Over the weekend, I happened to catch the CCTV news. I was half watching but they were running a story about the growing Chinese protests of Jimmy Kimmel – calling him racist and holding up signs that said, “genocide is not a joke.” Intrigued, I did a little more research and found out that back in October, he aired a sketch about our growing debt to China. In the skit, he asked a group of kids what we should do about the trillions of dollars we owe China and when one responded, “kill everyone in China,” Kimmel engaged them in a discussion.
Not surprisingly (unless you’re Jimmy Kimmel or ABC), the Chinese and Chinese Americans (and others) are outraged.
But he’s a late night comedian! And kids say the darndest things! Obviously, no one is advocating for the elimination of all of China!
True, but…like it or not, we live in a society where words matter. We may not mean to cause offense but people get offended. The degree to which we have to adhere to political correctness may be annoying but isn’t that the price we pay for living in a racially and culturally diverse society? Whether its Paula Dean saying she’s used the n-word, Julianne Hough dressing in blackface, or kids talking about killing off the Chinese, it is clear that we still have a race problem in the US. But, I’m digressing. The point of this blog is not to discuss race. Frankly, I think we keep demonizing people for offending, in the absence of a premeditated desire to offend, and are inching toward a society where we people will be too afraid to attempt to further the discussion. And so, I don’t envy comedians who have to walk the thin line between being “edgy” and offensive.
So maybe Jimmy Kimmel stepped over the line, unintentionally. I get why the Chinese and Chinese Americans are angry. And I get why his apology, ending with “I’m here to turn frowns upside down,” seems insincere. And maybe, to a degree, I get that public figures will continue to ignore their better judgment and step over the line.
But, for the life of me, I cannot get why no one seems to be questioning, what for me, is the most disconcerting part of the whole skit. Why are we not talking about the fact that when a six year old is asked how to deal with a problem, their first response is to kill? Nevermind ethnicity. Nevermind race. But to get rid of a problem by killing? Not discussing, not name calling, not even fighting, but killing. Most of the kids said that they would let the Chinese live, and I guess that’s good. But why are five and six year olds even engaged in a discussion about killing or not killing people? Has violence permeated so seamlessly into our society that this is not unusual (even normal)? Spoken as a history teacher, I understand that the history of the world, across time and cultures, is one of violence. And I know the pattern of history repeating itself. Again and again and again. We didn’t start the fire and all that. But shouldn’t we, at least try, to stop it? (But ok, the ancient gladiators used to kill for entertainment while today’s boxers just knock each other out, so that’s progress.)
Jimmy Kimmel is a comedian and looking for some light-hearted, late night laughs. And I’m not here to be some old, miserable, history nerd, curmudgeon. I like to laugh – sometimes even at inappropriate things. You should hear the things I say at home! Edgy and hilarious. And I’m sure the six year old who made the suggestion, is a wonderful, peaceful, little boy. But (I think) that’s my point. Our loving, funny, adorable children are learning that killing is an easy, possible, and possibly acceptable solution. I’m pretty sure that’s not written into any pre-school curriculum. And I’m pretty sure that most parents don’t advocate for stopping fights between siblings this way. So when a kid talks about killing anyone – whether a sibling, a stranger, or an entire country – shouldn’t we stop for a minute and maybe ask them where they learned about killing others? Then engage them in a discussion about how that’s not ok? At the very least, maybe we (ABC executives), as adults, can think twice about broadcasting it on TV as comedy?
Or am I just being an uptight, politically correct mom?