Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beat-boxing Miss Philippines

I don't really pay much attention to Miss World pageants. Really I don't. But occasionally something they produce something fascinating/hilarious/bizarre which is too good to ignore. Case in point is this year's entrant from the Philippines, Quenerich Rehman. Her entry in the "talent" section of the competition is surely a world first.

Sure, she's not the best beat-boxer you've ever seen, but it's better than I could do. And don't we all want our world represented by a beautiful lady who can beat-box? 

Unfortunately she didn't win. That honour went to Miss China, who in all fairness, is hawt. But can she beat-box? I'd have to presume not.

Btw, if you are wondering why her surname is unusual for a Filipino, it's because she apparently has a Pakistani father. If you are wondering why her first name is unusual... it's because she's Filipino. They like that kind of whackiness. It's sometimes listed around the place as "Queenierich", which doesn't make it any less odd.

For more beauty contest enjoyment:

Interview with Miss Universe China. Oh man, this is good.

Facepalm-worthy entrants on The S Factor, Singapore's answer to Next Top Model

Is it OK to laugh at this?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Friends and foes: On race and comedy

I've seen a few comments here and there about race and humour, following the video that went viral of Brett Eidman getting punched out for racially taunting Asian audience members under the guise of comedy. It's an issue that regularly comes up whenever a comedian or other celebrity says something about race: why do some people get away with race-based jokes and others don't? Why does someone like Eidman catch a beating for making fun of a particular race, while the likes of Dave Chappelle and Russell Peters have made a very lucrative living out of it?

I've written on this matter before, but I have a little more to add.

I should first state that even the likes of Chappelle, Peters and others who do it well can still cross the line sometimes, so we shouldn't look at this in overly simplistic terms. But overall, there is a difference between them and someone like Eidman, or like Michael Richards in the rant at black people that so severely damaged his reputation.

For the most part, the good guys play with the stereotypes rather than just regurgitate them; their comedy involves a degree of intelligence; they do not display contempt for the race they are making fun of; and most importantly, they are actually funny.

To a large extent, it comes down to whether the comedian comes across as a friend or a foe.

What does that mean? Think of Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock, who routinely make fun of both black people and white people, and most everyone else for that matter. But rarely if ever would a reasonable person conclude from their jokes that they don't like any of those races. Which is perhaps why their fanbase extends well beyond the black community. Likewise, Russell Peters has based his career almost entirely on ethnic stereotypes, and is perhaps best known for routines poking fun at Chinese people. Yet you will always find Chinese people in his audience.

Peters, to a certain extent, gets Chinese culture and Chinese people, at least more than the average non-Chinese observer. His riffs on the Chinese go beyond the lazy stereotypes that have been done to death. He does accents well enough that it's obvious that he has studied their nuances rather than just the superficial. It's pretty clear that Peters has hung out with a lot of Chinese people (and most everyone else he pokes fun at) and views them with respect. He is a "friend".

Other comedians, however, seem like foes. Using Brett Eidman as the obvious example, there is no love or respect for Asian people in his repulsive "Dom Fok" character. Slanty-eye glasses and a dumb "ching chong Chinaman" accent suggest contempt for Asians, as does repeating stupid, played-out lines like "Me love you long time" and "Me so horny". He comes across like a schoolyard bully, taunting someone just because they look different.

Friends can poke fun at each other about their race and culture, and for the most part it's okay because you know that joking aside, the friend still respects you and what you are. That's an entirely different thing from being a bully.

Knowing where that line is is a hard thing to know, of course. It's one reason why conservatives often don't seem to get why the likes of Rush Limbaugh is routinely branded a racist for his racial jokes, when more left-leaning comedians are let off the hook.

Check this clip of Rich Vos talking to a primarily black crowd. He's doing something lesser comedians wouldn't get away with - making fun of black people, as a group, to their faces. He's actually doing something very clever - he is making fun of black comics who make fun of white people, yet is indirectly making fun of black people in general. And apart from one dumb heckler, the crowd are on his side, and even seem to appreciate the balls it takes to say what he is saying. Why? Perhaps because it feels like there is an affection behind his poking fun, his execution is so smart. And he's funny. Being genuinely funny can help you get away with a lot.

