BREAKFAST at TIFFANY’S: RACIST? ヽ(ｏ`皿′ｏ)ﾉ
I’m probably in the minority here but I believe that people should be held and defined by their best and most essential elements – and not their failings. I’m reminded of that Ray Charles biopic – just a grand, sad statement to the idea that one must focus on the salacious, painful and unessential aspects of a person’s life that was in reality filled with the most incredible and inspirational achievements. And I feel the exact same way about ART – all ART including film, music, paintings, etc. (Yes, I can even enjoy most parts of Godfather 3 although I prefer Puzo’s original ideas)
In doing my research on Breakfast at Tiffany’s for my contribution to Crazy 4 Cult: 6 in New York, it was pretty difficult to ignore the still raging controversy over Mickey Rooney’s portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi. A few years back, a group calling itself “Asian American Media Watch” tried and succeeded in getting the film removed from a San Francisco screening, and another group forced a New Jersey audience to sit through some politically correct explanation. And yet…who are some of the biggest fans of this film? Where do I see posters, books, art, shirts, mugs, etc. with Audrey as Holly Golightly all over the place? Why Japan of course.
Japanese LOVE BREAKFAST! (✿ ♥‿♥)
In fact, it was on a past trip to Shibuya’s now closed “Book 1st”, that I bought a truck load of memorabilia – all in Japanese, with Breakfast as a key feature. (and I don’t mean a Japanese light breakfast of soup, salmon and Doraemon-shaped onigiri). What gives? Well – when I’ve asked some actual Japanese from Japan, as you would expect, most don’t much care and if they do, it’s with a dismissive rolling of the eyes. They seem to get the difference between a “caricature” and a “character”. And sad to say, Mr. Yunioshi is a pretty poor, and absolutely disturbing caricature of a Japanese man. In fact, each time Rooney appears on the screen, I am thrown off of the harmony and emotional balance of the film.
In any event, it’s not the defining element of Breakfast, and is in truth the unessential and least important part of what is ironically a film about an “American-Geisha”, according to Breakfast author Truman Capote. That is, this film is in large part an homage to an aspect of Japanese culture (love it or hate it) that does exist. To focus on the worst element of the film…to make the “unessential” the “essential”, is to give power and credibility to that which would otherwise be vilified and likely dismissed by any sane person watching.
DROPPING YOUR “CONTEXT” ミ●﹏☉ミ
I should say that I don’t always have an issue with instances of making fun of a cultures mode of speech, dress, etc. It’s all depending on context. Don’t drop the context. And in this case, the context was 1961, post-war and within an America that still held some antiquated understanding and I’m sure some anger as well, towards Japanese culture. That doesn’t make it right. But it’s relevance today is as a marker of being proud of what an amazing country America is. In just 50 years, Japanese culture sits at the pinnacle of what we find so aspirational. So it’s not a bad reminder to observe this “fork on a blackboard” performance, especially for younger people who are clueless about how wrong things can get. Of course, other films like The Crimson Kimono (1959) tell a very different story about how asians are portrayed in American film (heroically so), along with James Clavell’s Walk Like a Dragon (1960) – WHICH I LOVE!
Beyond all of this, I not only dislike political correctness, I am scared of it. It kills art. It kills ideas. It shuts you up even when you should speak. It destroys aspiration. It makes us uncomfortable to identify reality, even if it’s one some would rather not acknowledge.
WHAT IS ASIA? ┗(＾0＾)┓
Asia for me, is a geographic location with a multitude of fluid and fluctuating cultures, made up of diverse individuals with their own personal likes, thoughts, dreams and desires. Is being Asian a genetic thing? Is it being part of a monolithic, same-thinking super organism? Living in LA, I can tell you that just because someone “looks” Asian doesn’t mean they know or even care a thing about Asia. And that’s fine by me. (well, not really because I think that they’re missing out!) We choose our values. They shouldn’t be forced on us. We don’t owe respect or allegiance to those that appear similar to us.
I happen to love much of what Asian culture has taught me. I am grateful to an enormous amount of people coming from that part of the world, for their friendship, love and brilliance. In turn, I’ve made many aspects of Asian culture mine, as I have with Italy, England, France, etc. You are what you think (and often what you eat – ask Bourdain). So yes…I think that I’m part Asian. Just as many in Asia are part Canadian, or American, or French. Culture is in part a conversation and it’s not defined by a skin shade or eye shape.
THE “REAL” RACISM (ノಠ益ಠ)ノ
Real racism is the belief in the genetic differences and often superiority of one supposed “race” over another. Anyone with a basic understanding of genetics, anthropology, history, etc. will know that “we” are truly all family. “Family” in the sense that our DNA is made up of everyone and everything. We all have “genetic” and/or “cultural” family in China, India, Africa, Europe whether we know it or not. A quick glance at Chinese history can teach you this in a second.
I prefer to live in a country where you can express yourself freely, and create art that you prefer – and then let the audience decide and vote if necessary, with their minds and wallets. I don’t want nor need to be protected by more “groups” of people forcing others to be quiet, apologize, hide, etc. So IF Breakfast is at all offensive, it’s offensive to me, as a man and as a lover of the best parts of Japanese culture. But it was Rooney and the film makers that look bad here. Not Japan. What’s truly offensive is what would otherwise be a wickedly cool work of art, is slightly tarnished. But all in all, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it again except that the PC police would have us define Breakfast at Tiffany’s by these scenes. As they often define people’s whole lives by their less than best moments. That’s a hell of a lot more offensive to me than Mr. Yunioshi.
So please…Enjoy your Breakfast! ღ˘⌣˘ღ) ♫･*:.｡. .｡.:*･
© Sean D’Anconia – 8/7/2012