Defending harajuku girls and condemning trial by TV: Salon readers respond to articles by MiHi Ahn and Heather Havrilesky.

Published April 12, 2005 8:00PM (EDT)

[Read "Gwenihana," by MiHi Ahn.]

Finally, someone has spoken up about the sartorial atrocities Gwen Stefani and her pseudo-harajuku girls have been perpetrating. I've been fuming about her to anyone who'll listen!

I believe, in its most shallow form, that Asian culture is rather accepted in the United States. However, it is also grossly generalized. Those who do not have an intimate knowledge of any Asian country's culture seem to think we (Asian-Americans and Asian immigrants alike) are pretty costumes and exotic dishes. For example, cheongsam dresses and kimono-esque shirts are worn because they are so "exotic." As a Filipina, I cannot tell you how many times someone has said to me "Oh! I love adobo!" Yeah, that's great. Can you name one of our national heroes? I'll give you a hint: It's not MacArthur.

But the misconceptions don't stop there. Before a teacher of mine arrived for a poli-sci class, several students began to chatter on about the reading. One student had the audacity to say, "You know, we saved those Filipinos from the Japanese and the Spanish. MacArthur is like a hero over there! But do we hear any thanks from them!?" I've had a boyfriend say that my Filipina mother was just my white father's trophy wife. Many a wanker has told me that they are looking specifically for "light-skinned Filipinas who can speak Tagalog" because we make such good wives. Co-workers have informed me that Filipino men are "dirty" and "womanizing." The list goes on, and I'm sure many other readers can add their own stories.

Honestly, I don't think it would be too much to ask for Americans (white, black, and brown) to educate themselves on a deeper level about Asian (all of Asia, not just East Asia) or Asian-American history. How hard would it be to read a book on the history or culture of any Asian country? Or even to know who José Rizal is?

-- Aisha K. Ganzon

Finally! This is the first article I've seen on something that seems so obviously exploitative.

As a black woman I guess I'm accustomed to seeing racially and culturally insensitive images in the media, but I'm really surprised that there hasn't been more outrage about how Gwen Stefani is using these women.

-- Renee

Arrggh! I find it ultimately ironic that MiHi Ahn, in her effort to typify racial stereotyping, falls prey to her own form of prejudice and stereotyping, using the caricature of a "dumb cowboy" to make her point.

As a rancher's wife, I was often spoken to as if I were deaf (an experience I have in common with my good friend who does not speak English), had things pointed out to me as if I had a third-grade education, and was asked, "When can I talk to your husband about this?" on many occasions. I usually waited until the person had both feet in it before I would explain that I was a lawyer, the mayor, an editor...

It makes me absolutely crazy that Salon continually allows the depiction of those of us who live in the rural West as hicks, hillbillies and know-nothings. Would you allow such a depiction of a black cotton picker (yes, there are still black cotton pickers)?

Ms. Ahn, should she wish to be free of stereotypes, should examine her own soul and find those that she holds dear.

-- Peggy Carey

Ms. Ahn seems to be making the point that cultural appropriation is wrong if the original context is missing. Hello! What has Japan been doing with American culture for the past 40 years?

Somehow this teenage-girl fashion fad in Japan should be exempt from an American celebration/appropriation because it will rob it of its meaning. And yet, J-poppers insist on singing choruses in English, kids are wearing hip-hop fashion, and Kentucky Fried Chicken is fine, exotic gastronomique cooking.

I thought the "essentialist" argument, that it was essential for one to be part of something or believe fully in something to have a valid opinion about or right to that something, was killed in the '90s.

And besides, harajuku style, like punk and goth now, are nothing but "kawaii." What the hell is there to defend about cute?

-- Schaughn Bellows

MiHi Ahn seems to be wishing for the days when Asian girls hid their curves and did so in the kitchen. Gwen Stefani's only crime here is that she has done something nobody else has dared to do: let Asian girls onstage.

Black and white girls with "funk in the trunk" have been rap singers' backstage eye candy for decades. I don't hear Ahn drawing any connection between these Asian dancers and other backup dancers. Why is it so bad for Asian girls to show their butts but not for black girls? Ahn fails to bring this obvious comparison up for discussion.

And one of the lamest points of Ahn's was that Stefani's "harajuku girls" are acknowledged by Stefani only as a figment of her imagination. Doesn't Ahn get the "Alice in Wonderland" motif?

