I just caught the tail end of one of my favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother. It’s a show well known for its inventive comedy, so I was taken aback to hear Robin say this to her ex-boyfriend in a voicemail (not sure if its the exact wording, but it comes close):
And tell that Asian slut you’re pictured with on Facebook…I’ll kill her too.
It’s not the death threat that’s bothersome–that’s just a bitter ex talking. It’s the “Asian slut.”* Why is that supposed to be funny?
I’m trying to imagine a writers room, the same writers room that came up with Robin Sparkles and Slap Bet, that somehow thought using “Asian” as an adjective would make Robin calling the new girlfriend a slut even funnier.
Why is “Asian” used to punch up the line? If Robin had said “black” or “Hispanic slut,” it would have sounded grossly offensive. Same with any other ethnicity. So why it it okay for “Asian” to be used in the same way, and considered hilarious?
It could be the lack of specificity. If Robin had instead said “Japanese” or “Pakistani,” it might have seemed too direct, too wounding, too personal. By using “Asian,” perhaps the broadness of the term is supposed to dull the impact.
I should be clear: In no way do I think the character of Robin is racist. It’s the HIMYM writers who gave her that pejorative to say. And it’s not just them. There are plenty of instances when I’ve heard phrases like “Asian driver” or “Asian hooker” or just plain old “Asian guy” casually uttered in sitcom conversations, followed by the canned laughter of a studio audience. (The concept is neatly illustrated by the image accompanying this blog post.)
I’m not sure what’s supposed to be so humorous about it. It seems that “Asian” is viewed as the easiest comedic shorthand for communicating a person’s foreignness or exoticness, especially in contrast to something thought of as traditional or All-American.
I just wonder if proud Vancouverite Robin would be bothered if she heard someone referred to as a “Canuck slut” on television. After all, the only group TV writers make fun of more often than Asians? Canadians.
*And yes, I fear the Google searches that will come my way due to this post.