed to laugh at “any” idea these days?).

There seems to be something wrong. But what is it? Is it a lack of enough legal restraint for the media (e.g. too much freedom of speech)? Is it a lack of basic moral conscience? Is it the culture of egoism that precludes any respect for others other than their instrumental value? Or is it that the Chinese have been historically too impotent to wield the weapon of human rights to protect themselves in this country, so that they are still the sitting targets of racism (viz. they in a way “deserve” it because they failed to “fight” against it)? After all, with unprecedented economic interdependence of US and China, with all cultural exchange between US and China and growing academic programs promoting Chinese thoughts and culture, it is a great irony that there is still a tendency for major US media to present Chinese as “aliens” that should be killed without scruples.

Huaiyu Wang
Associate Professor
Philosophy and Liberal Studies
Campus Box 111, Georgia College & State University
Milledgeville, GA 31061
Phone: 814-441-4023
Web Site:http://www.faculty.de.gcsu.edu/~bwang
Blog: http://cybersophia.spaces.live.com/

October 28th, 2013 Posted by | Chinese philosophy - 中國哲學 - 中国哲学 | 24 comments

24 Responses to Jimmy Kimmel’s ‘Kids Table’ Show Suggests the US Kill Everyone In China Instead Of Repaying Its Debt

  1. I just watched the clip. I think maybe part of the problem here is differing notions of humor. I don’t think Kimmel or his audience thought anything like killing all (or any) Chinese people would be acceptable at all, and that is just what is supposed to make it funny- because it’s clearly ridiculous (both morally unacceptable and militarily and logistically impossible). His “should we let the Chinese live?”, if it had been at all possible to take seriously, and if anyone in the audience thought he meant it seriously, would not have worked as humor. This does not seem to me racist. American comedians direct this kind of humor at their own people all the time.

    • I’m more bothered by the kid’s initial suggestion than by what Kimmel did with it. Kimmel was making fun of it (and so was the child I guess), but the naturalness of that response is a bit disturbing. Habituation?

  2. Paul R. Goldin says:

    I didn’t like it, and the fact that anybody thinks it’s funny only shows how poorly Americans understand the concept of sovereign debt. (Of course, there are other daily hints to that effect.)

    • I don’t think it’s funny either (just like most of Kimmel’s comedy), I just think it’s bad comedy rather than something more sinister or morally problematic, which some of the criticisms I’ve heard from China suggest. Bad taste? Sure. But an insult to the Chinese people? That strikes me as pretty extreme. Unless one takes one’s comedy very seriously, and is insulted to see it done so poorly…

  3. Bill Haines says:

    This American thinks it has nothing to do with China in particular, or even race.

    On the one hand, I think Americans are badly desensitized to violence, many of us are lost in narcissistic computer worlds (thanks for being mine), that as a group we barely believe that foreigners are real (as though we were one big only child), and that most of us do not grasp that the national debt has something to do with government bonds.

    On the other hand, I think that if the comedy bit is evidence of any of that, it’s only in the ease with which the kids spoke of killing. Which I have to say is chilling.

  4. Chenping says:

    This is not an over-reaction on the part of Professor Huang here if the concern is really about killing and not political correctness.

    Killing all the Chinese is not funny because America has a Chinese-annihilation nuclear weapon capability. What is funny is folks here don’t realize that China has an America-annihilation weapon capability too. Chances are, the Chinese will not muck around like the White House when it comes to pressing the button no matter what Confucius taught about harmony and LAP.

    That kid is the canary in the coal mine, folks. And it’s no laughing matter.

  5. Martyna Swiatczak-Borowy says:

    Chenping, don’t you think you take this situation way too seriously? Saying “let’s kill all the Chinese” has nothing to do with actual killing. It’s merely admitting that one’s debts are so absurdly high that there are no other means left apart from ridiculing it by proposing something as preposterous as killing ALL people of certain kind.
    And the idea of killing a man who brings us trouble is as old as human race – keep in mind Cain and and his solution to his “my brother has all of the God’s attention” problem.

    With reference to what professor Wang said – actually I don’t think such jokes take place because . In my opinion it’s the other way around – you don’t intend to kill someone (even metaphorically) if they’re just weak, impotent and defenseless. You kill those who pose a threat. China should finally understand that the West has already forgotten about “weak and impotent” China. What they see and think now is “strong and threatening” China. An that’s why they make such mediocre jokes.