-- Michael

Although I've long enjoyed Gwen Stefani's music, I find this description of her entourage to be highly dismaying. But sadly, I've discovered that this kind of stereotyping is not atypical (and it is sadly rife among many normally progressive Caucasian women).

I am engaged to a Japanese woman whom I love dearly. After bringing her to the United States half a year ago, I've learned the hard way that many self-described "strong" women here assume that my fiancée is subservient and weak (she isn't) and that that is the primary reason I love her -- when nothing could be further from the truth. The smug underlying attitude seems to be that I can't handle an obviously advanced white woman; they frequently take the stance that my fiancée needs to graduate "up" to their level.

There was one woman with a Ph.D. who met my fiancée and acted genuinely surprised at how "independent" and "smart" she is. This kind of smiling stereotyping would be considered unacceptable if it were to be directed at any other interracial couple. I find it incredible that many otherwise anti-racist women get away with making assumptions like this and no one objects to it or notices. If white supremacism can get wrapped in a feminist package, then I guess it's perfectly OK.

-- Gabriel Bonnard

I would like to say that Gwen Stefani has inspired me to start collecting my own little ethnic pets.

I have already completed A.R.A.B., and as per their contract stipulation, these women are only allowed to say "Kill Americans" in response to all questions and can only glower from behind their burqas.

I'm still working on my M.A.I.D. group. There are so many ethnic women to choose from, I can't decide. And think of the costume possibilities. Black women with head rags? Asian women with those blue maid uniforms? Latinas in the housekeeper uniforms?

As for Gwen Stefani, I think I'd put her in my D.U.M.B. group. She wouldn't have to do anything different from what she's doing now.

-- Maloy Luakian

Thanks for printing MiHi Ahn's article on Gwen Stefani's embarrassing portrayal of "Harajuku Girls." All this time I thought it was just a terrible song; I had no idea the level to which Gwenchan was bastardizing Tokyo's coolest. That shit is bananas.

-- Charles Kanuh

Someone should explain to the author that Gwen Stefani and her troupe of femme poseurs are not, in any way, intending to reflect real life as we regular folks know it. Nor are they out to make a social or political statement. Nor to cynically mock Asian women. Whether from Harajuku or Terre Haute, most people know not to take pop music and its attendant theatrical shenanigans very seriously. Look, these are just some girls trying to have fun. Call it satire or call it shtick, but don't call it shocking...

-- David Rush

[Read "The Other Peterson Trial," by Heather Havrilesky.]

Heather Havrilesky's review about the Sundance Channel's eight-hour documentary on the Michael Peterson trial, "The Staircase," needs a small adjustment. She writes that it was "most remarkable" that the documentarians had access to the defense team and Peterson himself, and she also praises the director's camera work as being "so beautiful and sad that it's easy to forgive his angle -- we all have our prejudices, after all."

Perhaps Havrilesky doesn't realize that there is a new cottage industry of filmmakers and TV outlets that let biased "documentaries" be made and air, as long as the key individuals are on camera. That's not justice; it's advocacy -- or more precisely, public relations.

In the Peterson matter, of course the defendant is going to want to talk. Besides conveying his view of the case, the man is a raging egomaniac, which is made clear in the film and other interviews he gave during his trial.

The Sundance film casts aspersions toward Court TV, which isn't surprising given the film's pro-defense bias. But the public is better served by the gavel-to-gavel coverage Court TV gave the trial, which was the same information the jury of 12 citizens used to arrive at its verdict.

This film, along with several done at the behest of the defense team behind John and Patsy Ramsey, who remain the still-unindicted top suspects in their young daughter JonBenet's murder, proves that spinning tales and manufacturing evidence appeal to TV networks who are more interested in ratings than accuracy.

When the hard facts of a case are too damning for a defense team, find a filmmaker to concoct an alternate reality and sell the "crockumentary" to TV. A future appellate court or jury pool may remember the efforts and reward the guilty party with undeserved reasonable doubt.

Any well-versed court follower knows high-profile trials extend from the time of the accused's arrest until after the final appeal is determined. "The Staircase" is simply elongating Michael Peterson's 15 minutes.

-- Dawna Kaufmann

By Salon Staff

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