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#CancelColbert : The campaign to cancel Colbert Report over “Ching Chong Ding Dong” joke

The New Yorker:

 

On Thursday night, the official Twitter account for “The Colbert Report” committed the comedic sin of delivering a punchline without its setup. The offending tweet, “I am willing to show #Asian community I care by introducing the Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever,” was meant to be a satirical analog to the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation, whose creation was announced earlier this week by the team’s owner, Daniel Snyder.

The joke, which originally aired on Wednesday’s episode, is not particularly complicated: Daniel Snyder created a charitable organization for the benefit of a community and used a racial epithet for that same community in the organization’s name—so here’s an absurd fictional extrapolation of Snyder’s own logic. Everyone who hates both racism and Daniel Snyder laughs.

On Twitter, where words often slip free of their contexts, the unaccompanied punchline sparked a firestorm of outrage, which quickly escalated into a campaign demanding the show’s cancellation. The hashtag #CancelColbert became one of Twitter’s trending topics across the United States, and prompted Comedy Central to point out that the tweet in question, which was soon deleted, was posted by a corporate account that Colbert did not control.

#CancelColbert started with Suey Park, a twenty-three-year-old writer and activist, who, in December of last year, came to Twitter prominence when she set up #NotYourAsianSidekick, an online conversation that encouraged Asian-American women to voice their frustrations with traditional feminism. The hashtag has generated tens of thousands of tweets, which in turn led to wide coverage from mainstream media organizations. Park has gone on to start, or facilitate, several other successful hashtags, including #POC4CulturalEnrichment and #BlackPowerYellowPeril. For her efforts, she was named one of the Guardians “top 30 young people in digital media.”

Park, now a veteran of so-called “hashtag activism,” started the campaign with the following tweet: “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals has decided to call for #CancelColbert. Trend it.”

As #CancelColbert grew, Park acted as something of an online personal trainer, exhorting her followers to push the hashtag up the list of Twitter’s trending topics. In response, tens of thousands of people came to Colbert’s defense, many of them apparently outraged at the outrage. By lunchtime on Friday, when Deadspin published a post by two Korean-American writers with the tongue-in-cheek headline “Gooks Don’t Get Redskins Joke,” #CancelColbert had become another online feeding trough, attracting heated commentary from everyone who has ever thought anything about race in this country. (As Deadspin noted, it had also shifted the debate away from Daniel Snyder and the name of his football team.)

I called Park on Friday to ask her about how #CancelColbert got started. She said she saw the offending tweet while eating dinner Thursday night and decided to respond to it. Despite her online profile—and the forceful, yet sometimes decidedly academic, tone of her advocacy—Park does not consider herself a “full-time” activist and claims that she does not particularly enjoy hustling along a hashtag. Her degree of involvement in a hashtagged cause, she said, depends on how much “free time” she has at the moment, and whether a particular issue piques her interest. “It’s not like I enjoy missing ‘Scandal’ to tweet about ‘The Colbert Report,’” she said.

Every debate on Twitter gets put through the platform’s peculiar distortion effect. The form’s inherent limitations—the 140 character limit and a fleeting shelf-life—reward volume, frequency, and fervor rather than nuance, complexity, and persuasion. This might feel unseemly to those who value a more refined conversation, but there is no denying the viral power of hashtag activists who capitalize on the speed at which a single tweet can multiply into something that resembles a protest rally. A new Twitter outrage seems to detonate every week, and, in many cases, the voices raised in these social media movements belong to groups that do not have equal representation within the mainstream media. But they should not therefore be immune to questions or criticism: If an activist hashtag becomes a trend, has a broad, important conversation taken place? It is no simple thing to determine whether Twitter outrage can itself expand the terms of discourse and challenge the status quo.

At its best, #NotYourAsianSidekick provides a channel for thousands of Asian-American women and their allies to discuss the tokenism that so often accompanies broad conversations about diversity in this country. Dissatisfied with the idea of a “seat at the table,” Park uses social media to facilitate a self-contained conversation among Asian-Americans that does not require any explanation or translation of our shared cultural norms. The ultimate significance of a string of tweets can always be questioned, but that a hashtag conversation on Twitter could have such resonance speaks to just how desperate Asian-Americans have been to talk about identity without deferring to the familiar binaries that shape most discussions of race in this country.

#CancelColbert could be seen as a similar attempt to carve out space for Asian-Americans to discuss something that has nothing to do with parody, Daniel Snyder, or the good intentions of “The Colbert Report.” There’s a long tradition in American comedy of dumping tasteless jokes at the feet of Asians and Asian-Americans that follows the perception that we will silently weather the ridicule. If I were to predict which minority group the writers of a show like “The Colbert Report” would choose for an edgy, epithet-laden parody, I’d grimace and prepare myself for some joke about rice, karate, or broken English. The resulting discomfort has nothing to do with the intentions of the joke or the political views of the people laughing at it. Even when you want to be in on the joke—and you understand, intellectually, that you are not the one being ridiculed—it’s hard not to wonder why these jokes always come at the expense of those least likely to protest.