    • Chenping says:

      The joke itself wasn’t mediocre at all. To my mind, it was very funny because it was absurd and, therefore, harmless.

      First of all, the Chinese part of the foreign debt is only USD 1.3 trillion (according to Kimmel). This is only 7.6% of total debt amounting to USD 17 trillion. China (and Japan also) has nowhere else to park that humongous amount of money and quite happy to keep that debt in the USA. The dire US government debt problem primarily comes from owing the bulk of the debt to Americans themselves. “Killing” Americans, which is the better debt solution, is even more hilarious.

      I am sorry if I have alarmed you, Martyna. It’s just that our acceptance of the nuclear weapons situation doesn’t sit well with me.

  6. Manyul Im says:

    I’m not certain this post is completely on topic for our blog, but it is does raise a couple of interesting issues. Being an act of humor or entertainment is consistent with also being morally offensive and also being a disturbing sign for something in our culture.

    “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers” goes back to Shakespeare. The sentiment in “Kill them all and let God sort them out” is expressed callously and with the intent to be funny throughout pop culture in the West; it also echoes a sentiment that was expressed explicitly during the Christian crusades against the Muslim world in the middle ages. There’s also the satire of Swift’s suggestion that poor Irish children could be bred for food profitably, in his Modest Proposal. Given the social role that humor and comedians play, I’m sure there are other examples of humor aimed at the shock value of suggesting genocide (or cannibalism).

    Swift is an interesting example; his Modest Proposal was supposed to show how offensive the British policies toward the Irish were. Misunderstanding his satire and being horrified is a possible response. Does the Kimmel bit aim at anything like satire? Maybe; Kimmel is capable of smart satire once in a while.

    The suggestion of genocide in the Kimmel bit has a definite shock value and one question for me in judging whether it is offensive is whether it is meant to be a satire of a new kind of Cold War and the accompanying martial attitudes that could be developing between China and the U.S. It is also possible for it to be satire of a new-found “Yellow Peril” fear, this time with economic cultural paranoia in the West. Maybe that all gives Kimmel too much credit, but it’s a possible reading.

    Less charitably, but maybe more accurately, it might just be going for shock humor effect that trades on audience nervousness (which is a popular humor genre). I could certainly see that — we’ve experienced a very high level of tragedy in the past few years in the U.S. with “kill them all” violence at the hands of children. As with most shock humor attempts, there’s always the problem with lingering in a zone of the morally offensive.

    So, like I said, it raises interesting issues and how to evaluate the Kimmel bit seems complicated to me.

    • Manyul Im says:

      (By the way, I don’t think one has to be particularly clever or smart to provide socially useful satire. Mockery of institutions, norms, or sensibilities can be easily or even stupidly done, but in the right contexts, can serve as a valuable form of social criticism.)

  7. Steve Angle says:

    Huaiyu Wang, the source of the original post, is having trouble adding comments, and has asked that I post this for him:

    I would like to thank all the commentators for their candid and insightful inputs on this issue. Let me focus on the question about humor and joke in this response.

    As a Chinese, I have to acknowledge a lack of sense of humor. Indeed, the very term “humor” has no Chinese equivalent, but was introduced to the Chinese by Lin Yutang in the 1920s. But most Chinese, I suspect, do know how to laugh, as well as things that one may or may not laugh at. For jokes can be insulting, and more insulting than a direct criticism (e.g. implying somebody is so fat that he shows up on radar).

    Sigmund Freud has long pointed out jokes as the expression of an unconscious wish (sexual or aggressive). An indirect attack contained in a joke, thus, can be as insulting and disturbing as a direct attack, if not more; because it also flouts the intelligence of those under attack to understand the implications of the joke. That is why sexual jokes in workplace are strictly prohibited in this country as a form of sexual harassment. I am not sure if any of you would dare to joke about the shortcomings of your supervisor and employer. I do wish you won’t joke about killing your supervisor or her whole family in public, for the consequences of such a joke may not be funny, even in this free country. It is true that our liberal Medias have enjoyed great freedom of lampooning politicians at will – what a great virtue of democracy! But this is so, precisely because we are the people who “are” the boss of the politicians, because we have certain “power” over them. But even such lampooning has certain limits. I have never heard anybody, e.g. joked about killing any politician in this country. I suppose the consequence would be serious if a comedian dares to play with the idea of solving the US debt by killing all politicians in Washington for their impotency and killing the top 1% Americans who control almost 40% of the national wealth. Would this be a more “valuable form of social criticism?”

