By Daniel J. Bauer
Two interesting but very different events occurred last week that highlight the importance and, sometimes, the potential dangers of humor. For me, these events more or less hint at first the bitter in life, and then the sweet. The China Post offered readers a full-blown editorial this past Thursday on the story I am depicting as “bitter.” One of the points the writer makes there (and that’s not me; I don’t write editorials) is that death is serious business, so serious that joking about it may be offensive. Local TV reporter Liang Fang-yu had some days earlier taken a stab, you see, at so called “kuso,” which the editorial described as “the Japanese word for all sorts of camp and parody on the Internet and the mass media” (CP 12-22-11 p. 4). Ms. Liang chose as her topic the news announcement of the death of “Great Leader” Kim Jong II in North Korea, broadcasted earlier with full throated emotion by well known Korean news anchor Lee Chun Hee. Ms. Liang mimicked the name of Korean Lee and the way she dressed, gestured, and spoke during Lee’s news segment on the death of Kim Jong II. Viewers in Taiwan thus received an example of parody, a term we use in literature to describe a fine-tuned imitation of a well-known work by another writer, for the purposes of comedy or satire.
By their very nature, parodies are of course meant to provoke laughter. Laughter may be a whole lot of things, however, and may come in a variety of tones: good-hearted and sympathetic, or derisive, sarcastic and cruel.
Public outcry was so strong against Ms. Liang that she lost her job, and others at her studio theirs as well, and all this over a rude and thoughtless TV broadcast.
But more ran amok here than carelessness about the death of a public figure.
Language is intimately related to national identity and culture and, in many instances, race. Our local reporter committed an additional serious gaffe when she mocked the way persons of another nationality speak their native tongue. Using Mandarin in a ridiculously slurred, chopping, tongue-twisting way to make Korean seem a laughable pile of gibberish shows a stunning lack of respect for another culture, and smacks of racism. This was not only an example of unprofessional behavior. Intentional or not, this was a nasty hit against people of Korean ancestry.
This is a story that makes us wonder: How many of us here in Taiwan, local people as well as foreigners like me, see the importance of basic respect for persons who are different than us? That does it for the bitter. Now let’s turn to the sweet.