Super Mario Theme - Bulgarian accordion version

(h/t: Geeks Are Sexy)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The natural consequence of being a dickwad

This clip has been getting around the Asian- and comedy-related corners of teh interwebz. (Hat tip: BigWowo.) Alleged comic Brett Eidman catches one upside the head after making one too many dumb racist cracks at Asian audience members, George and Rachel. Something about it looks fake, but I think it's probably real.

Now, I'm an anti-violence advocate (seriously, that's part of my actual job), but sometimes I have to admit that getting punched in the face might be the only way certain people learn to stop being such a douchebag.

There's nothing intrinsically wrong with racial humour, but you need to be legitimately funny to pull it off. Dave Chappelle and Russell Peters can do it. Brett Eidman clearly has no idea. I mean come on, "Me so horny?" "Me love you long time?" You just know the next thing out of his mouth would have been "Suckee suckee" if George hadn't put his fist in it.

Likewise, it's one thing for a comedian to give members of the audience a little ribbing; anyone sitting in the front row of a comedy gig needs to be prepared for that. It's also common for comics to ridicule hecklers. But sexually inappropriate and dumb racist put-downs to a couple who were just minding their own business... it's a dick move.

A lot of the discussion about this around the web is about whether or not it's staged. Certain aspects of it do smell a little fake. But if it's an attempt by Eidman to get some viral publicity, as has been suggested, it seems odd. There's no way this could be good publicity, surely? Unless it's targeting that lucrative demographic of people with victimised-white-guy syndrome and no sense of humour.

Thanks to the wonder of social media, we can note that Eidman has been doing that same character as part of his shitty act for a while now. You can see it in this video at the 5:45 mark, if you really must. On his Facebook page, Eidman posts the clip of him being hit, and comments:
"I took one for the team and it goes viral. Thank you, I think." 
"Sometimes comedy really sucks. Rest in Peace Dom Fok. Thank you for being part of my set for so many years. I love doing this character, but it’s time to say goodbye. I was told many years ago by a couple of big time comedian friends that this was the kind of bit that could get me noticed. They were wrong. I also thought the stage was the only safe place to truly express myself. I was wrong. I will heal and regroup and hit the stage again soon. I’m just glad this ass wipe didn’t have a gun. Thank you and goodnight."
The fan comments there are quite interesting to read; they actually make it sound like the Dom Fok character was some kind of noble artistic expression.

Those "big time comedian friends" of his should have had a word in his ear that not only is that bit fairly offensive, it's just not funny to anyone who is not a moron. They were right about one thing though; it did get him noticed.

Hopefully Eidman learns something from this experience.

See also:

Racial humour: is it ever okay?

"Tim Tam from Vietnam"... or how NOT to make jokes about Asians

Friday, August 24, 2012

I like to do it Gangnam Style

I'm not exactly sure what the f*ck this is. But it may well be the best thing ever in the history of the universe.


Monday, August 13, 2012

Obama's gay marriage, fake father and other wingnut fantasies

Ever seen those ads for Dos Equis beer which feature a character they call "The Most Interesting Man in the World"?
Well clearly they've got it wrong, because no one as lived a life as extraordinary as Barack Obama. Or at least that is if you believe right-wing conspiracy theorists.

So far we've seen Obama the Communist, Obama the Black Radical, Obama the Secret Muslim, Obama the Atheist, Obama the Kenyan, Obama the Indonesian, Obama the Black Radical, Obama the Guy Who Is Just Like Adolph Hitler, and even Obama the Antichrist.

Now in a flash of inspiration, someone has come up with a concept that neatly combines the right-wing's two favourite destroyers of the fabric of society (gay marriage and Islam) into one nice package: Obama was secretly married in college - to a man! And to a Pakistani man at that!

What makes Obama the most interesting man in the world is not just that he is able to simultaneously be all of these things - a gay Muslim who is really an atheist yet claims to be a Christian - but that no one who he ever met in all that time seems to be willing to verify any of these details. Which, if you really want to get into conspiratorial mode, is probably because he had everyone who knew his secrets killed execution-style by the Illuminati Hit Squad.

The genius behind this story is the Tea Party's professional conspiracy theorist in chief, Jerome Corsi. You may remember Corsi for his role in smearing 2004 Presidential hopeful John Kerry's decorated record as a soldier in Vietnam, and his role in the Birther movement. His logic states that Obama must have been married because he was photographed wearing a ring on his left hand where one normally wears a wedding ring. And Corsi decides it was probably a gay marriage because... well, in this photo he is seated almost touching another guy, his Pakistani college room-mate Sohale Siddiqui. And sitting close to another guy is, as we all know, a clear sign that one is hungry for cock.