In our conversation, Park admitted that despite the hashtag’s command, she did not want “The Colbert Report” to be cancelled. “I like the show,” she explained. Instead, she said, she saw the hashtag as a way to critique white liberals who use forms of racial humor to mock more blatant forms of racism. “Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot,” Park told me. “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”

It’s important to note here that Suey Park identifies herself as an activist, and does not make any claim to objectivity or fairness. #CancelColbert might have rankled and annoyed people who got Colbert’s joke, but Park says that the point of the “movement” was to argue that white liberals who routinely condemn what she called “worse racism” will often turn a blind eye to, or even defend, more tacit forms of prejudice, especially when they come from someone who shares their basic political beliefs. “The response shows the totality of white privilege,” Park said. “They say, ‘Suey is trying to take away a show we enjoy, so we’re going to start a petition to take away her first amendment rights and make rape threats.’ All this happens because they were worried that a show they enjoyed might be taken away.”

If we are to take Park’s explanation in good faith and see #CancelColbert as the work of a master provocateur who held up a mirror up to the way that self-identifying liberals of all races respond to criticism from people that they assumed to be allies, then it should be hailed as a rousing success. In interviews and on Twitter, Park has repeatedly pointed out that she does not subscribe to a traditional distinction between liberalism and conservatism. She does not defer to white liberals who point out that the joke was meant to satirize white racists; nor does she believe that a debt of gratitude is owed to the good intentions of white liberalism. During our conversation, she mentioned Kanye West and the politics behind his public persona. Park suggested that she, like West, is playing to a part and, in the process, satirizing what we might expect from a twenty-three-year-old hashtag activist. “There’s no reason for me to act reasonable because I won’t be taken seriously anyway,” she said. “So I might as well perform crazy to point out exactly what’s expected from me.

I am ten years older than Suey Park, and, like her, I grew up in a suburban Korean household, read critical theory in college, and now make my living peddling words on the Internet. Like Park, I am a fan of “The Colbert Report.” I did not find Colbert’s joke offensive in any way. But, while I was initially turned off by what I saw as a disingenuous and self-aggrandizing attempt to blow up a joke into a national issue, I also found myself agreeing with what Park has to say about the roles we, as Asian-Americans, are called to play in America’s ongoing diversity drama. Unlike Park, I tend to keep my political beliefs close to the vest, especially when talking to white, liberal friends, because I assume—fairly or not—that they expect me to laugh at whatever gets mocked on “The Daily Show” or satirized on “The Colbert Report.” Like Park, I have seen how quickly a presumed collegiality can turn into a mocking, almost threatening, tone whenever I stray from the assumed consensus that we all hate “worse racists,” Fox News, and gun nuts. Like Park, I have always assumed—again, fairly or not—that white liberals believe that as a person of color, I owe a debt of gratitude to the generations of well-intentioned white people who have fought hard for my right to write for prestigious publications.

I do not know if I believe that Park set out to incite this particular riot when she first tweeted #CancelColbert, but I also do not believe that any activist really owes an explanation for the mess she leaves in her wake. Over the past two days, much of the debate about #CancelColbert has been about the efficacy of hashtag activism and whether the act of dissent has been cheapened by the ease, and sometimes frivolity, of Twitter protests. As the debate intensified, I, too, thought that we had reached a point where hashtag activism had circled back onto itself—a moment when the earnestness of a conversation like #NotYourAsianSidekick had been compromised by self-promotion and race hustling. But journalists and pundits are particularly sensitive to charges of self-promotion and hustling because we so often use Twitter to self-promote and hustle. Unlike Park, we usually do this without any particular ideological motivation—and if we are honest with ourselves, I think we can admit that one reason we may find Twitter activism distasteful is because it interrupts our online socializing with questions we might not want to answer.

#CancelColbert may have been silly and dumb and wrong in spirit, but it’s worth asking if those of us who find it distasteful know as much about the intentions of the hashtag activists as we think we do. If we take #CancelColbert at face value, we can easily dismiss it as shrill, misguided, and frivolous. But after speaking to Park about what she hoped to accomplish with all this (a paternalistic question if there ever was one), I wonder if we might be witnessing the development of a more compelling—and sometimes annoying and infuriating—form of protest, by a new group of Merry Pranksters, who are once again freaking out the squares in our always over-reacting, always polarized online public sphere.

Photograph by Cliff Owen/AP.

 

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#CancelColbert : The campaign to cancel Colbert Report over “Ching Chong Ding Dong” joke

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With a glittering new set design, CCTV News takes aim at the world

FastCoDesign:

 

HOW JIM FENHAGEN, THE AMERICAN SET DESIGNER BEHIND THE COLBERT REPORTTHE DAILY SHOW, AND MARTHA STEWART, NAVIGATED A RAFT OF CULTURAL DIFFERENCES TO GIVE CHINA’S FAVORITE NEWSCAST A SET DESIGN THAT COULD CAPTURE THE PROGRAM’S GLOBAL AMBITIONS.

When the new set for CCTV’s Nightly News debuts later this spring, in Rem Koolhaas’s iconic tower, nearly half of China’s population will be tuned in to see the swoopy screens and ultra high-res LED technology that will vaunt China’s favorite newscast into the forefront of broadcast design.

