My editorial piece, as published by Shenzhen Daily: http://szdaily.sznews.com/html/2013-11/11/content_2680363.htm
AMERICAN late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel caused quite a stir during a controversial comedy skit on the Oct. 16 edition of his show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” which airs on national U.S. television network ABC.
Satirizing the childishness of American lawmakers and television personalities, he interviewed small children and asked them about current events. When the topic of America’s debt to China came up, a 6-year-old boy infamously said: “Kill everyone in China.” In what turned out to be a big mistake, Kimmel responded by sarcastically chuckling: “That’s an interesting idea.”
Video of the skit was put online and quickly went viral, inciting outrage and demands of an apology from Chinese communities around the world. The anger has continued to simmer into this month — as recently as last Tuesday, a group of Chinese animators posted a video online demanding an apology.
Kimmel seemed to realize the comment’s danger immediately and has publicly apologized at least twice since the show aired.
At the end of the skit itself, he called it “the ‘Lord of the Flies’ edition,” referring to the tragic 1954 British novel about sadistic children. I think that statement showed his disapproval of the boy’s comment. As an American who believes in peace and friendship between the U.S. and China, I find it unfortunate that this issue strained people-to-people relationships between the two countries.
American comedy is steeped in satire and can be very crass at times. Jokes are notoriously hard to translate, both linguistically and culturally.
Some American shows, such as Comedy Central’s animated “South Park,” continually push the envelope and can make certain groups angry. “South Park” has famously lampooned almost everyone in the world, including Christians, Jews, Scientologists, Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Africans, Japanese, Canadians, America itself, and, yes, the Chinese as well.
At times, this kind of comedy provokes outrage. At other times, it can have a deeper meaning — but it requires a steep, delicate learning curve to know what works as satire and what goes too far. For example, fake news website http://www.theonion.com has won the prestigious Peabody award for its journalistic satire, yet also recently made Jewish groups angry by using racial slurs in the ironically titled piece, “Redskins’ —- Owner Refuses To Change Team’s Offensive Name.” The article used hateful, derogatory terms for Jewish people to make a point about how the Jewish owner of an American football team is hesitant to change the team’s name, even though it’s widely regarded as offensive to Native Americans.
Kimmel possibly chose to air the child’s controversial comment on his show to find humor in a similar ironic fashion. Although the joke obviously didn’t work, he may have thought the comment’s absurdity would be self-evident. The comment was supposed to be taken as funny because it was so incredibly ridiculous. So much so, Kimmel may have thought, that in no way could it be perceived as an actual advocacy of murder, genocide or racism.
ABC has taken down the online video, released an apology of its own and promised not to air the skit in future rebroadcasts. Kimmel himself apologized on his show, and during a protest outside his studio in Los Angeles, he apologized in person.
“I’m very, very sorry. We should not have put it on the air, and I did not mean to upset you,” he told the crowd of protesters. “I feel bad. … I’m a comedian; I was trying to make people laugh. I’m sorry that I did this.”
I hope the Chinese communities of the world can accept his apology, which I believe to be sincere.