    After in all, I think the Chinese community is upset not by the immediate threat of genocide indicated by Jimmy’s show, but by a lack of basic “respect” for their dignity. This disturbance is not an overreaction to a single case, but is based on a long history of abuse and oppression of the Chinese minorities in this country (see Iris Chang, The Chinese in America; just to give one of the many cases: a Chinese engineering student was beaten to death by two auto workers who mistook him for Japanese in 1982. They were convicted with manslaughter but did not spend a single day in jail, getting away by paying a fine of $3,750 each, Chang, p. 320). After all, let us remember that according to the Roman law, it is the creditor’s right to torture the delinquent debtor by cutting off the equivalent amount of flesh. It is funny that now the American as the debtor should entertain the idea of annihilating the creditor. That may be because American, as Mr. Obama and other US presidents like to say, are so exceptional.

    • Hi Huaiyu (via Steve)-

      I think the idea of American exceptionalism is silly, and always has been. It’s kind of embarrassing that we still engage in that talk…

      I certainly understand the sensitivity that can be felt as the result of a history of oppression- people of my own (African American) background have for a very long time dealt with this, and continue to deal with it, in the United States. I think we sometimes go too far or are too quick to see insult where we shouldn’t, also as a result of this oppression. We become paranoid and see attacks everywhere. Even what is an innocuous gesture, viewed through our glasses colored by history, can appear as insult or otherwise objectionable. Not to say this is always the case–sometimes, perhaps even often, there IS intended harm, insult, or some other objectionable quality (and one may act in a morally objectionable way without intent, of course).

      I don’t know which one of these is the case with the Kimmel bit-it certainly could be the case that Kimmel secretly harbors such a genocidal desire-although I don’t know that particular joke would show this.

      But I take your point about the necessity of limits-certainly it would be taken as a threat for someone to suggest killing the president, for example, even as a joke. Part of the problem, I think, is knowing where to draw those limits, and on what grounds. I guess it’s a version of the old problem going back to at least JS Mill, and one that’s not easy to solve- when does speech become significant other harm? I’d argue that the fat joke you mentioned shouldn’t count as prohibited other harm (even though it IS other harm), and if we barred that comedians would be completely out of business, because they trade on “making fun” (maybe a particular American style of humor?

      I remember growing up exchanging “your mama” jokes- no one took offense (for the most part-unless the joke was really incisive or accurate), even though the jokes were purposefully offensive- “your mama’s so fat/stupid/short…” etc. There’s a whole cultural practice built up around that kind of thing (we used to call it “joning”, I’ve heard others refer to it as “playing the dozens”), and my childhood would have been much less rich without that, I think. I do think “insult humor” is much bigger in the US than it is elsewhere. Of course, I don’t think Kimmel’s bit was a particularly good example of this kind of humor.

      What the limits on humor (or speech in general) are probably need to be negotiated by all members of the society, and it’s certainly true that Chinese people and Chinese-Americans have to be allowed to be part of those conversations, and not just have my (or anyone else’s) conception of what is acceptable in humor imposed. These are difficult issues indeed. Thanks for raising the questions!

      • Chenping says:

        And thank you for a sensitive and well-written response. “Insult humor” is one of the best things America has to offer the world, in my opinion. It makes us laugh about ourselves and at each other without malice. But I afraid no amount of rationalization is going to persuade Professor Wang to laugh along with us.

        Now that we are all networked, no one can tell a joke anymore without the whole world listening in. And somewhere, somehow, someone is going to get offended. What’s the new morality, or should we play the “moral fool”? As intellectuals, I think we should discuss it and “never let a crisis go to waste”.

      • Xiaohua says:

        Hey Alexus-

        Your mama’s so sagacious she makes Yao and Shun look like Jie and Zhou!

      • Ernie says:

        This again is an example of how today is the age of hypersensitivity. I am so tired of everyone seemingly want an apology for any little thing. Yes, this IS a little thing. Does anyone seriously believe that we would support killing Chinese people to escape debt owed to them? I was meant as dry humor and that is all it was. Lord knows that if poor old Don Rickles was starting out today he would be looking for a new profession quickly. I remember on Rickles’ show years ago he was making fun of a Chinese mayor. EVERYONE laughed even the Chinese mayor. People today are as thin skinned as an onion.

  8. Huaiyu Wang says:

    Dear Alexus and other friends,

    My previous response of course does not address every issue you have raised. I am glad to see Alexus’ new comment and to take this chance for some further clarifications.

