Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's Lin-Mazing! No..wait...

I think we can all agree. This is the best kind of word play.

What? Nobody likes a good pun anymore?

If you’re a sports fan, you’ve definitely heard of Jeremy Lin. The first Asian-American player in the NBA… or at least the first one anyone ever heard of… and nobody’d even heard of him a month ago.

That’s when Lin burst onto the scene, playing exceptionally well for an exceptionally disappointing New York Knicks team, and making the city of New York excited about something for once. (You know… aside from the perpetual contention of the Yankees, and the new Super Bowl champion Giants).

Good lord do people fucking love this Jeremy Lin character. And for whatever reason, they love him in the most twee way possible. It’s like a non-stop contest to see who can come up with the best play on words using his last name.

“All I do is Lin Lin Lin”

“Linderella Story”

“It’s Lin-Credible”

“Lin-spiring Story”

And of course, the most pervasive nonsense since Tebow-mania swept the country two whole months ago:


Now, look… I love a pun as much as the next guy, but it’s getting a little out of hand with Jeremy Lin. People are looking to wedge as clever a pun as possible into every story, and sign, and t-shirt, and headline.

Whenever something like this happens in the media (the story, not the puns), the natural progression dictates that sooner or later someone will go too far.

After the Knicks suffered their first loss of the Jeremy Lin era, a loss where Lin had a subpar game (his first), the ESPN Headline read:

“Chink in the Armor”

That’s right. ESPN actually made a Chinese racial slur in an article about a Chinese athlete.

It’s kind of amazing that it got through at all, but the guy who wrote the headline (since fired) said he didn’t even think about it. That it was meant to be an innocent headline. And in fact, that’s at least vaguely plausible.  My buddy Alan mentioned having seen the headline, it not registering one way or the other, and moving on to a more interesting story.

Alan didn’t immediately look at it and gasp and say “Oh no he di’nt”, because in this case, the word “chink” has multiple meanings, and there’s literally only one context it would have been considered offensive. If you’re not geared to look for the epithet there, it’s very possible it just doesn’t register.

Of course, nobody believes that it was accidental. The writer rolled the dice that it would sneak by, because it was clever, and word play is apparently so fucking popular now. And make no mistake. It was clever. And as Aziz Ansari pointed out on Twitter, there is something kind of hardcore about the guy finding literally the WORST slur and making it a headline on ESPN.  I actually sort of wonder if the constant pun making has made some people feel like they have a little additional license to be loose with the language.

I was once accused by a guy I worked with of playing “Mental Chess”, because he thought I would say things that could be taken innocently or not, depending on the audience, and that I relished living in that zone. I can’t say he was altogether wrong. It sure seems to be where the ESPN writer is trying to reside. The only problem is that he’s a professional writer. He should have been fired even if it wasn’t intentional, because his job is to be a master of the language.

The situation leads me to a lot of questions…

Like… what if, instead of having a bad game, Lin had a great game. What if the headline was “Lin Finds Chink in Hornets Armor”? Would the guy have been fired then?

If Jeremy Lin was a black player, you could never call his fans the “Lin Mob” or tout a huge performance by saying “Jeremy Lin-ches the Heat”. No matter how positive the intent, the meaning of the words is too negative, but… If he were a black guy playing in a sport dominated by black athletes, the line gets a little further away

What if Michael Jordan  had a great defensive performance against Phoenix… Could you write “Jordan Blacks Out the Suns”?  Arguably yes, because Jordan being black isn’t the first thing anyone mentions. Race is barely part of the discussion.

When Justin Tuck, a black defensive end for the New York Giants hounded Tom Brady for the entirety of the Super Bowl,  could you write “Justin Tuck Spooks Brady”? It’s a little more obscure, sure, but as a slur it’s just as bad as “chink”… but I imagine that gets printed, without a problem, and without incident.  Again… Justin Tuck being black isn’t part of the discussion. The last time I looked, the NFL was comprised of about 70% black players.

It’s when someone does something unexpected that race comes into play, and the ice gets thinner.

Asians aren’t exactly known for being great NBA players, so his race becomes part of the conversation.  

Serena Williams should historically be known as a great tennis champion, but more likely she’s historically going to be known as the greatest black tennis champion. When she handily beat Lindsey Davenport 500 times, the headline every time could be “Serena Gives Lindsey a Whipping”, but I wonder if the opposite would have been acceptable. Can a white tennis player (the majority) be said to have whipped a black one?