The sets, which feature columns and a serpentine desk wrapped in-high res screens, are designed around the latest in LED technology, which uses 2.5 mm pixels. Prior to this project, the highest resolution screens featured four mm pixels (by comparison, outdoor rock concert screens or those in Times Square have 10 to 12 mm pixels).

Screens with 2.5 mm pixels are unbelievably crisp, and very, very expensive,” says New York set designer Jim Fenhagen.

American broadcast technology has yet to catch up to this standard–but will, as Fenhagen and his team from Jack Morton Worldwide download what they learned from their high-profile project. “We definitely grew a lot,” he says. “This will eventually make its way into American design.”

Fenhagen, senior vice president of design at Jack Morton Worldwide, has long been the go-to guy in America’s broadcast fraternity. With nearly 20 Emmy’s littering his home office, Fenhagen can claim credit for some of America’s most iconic TV environments, from The Colbert Report and The Daily Show to Good Morning America, from Martha Stewart to the NBA for TNT, from the Golf Channel to CBS’s The NFL Today.

MONEY WASN’T THE MAIN ISSUE. THEY WANTED AN INTERNATIONAL STYLE, NOT A CHINESE LOOK.

The Chinese tapped Fenhagen and his crew after a global search for a team that could catapult their broadcast into the ranks of other international news leaders. “They wanted to be on a par with the BBC, CNN, and Sky News–to be cutting-edge, and to be an equal,” says Fenhagen back in New York after a grueling pre-New Year’s run-up to the project’s deadline. “Money wasn’t the defining issue. They wanted the most contemporary tools and an ‘international style,’ not a Chinese look.”

It didn’t hurt Fenhagen’s case that he had been the designer behind the Sky News set, and that Jack Morton already had an office in Beijing. But the Chinese still put him to the test before awarding the CCTV contract, hiring him to design a bureau in Nairobi, Kenya, to see if the Jack Morton team could understand the nuances of Chinese culture, and could operationally pull off a set design far from its New York headquarters.

CCTV’S ‘NIGHTLY NEWS’ HAS AN AUDIENCE OF SOME 500 MILLION PEOPLE. THE SUPER BOWL HAS JUST 108 MILLION.

When that project ended successfully, complete with a hand-off featuring an African and Chinese drum ceremony, Fenhagen went into high gear. The stakes were high. CCTV’s “Nightly News” has an audience of some 500 million people. Not bad, when you think that NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams recently celebrated its best week since the 2012 Olympics with a paltry 10.7 million viewers. Even Super Bowl 2013, one of the highest rated TV programs ever tracked, garnered a limp 108.4 million viewers.

More complicated set elements were built in New Jersey and shipped to China, when it became clear that the expertise to pull off the entire project wasn’t available locally. And it quickly became apparent that no other assumptions should go un-tested. “Things we’d take for granted–like electricity power loads–were initially inconceivable,” he says.

Given the building’s fraught history (a hotel, attached to the CCTV building caught fire in 2009, killing one firefighter and injuring seven others), fire codes, requiring that everything be shut down at night, proved a sticking point. Typically, LED systems, which last forever, are never shut down. Much negotiation ensued.

While cutting-edge technology was a goal, any overt Chinese design elements weren’t. “It took us a long time to figure out what they wanted,” says Fenhagen. “We offered them designs referencing Chinese culture, but they were rejected.”

Instead, Fenhagen says, the Chinese team, overseen by Mr. Sun Yusheng, vice president of CCTV and the Chinese equivalent of Roone Arledge, responded to more subtle design cues. “There was a point where we realized that certain shapes appealed to them. Much of modern design is based on right angles, which we’ve used a lot. But when we showed them that, they didn’t like it.”

The circle shape, however, really resonated, given its symbolic meaning of prosperity, the ongoing cycle of life, yin and yang,” he says. The whole set is built on a tracking platform that allows viewers to peer through a glass wall into a newsroom where 70 people work.

In addition, each decision needed consensus to move forward, a cultural curve ball that ripped through schedules and kept producers in a state of high alert to try and meet deadlines, while juggling 13-hour time zone differences.

Early in the process, Fenhagen and his team, lead by senior designer Andre Durette, realized that the social aspects of the collaboration were as critical to the project’s success as the design.

THE CHINESE WANTED TO CATAPULT THEIR BROADCAST INTO THE RANKS OF OTHER INTERNATIONAL NEWS LEADERS.

At work, it’s all very business-like,” Fenhagen says, “but then in the evening there were many dinners, always featuring a series of toasts about relationships and trust, and how our cultures could get to know each other and overcome obstacles.”

And, of course, there were gifts, an important part of Chinese culture. Fenhagen received an elaborate tea set and a book of calligraphy. In return, he brought uniquely American presents: a Ralph Lauren tie, books of NYC images from the Metropolitan Museum, baseball memorabilia.

International audiences will be able to see Fenhagen’s work later this spring, when the International News Network goes live around the globe for people who want to watch the news in Chinese, and from a perspective you won’t find on CNN.

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With a glittering new set design, CCTV News takes aim at the world