    First, I see it perfectly that jokes, even otherwise insulting, can be used to facilitate better relationships in an ironical way. This actually proves Freud’s point that we humans have certain aggressive instincts that must be discharged in one way or another. So, one test of a good friendship is that how much aggressive instincts (e.g. in the form of bad jokes or intensive basketball games) such a friendship can endure. There is even a Chinese saying that “no mutually appreciating friends are possible without a fight first.” But it is not uncommon that we see players in a game, which is meant to provide an alternative outlet for aggressive instincts, fell out into real battles. How can this happen? Well, the discharge of the aggressive instincts through jokes or sports is only safe when EACH party is ASSURED of the good intention of/to the other party. But when the game is played in a way that such a good intention becomes questionable or totally absent (such as via a malicious violation of the rule of the game), then the aggressive instinct will become out of control.

    That being said, let us examine the Jimmy Kimmel case again to see if we can find any indication of good intention behind the bad joke. Well, I will say the joke would be rendered almost harmless if after a kid says “killing everyone in China,” another kid may say something like “why not killing everyone in US, or killing the “bad guys” in US (or maybe “spending less.”) There will sure be people who may still take offense, but in that case, it is more a problem of sensibility. But what another kid actually said is this:

    “Let us build a great, great, great Wall, so tall that (no Chinese can get across)…”

    There is of course no way that we can know a person’s intention “for sure.” But it is really not that difficult for a fairly intelligent person to see what is the message got across here (or do we need to recall the actual WALL against Chinese immigrants by the Chinese Exclusion Act, as well as all kinds of racist attacks since the 19th century (see Iris Chang, 2003). Even today, indeed, it is not completely rare for a Chinese lady walking on the street of Philadelphia e.g. to have a white man shouting at her for no reason: “Go back to Korea!”

    It is well said that TV Shows like this are mainly motivated for commercial gains. And it makes perfect sense for the director of the show to both prop & capitalize on the widespread Xenophobic feelings. Of course, as Freud demonstrates nicely, people are always feeling more united after they discharge their aggressive instincts together toward some foreigners. Indeed, from the rise of national debt to the loss of jobs, is there a time that the mainstream US media did not blame China as the problem?

  9. Bill Haines says:

    In the Kimmel bit, I don’t see anything in or near the genre of insult humor. It is not a joke of any kind; nobody is telling a joke. Rather it is a funny fact; what’s funny is that what the kids say is such a ridiculous mistake.

  10. Chenping says:

    The little Asian (Chinese?) girl, in answer to Kimmel’s question about money owed, was quite assertive about “never!” paying money back. And the “black” kid’s preferred solution was building a defensive wall to keep the debtor out. All responses, including the one about “killing” are honest reflections of a nature that we constantly try to suppress.

    Kimmel’s indiscretion was fooling around with the kids letting the cat out of the bag.

    • Bill Haines says:

      You may be right. But I’m skeptical that what the responses reflect goes so deep. Also I think that insofar as what they’re reflecting is a constant human nature, it’s not anything in particular about America’s attitude toward China, nor anything that can be changed. Maybe you agree.

      On our basic nature and its suppression, you might be interested in this.

      • Chenping says:

        I have not seen “this” yet so as not to let it influence my direct response.

        I don’t believe that Professor Wang feelings is reflective of the PRC’s attitude. I would be shocked if Xi Jinping doesn’t chuckle at the Kimmel’s skit and, instead, summon the US ambassador to a tirade. If American Chinese, as a community are upset, that would also be surprising, and inappropriate, in my opinion, considering that they should conduct themselves as Americans first (and not “overseas Chinese”) in accordance with Confucian manners “Li 理”.

        Over the past three decades, America’s economic heft has enabled China to pull hundreds of millions of her people above the poverty level. America’s 2008 recession couldn’t come at a worst time for China and bode more danger for China (struggling to get out of a hole) than for America. And right now, China is waited with bated breath praying for America’s economic recovery.

        I don’t believe that there is any bad attitude between China and America at any level. Culturally, they are capitalist roaders to the core and share a common bond: money, the more the better.

      • Chenping says:

        Yes, I agree on both counts: the kids’ playful responses were superficial; and unconnected to topical issues of which even adults in America are either misinformed or absolutely clueless.

        I have read “this” and am impressed with your LAP with Kim. I will respond at the other site after reviewing Kim’s essay.

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