Of course, these divisions still exist in small part because the parties all want them to. Sandy Koufax is often known as the greatest Jewish baseball player, and even though he hasn’t thrown a pitch in almost 50 years, every baseball loving Jew in America knows Sandy Koufax. They’re proud of him as being a shining representative of their people. Even still.. If, after his perfect game against the Cubs, the following headline appeared, I imagine there would have been big problems:

“Sandy Koufax Jews Down Cubs”

Can you imagine the uproar? It could be argued even that it’s a compliment. Like… Sandy Koufax implemented the talents of his race to mow down the cubs.

I wonder if it’s one of those things where if you’re on the inside, it’s okay to say…

Personally, though.. I don’t think it’s offensive because being called a Jew is supposedly offensive. I don’t think it’s offensive because Jeremy Lin’s people have traditionally been called Chinks derogatorily.

I think it’s offensive, because doesn’t it marginalize what Jeremy Lin is doing? Floyd Mayweather decided to chime in on the discussion and said something like “If Jeremy Lin was black, people wouldn’t be going so nuts about it”. Sadly… he’s probably right. At least partly.

(I especially hate it when Floyd Mayweather is right, because he’s just about the worst, and there’s even some other ickier parts to this particular situation since he spends most of his time on twitter trying to bait an Asian guy into fighting him…. But I digress.)

He’s right, because it wouldn’t be the sensational story it is. There likely wouldn’t be puns and the fervor.

What he’s wrong about is that the insanity doesn’t make Jeremy Lin a better basketball player. What he’s doing between the lines has nothing to do with his race. He’s just dominating compared to any standard. His performance would be remarkable if he was black, or white or whatever else.

So anyway ESPN took it to that place, and thus fucked themselves over, because they missed the mark. The better story isn’t that he’s Asian, so calling him Jeremy “The Asian Sensation” Lin is also sort of missing the mark . The story is that Jeremy Lin is playing like a fucking badass and nobody knew about the guy a month ago. That’s a story.

The goal, I believe, is to minimize race as a descriptor in any way. If people were all enlightened beings, words would just go back to being words. Chink would just be a dent or blemish. Fag would just be an English word for cigarette.

Of course.. There’s one other part to the story, and here’s where I’m certain to get myself into trouble.

Isn’t the point of all these puns to make people laugh? It’s FUN to be clever and witty and whatnot, and I think that occasionally you cross some lines for the sake of a joke.

Daniel Tosh says more offensive things literally every day. So does David Cross. Richard Pryor did too. So in a lot of ways the platform makes all the difference. If I call myself a comedian I can get away with a lot more than I can if I call myself a columnist. Just look at Jon Stewart, right?

Anyway, since I am equal opportunity, and I have this sort of desire to offend people, I’ve come up with some other potentially offensive headlines (I had a good time coming up with my examples I used earlier, so I may as well make it way worse, right?)

Alan and I have enjoyed making up vaguely ethnic alliterative nicknames for baseball players of Jewish or Canadian descent. We like these, because really those are the last 2 frontiers in terms of baseball ethnicity, and literally every time a player from one of those groups excels, his heritage is mentioned.

Here are some of my favorites…

For Jewish Baseball Players:
- The Joltin’ Jew
- The Hebrew Hammer
- The Levite Leviathan

For Jewish baseball players accused of steroid use:
- The Juicin’ Jew
- The Pharmaceutical Pharisee (Alan’s creation…and my favorite)

For Canadian baseball players:
- The Clubbin’ Canuck
- The Mashing Maple Leaf
- The Splinterin Saskatchewanian



mary said...

When I first became friends with a dear friend who is Japanese American, I said to her one day "you are such a JAP." This was because of her shopping habits. The minute I saw her look, I realized what I had said and apologized. I told her that I was calling her a Jewish American Princess (which is bad enough but in those days, the 80's, we used it a lot) and that I forgot she was Japanese because I don't think in terms of what people are. We are still friends all these years later but she still reminds people of my remark, except she shares it with a smile.

Beefy Muchacho said...

Oh man.. I went to a Jewish day camp for most of my childhood. Every Summer... That term: JAP. That was just tossed about like crazy. I think I'm just lucky I didn't have that experience at some point.