These two are like, totally gay for each other.
These two are just good friends.

To be honest, if BO experimented in college, I personally don't give a shit. A lot of people do that sort of thing; that's what college is for. If he is indeed on the "down-low" as they say, he'll have something in common to chat about with half the congressmen in the Republican party. But anyway, BO looks like he might be the "top" in that relationship, and we all know it's not gay if you're the pitcher.

Speaking of pitching, Corsi is pitching a couple of other conspiracy theories at the moment over at WorldNetDaily.

Firstly, Corsi is touting "absolute proof" that Obama was both an Indonesian citizen and a Muslim, based on a document at the Indonesian school where he was enrolled as a young child. Whether or not the document is real is probably immaterial; anyone who knows Indonesia knows that it's standards of record-keeping are hardly rigorous in their accuracy. As conservatives are constantly telling us, bureaucracies are inefficient, and Indonesia's more than most. What seems likely is that it was assumed Obama was an Indonesian because that's what his stepfather Lolo Soetoro was. Religion-wise, it should be noted that it is effectively illegal to NOT have a religion in Indonesia. Belief in God is one of the tenets of Pancasila, the national ideology, and while no one cares if someone doesn't actually practice the religion, not claiming a religion would draw suspicions of Communism. Thus it makes sense that Soetoro would list his stepson's religion as Islam, since that made as much sense as any other alternative at the time.

An even more interesting theory being promoted by Corsi at WND is that Obama's real father was not Barack Obama Snr, but was instead their family friend Frank Marshall Davis, who was a mentor to the young Obama. This is delicious for the WND audience since Davis was a member of the Communist Party and thus must have been a bad person. Joel Gilbert, director of the "documentary" entertaining this theory, Dreams of My Real Father, wasted 2 years of his life studying photos to support this theory.
“I decided to investigate Frank Marshall Davis. His close physical resemblance to Obama was shocking, while Obama little resembled the Kenyan Obama,” Gilbert told WND. “How could this be?”
Here is a comparison of the President with his Kenyan father and the man Gilbert alleges is his real father. You can initially see where Gilbert might have got this idea from; there are some ways in which Obama looks more like Davis than Obama Snr.

But there's another obvious explanation. Can you guess the detail Gilbert has missed?

Genetically, Obama Jnr and Davis almost certainly do share something: European DNA. Virtually all African-Americans who are descended from slaves have some white European ancestry. On average, 20% of African-American DNA comes from white ancestors. You can be a black American, whose parents are both black, yet be more than 50% European genetically.
Frank Marshall Davis has some level of white DNA, probably in the average range for his ethnicity. Barack Obama II is 50% white. Barack Obama Snr is an ethnic Luo with no apparent white ancestry. Which is why, shockingly, he looks so much darker and more African than his son.
Obama doesn't look much like his mother either, come to think of it. He's sort of... blacker-looking. Maybe she's not his real mother either?

The article also shows pictures of Davis' children, Lynn and Mark, for comparison. He also married a white woman, so his children have that mixed appearance. They do vaguely resemble Obama, particularly if you think black people tend to look alike. But they also look considerably "whiter" than Obama, particularly when it comes to their hair, which appears far less sub-Saharan African in form than Obama's. This is as you would expect, since Davis is presumably "whiter" than Obama Snr.

As a person of mixed race myself, I also don't look all that similar to either of my parents, and it's not uncommon either.

Of course, if you pay attention you may notice that all these conspiracy theories contradict each other. I mean, Obama can't be both a foreign Kenyan AND have a father who is an American communist. And he's probably not both an atheist AND a secret Islamic jihadist. But as any good mudslinger knows, if you fling enough mud, eventually some of it will stick. And given that around a quarter of all Americans think Obama IS a Muslim and a foreigner, Corsi and friends have a sizable audience to pitch their wingnut wet dreams to.

See also:
If Obama is a Muslim, maybe I am too...
Obama's birth certificate, and the racist impulses behind Birtherism
The Muslim-ness of Obama's family, and what it has to do with his presidency

Monday, August 6, 2012

Rudimental - "Feel the Love"

There are a number of reasons this is my favourite song at the moment.

