Breakfast always makes me remember cartoons.
I’m from the first generation to watch cartoons in the morning, while having breakfast.
This morning I was remembering Hong Kong Phooey – the cartoon that basically used Asian culture as a prop for a dog (who sort of spoke “jive”) to haphazardly solve crimes, while doing Karate…or something like that.
It was trading on the Kung Fu and “Everybody Was Kung Fu Fighting” craze of the mid-1970s. And get it? Hong Kong Phooey? It’s a play on words. See what they did there?
We just laughed and laughed. We didn’t know any Chinese or Japanese or Korean people, anyway. And the only one we ever saw on TV was Hop Sing, the cook, on Bonanza.
Hop Sing (probably should be Hop Xin)…the cook. Nah…nothing wrong with that. And I’m sure whenever he entered the frame, the director sent a note to the scoring composer to maybe throw in a little “Oriental” sound…you know…cause the Chinese guy was there. Get it?
But I didn’t love Hong Kong Phooey as much as I loved Fat Albert. Yes…Fat…Albert. See, they called him that because he was overweight. So, they put the word “fat” in his name. You know, so we didn’t forget he was overweight while he was teaching us lessons in tolerance.
Hey, at least he wasn’t being voiced by a serial rapist. But I digress …
Usually, during Fat Albert or Hong Kong Phooey, there would be a commercial for the United Negro College Fund. Negro. On national TV. With an actual black person in the commercial, portraying said “NEGRO.”
I wasn’t exactly sure what the United Negro College Fund did, but I thought it might have something to do with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of COLORED People).
Well, now that I think about it, maybe those commercials were actually shown at night, during prime time. I’m certain I would see them during my favorite show, Sanford and Son.
Sanford once said, in one of the funniest episodes ever, that there were enough black people in the courtroom he was in, to shoot a Tarzan movie. Well, he didn’t actually call them “black people.” His exact phrase was (and I quote – and you can find the clip on Youtube), “there’s enough niggers in this room to shoot a Tarzan movie.”
He said that on national, prime time TV. Air time paid for by sponsors. NOT cable. Consumed by middle America.
We just laughed and laughed. That Fred Sanford was crazy.
Later, as a teenager, I used to ride around with a friend in their MG Midget (yes, it was called a MIDGET…named that…by the company that made it) and listen to Dire Straights sing, ON. THE. RADIO. “that little faggot got his own jet airplane. That little faggot is a millionaire …”
Then, if somebody cut us off in traffic, we would just call them retards while continuing to drive…the MIDGET.
It’s important to note something here: at no time, during any of this, did I ever hate Asian people or Black people or little people or gay people or people with special needs.
And when Eddie Murphy sang about white people walking with their buttocks extremely tight, I sang right along with him and laughed and laughed. I knew Eddie wasn’t talking about me. Or maybe he was. But it didn’t matter. It was funny.
Everything I just described above is completely unacceptable in today’s culture. All of it.
If you came into a pitch meeting with the title “Hong Kong Phooey” you would raise more eyebrows than a Botox convention.
How about sitting in a board room and deciding to call a small car a Midget? I wonder how far past the focus groups that would get, these days.
I was walking through a mall, prior to the Covid shutdown, and heard that Dire Straights song wafting through the canned music zones. I stopped and listened for the line and sure enough, they had edited out “faggot.” It’s just “that little ______ got his own jet airplane, that little _____ is a millionaire,” now.
Still, I’m fairly certain Mark Knoffler never hated Gay people or wished them any harm. He was just telling a story in the voice of a type of character.
That’s a nuance that seems to be lost on all of us these days because we’re drowning in the world of “micro-aggressions.”
See, I never worried about Eddie Murphy’s comic micro-aggression toward my race, because I had experienced actual aggression. I had actually been beaten up simply for being white…many times. So, I could differentiate between comedy and violence.
There are 20-somethings out there, yelling and screaming over cultural appropriation, who’ve never had the shit kicked out of them simply because they had a certain skin tone. Well, guess what? I have. And it leaves more of a mark than hearing Dave Chappelle do his “white guy” voice.
And because we don’t know the difference anymore, between actual violence and psychological triggering, we’re starting to see violence used as a means to end the triggering. And quite frankly, that’s as backward as backward gets.
Look, we should not call cars (or really, anything) Midgets.
We should not use the word “retard”…EVER.
As songwriters, if we can avoid using the term “faggot,” we definitely, probably should.
And although we’ve been around the horn on terminology over the last few decades, calling black people simply “black” is probably best (although, I’m pulling for the day when we can just call ourselves “people” and not have to qualify it with a skin color).
And the cartoons Hong Kong Phooey and Fat Albert are probably best left in the 1970s…along with Hop Sing.
But the good news is we’re trying to do better. I like to think we are. In the meantime, I refuse to equate being inappropriate with being evil.
Several years ago, an old man saw my daughter running through a mall and I overheard him say to his wife, “she looks like she might be kindly affected.”
Yeah, none of that is acceptable terminology. But before he said that, he also said, “bless her little heart.”
I know enough about Southern culture to know, that man was being as empathetic as he could be toward her. None of what he was saying was coming from a place of hatred or malice.
I could’ve dressed him down and taught him a lesson. Or I could do what I did: accept where he was, knowing how it was meant.
Constantly parsing terminology, pronouns and language has taken our culture from innocently ignorant to insufferably self-righteous. And to be honest, the first one is more endearing.
The second one is filled with iPhone carrying, Amazon ordering, instant-gratification-receiving know-it-alls, constantly running to the hall monitor to tell on you for something you don’t even know you did, and assigning a motivation to you, you didn’t know you had.
The Southern Baptist Convention is examining the “Southern” to see if it needs to be removed, in order to not offend people who hear the word “Southern” and then get triggered by thoughts of racism and slavery. M-kay. Apparently, they’ve been sent to the hall monitor’s office.
And maybe they should do this. I don’t know.
Or maybe they could do real outreach to the communities they’re trying not to offend. Maybe they could talk more to people, rather than assume something about them. Heck, maybe they could be so involved in the people’s lives they are desperately trying to virtue signal to, that the term “Southern” Baptist would become known as a positive…not a negative.
Maybe the name isn’t as important as what they actually do.
Hey that’s just me. But what do I know?
I’m just an old white guy who used to laugh at Hong Kong Phooey.
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