Over two weeks after the Oscar telecast first aired, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has apologized for a Chris Rock bit that a variety of Academy members, media outlets, and even basketball star Jeremy Lin decried as “Anti-Asian.”
What was the bit? Rock, during the traditional introduction of the accountants who tabulate the Oscar ballots, brought onstage three Asian-American child actors whom he introduced as, “Ming Zu, Bao Ling, and David Moskowitz.” This, apparently, perpetuated the stereotype that Asians are diligent workers who excel at math, according to The New York Times.
I do not claim to be an expert on Asian or Asian-American culture, but I am pretty sure that David Moskowitz is not usually assumed to be a traditionally Asian name. (To be fair, living in New York City, I do know several half-Asian children and children adopted from China and Kazakhstan who do carry similar monikers, but I strongly suspect that is not the population to whom Rock was referring.)
The name David Moskowitz, as a rule, is associated with Jews. Who also have, at times, been referred to as diligent workers who excel at math. Perhaps you may have heard?
In fact, I’ve written before about how the high school my oldest son attends, which is now mostly Asian, was once accused of being too Jewish. The same arguments regarding changing the admissions criteria to be more “fair” and “diverse” that are now being used against Asians were originally used against Jews. And let’s not even talk about whom downplaying SAT scores and emphasizing nebulous qualities like “character” was once supposed to keep from storming the bastions of the Ivy League. In the interest of fairness and diversity, of course.
So where is the outrage about poor, little David Moskowitz?
Director Ang Lee called the Oscar sketch “tasteless and offensive.” Mr. Sulu himself, actor George Takei, decried it as “shameless.” “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu tweeted that it was “reductive & gross.”
Yet Steven Spielberg, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), and the cast of “The Goldbergs” remain silent.
Why? Isn’t it the exact same joke? (Granted, without the visual, as all three children were Asian in appearance. Which doesn’t dismiss the possibility of “David” being Jewish, even if he wasn’t wearing a kippah to cover his horns, or sporting a big nose because “air is free.”)
Is the lack of outrage due to Jews controlling Hollywood and so feeling no need to rock (ha! pun!) the boat? Is it the opposite, and, like Neal Gabler wrote in his book, “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” is it because Jews are only allowed to control Hollywood as long as they sublimate their Judaism and act profoundly more WASP-ier than thou? Could it be because Jews don’t actually control Hollywood, after all? Could it be because, in the grand scheme of things, the joke was no big deal?
The main controversy of the 2016 Academy Awards was the hashtagged #OscarsSoWhite campaign, lamenting the lack of African-American actors nominated for the second year in a row. Rock made it the theme of his evening.
No Asian actors were nominated, either, but that topic wasn’t addressed in the pre-show brouhaha or during the telecast itself. The only reference to Asians was Rock’s controversial bit, and the Sacha Baron Cohen character Ali G’s quip about “Minions” and little yellow people. I, personally, give Baron a pass. Not because he’s Jewish, but because his characters are deliberately racist towards everyone as a form of satire. Ask my father how he feels about Borat and his song, “Throw A Jew Down the Well.” (Spoiler: He does not appreciate it.)
Rock doesn’t quite go as far with his comedy. (Though my African-American husband is a huge fan of this routine.) Nonetheless, Rock is hired to be “edgy.” Well, as edgy as a mainstream show produced by the mainstream for the mainstream can be. He is expected to push buttons and envelopes, to make people think and to make them uncomfortable. It’s his shtick just as much as Baron’s. Rock is also the one who, during his “Saturday Night Live” days, had a whole “Weekend Update” segment on the difference between stereotypes about Blacks, and those about Jews and Asians. Jews are “good with money” and Asians are “very smart.” But they get very upset when you tell them that.
Rock asserts that he would take “smart” and “good with money” over “big-lipped, dancing, stealing, watermelon-eating person” any day. “I pray for the day they say [very smart] about Black people!” (Watch the entire segment here.)
Nothing that Rock did or said at the Oscars was new. (It’s also questionable whether or not it was, in fact, actually funny, or just more of the same pabulum the Oscars serve up every year in a show that has long ago lost its cultural relevance.)
In response to the Academy’s apology, some Rock defenders have claimed the blame is being unfairly heaped on him. His sketch was rehearsed and approved by more than 100 people before hitting the air. They all share responsibility for the offense.
That may be true. But my original question remains: If the sketch was offensive to Asians, wasn’t it also offensive to Jews?
Should the Hollywood community and social media have been equally insulted? Why weren’t they?