Firstly, despite being extremely accessible, it has a number of features that make it completely unlike everything else in the charts right now. I mean it's a drum 'n' bass type groove with electronic synth stabs that also features churchy organ, a trumpet solo and a horn section. Up and coming singer John Newman does his best white boy Otis Redding impersonation.
It actually sounds like it has real live people playing instruments on it. Which sounds unremarkable in itself, except that everyone else that is a hit at the moment seems like it is purposefully avoiding sounding remotely organic.

The video is cool, too. The images of inner-city black kids riding horses might seem fanciful, but in fact it depicts the very real Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, in North Philadelphia. There's a really interesting article about it from a few years ago, here.

Mostly, I just like that a song that feels unique, and real, is somehow a big hit around the world (number 1 in the UK, number 3 in Australia). I first heard this at my gym, which plays Channel V all day and all night, and this song was sandwiched in between an ocean of music that was either mediocre (Maroon 5, Katy Perry, Rihanna) or really f*cking horrible (Flo Rida, Chris Brown, Pitbull, more Flo Rida). Not since Gnarls Barkley's Crazy has something this different and awesome been so high in the charts that I can recall.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Inside the mind of Mitt Romney

Here's a trick question for you: Is Mitt Romney kinda ignorant, or is he just a right-winger?

I know the Republicans don't like what they see as Obama pandering to the Muslim world. But I'm not sure they really wanted Mitt Romney to offer the Muslim world a big F U either.

JERUSALEM -- Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. Romney's campaign later said his remarks were mischaracterized.
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who ate breakfast at the luxurious King David Hotel.
Romney said some economic histories have theorized that "culture makes all the difference."
"And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things," Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the "hand of providence." He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
While speaking to U.S. audiences, Romney often highlights culture as a key to economic success and emphasizes the power of the American entrepreneurial spirit compared to the values of other countries. But his decision to highlight cultural differences in a region where such differences have helped fuel violence for generations raises new questions about the former businessman's diplomacy skills.
As he has at home, Romney in Jerusalem cited a book titled, "Guns, Germs and Steel," that suggests the physical characteristics of the land account for the differences in the success of the people that live there.
"And you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here," Romney said, before citing another book, "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations," by former Harvard professor David Landes. This book, Romney said in Jerusalem, concludes that "if you could learn anything from the economic history of the world it's this: Culture makes all the difference. Culture makes all the difference."
The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater than Romney stated. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank.

Got that? The reason the Palestinians are poorer than the Israeli Jews is that their culture is just not as good. It has nothing to do with the fact that the Jews took over their land and forced them to live in  what is basically a refugee camp.

Someone needs to tell Mitt that it is possible to pay someone a compliment without having to piss on someone else.

Is Mitt's idea about some cultures being very geared to certain kinds of success completely wrong? Actually, no. Jewish culture places a high value on success through education, and that is a significant factor in why Israel is an extremely successful nation, and why a significant proportion of the world's pre-eminent scientists and thinkers have been Jewish. You can say the same about Chinese culture, illustrated by the economic dominance of the ethnic Chinese throughout South East Asia.

Is the culture of Israeli Jews better disposed to economic vitality and an innovative business climate than that of the Palestinians? Perhaps. But it is completely absurd to even talk about that without mentioning the primary factor that holds Palestinians back, which is that they live under Israeli occupation.

But that shouldn't be news to anybody. It can't have escaped Mitt's notice that the Palestinian situation is kind of a big thing. Anyone who even occasionally watches the news would know that the conditions Palestinians are forced to live under are not exactly optimal for a thriving business climate.

But perhaps it is not too surprising that Mitt thinks this way, as it is merely a logical extension of his particular brand of right-wing thinking. Mitt is an insanely wealthy individual, and in his own little universe, he got that way because of his sheer awesomeness. If someone is not wealthy, it's clearly because they just aren't smart enough, or haven't tried hard enough.

People don't dislike Mitt Romney because he is rich; anyone who is in a position to run for President of the United States is going to be very rich by the standards of the average person. People dislike him because he is a virtual caricature of a wealthy elitist, who has no idea what everyday life looks like for the average person who was not born into privilege.

In the mind of Mitt Romney, Palestinians feel aggrieved towards Israelis not because they are an oppressed and dispossessed people; rather, it's because the Palestinians are just playa-haters.