Fox Execs Too Busy Laughing to Hear the Protests Over 'Banzai'By Ken Parish Perkins
July 25, 2003
So protesters were wearing holes in the pavement. But who cared, really? Not the drivers zooming by without the courtesy of a honk. Not camera-toting tourists who slithered through the protesters looking more irritated than interested.
And certainly not Fox, the target of this protest. Inside, the network suits were holding court for a couple of hundred television writers, and they appeared satisfied in knowing that many of these critics had written about the new series Banzai and found it simply hilarious. Stereotypical? Certainly. Racist? Well, duh.
Of the dozens of questions over an hour's time, only one made mention of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) and a number of other organizations parading out front. Odd. Usually matters of race stick like glue.
Protesters here were nothing more than free publicity.
"The show itself is a parody of Japanese game shows," said Gail Berman, the network's president of entertainment, referring to this summer series in which Japanese performers speak in broken English and perform a variety of gotcha tricks with celebrities.
For example, on last week's episode, a woman asked Antonio Banderas a question during the premiere of Spy Kids 3, only to stand there zombielike after he finished. "I'm finished," he kept saying, until finally he was whisked away by his publicist.
But mostly Banzai is Japanese people acting like buffoons.
"We think it's hysterically funny," Berman says of the series, which was a hit in Britain and is running as a summer series on Sunday nights here. "We think it's good. We think it's definitely different and edgy. We certainly don't -- nor do we ever -- intend to offend anyone. But in this case, we're sorry that some folks feel that way."
In other words, Fox is sorry for making a mockery of a race of people. But, hey, it's good TV. Different, edgy TV.
It wouldn't be a fall press tour without some sort of protest, and television networks, ever the insensitive lot, are at it again, offending a culture they know little about. Weary of having to contend with angry and rather loud black and Hispanic folks over the years, the networks now have set their sights on the so-called silent minority.
Why? Because they can.
Fox's blatant disrespect of Asian-American culture brings up the issue of television's way of marginalizing everything it touches. Fox doesn't see a need to be sensitive or apologetic or share some Asian-American groups' concerns. They know they'll go away.
This couldn't happen to African-Americans. Serve up Home Boys in Outer Space and all heck breaks loose.
"It's something that happens over and over to us," says John Tateishi, national executive director of JACL. "And when we complain, the response seems to be, 'Oh, well' . . . and they go about their business."
Berman says they've received little protest via e-mails and letters. Just the marchers in front of the hotel.
I told Tateishi that it might get worse before getting better, that there's always a cost of doing business with the devil. In television, it's about being conceptualized by Hollywood writers, producers and network executives who only know other Hollywood writers, producers and network executives.
Banzai perpetuates stereotypes and has the far-reaching influence of swaying public perception. Maybe not as much in San Francisco and other places where Asians are an intricate part of life and culture; but surely in places like Fort Worth.
"People say, 'Well, it's just a television show.' But it could have a devastating impact in terms of hate crimes, violence, racism and just the overall perception of Japanese Americans," Tateishi says. "It's buffoonery in the worst way."
It is. But to Fox, it's good TV. Different, edgy TV.Quote this article on your site