BY TOM BERG – I have been getting a major earful in the past 72 hours from island residents throughout Oahu.
Self-described liberals and moderates and conservatives alike have been five parts miffed and two parts mystified about a vote that I and other councilmembers cast on Monday.
Frankly, I haven’t seen this much outrage since the State Legislature voted to create “Islam Day” in Hawaii.
Here’s the story. Four days ago, the City Council’s Executive Matters & Legal Affairs committee was asked to consider a brand new resolution sponsored by Councilmember Stanley Chang which singled out radio entertainer Rush Limbaugh and called upon him to apologize to Red Chinese President Hu Jintao for reportedly making fun of the oppressive leader’s speaking voice for a few seconds on his nationally syndicated radio show.
Moreover, the resolution called upon the company which owns the radio stations which carry Limbaugh’s show to “implement policies barring sponsorship of broadcasts that permit racial bigotry and intolerance in their programming.”
Link to Proposed Council Resolution:
So what kind of voter feedback have I been getting for my role in letting the Council spend time on matters which possibly don’t belong on our agenda? Outrage . . . yes, outrage plus endless links to YouTube videos of entertainers in Hawaii and elsewhere saying things which make Limbaugh’s five seconds of alleged insensitivity seem tame by comparison.
You see, Hawaii is apparent full of beloved entertainers who make a living performing entire routines which for decades have made fun of accented voices and foreign languages in front of thousands and thousands and thousands of local people and tourists alike.
If the City Council was going to take a principled and politically correct stand against trying to get laughs by ridiculing foreign accents and languages, it should have done so long, long ago. But since the Council waited until the present day, in the wake of Limbaugh’s alleged violation of the Aloha Spirit, then wouldn’t fairness dictate that local entertainers be at the top of the list of violators of the Council’s evolving and selectively applied standard for acceptable comedy?
Apparently not, since Rush Limbaugh has been singled out as the only violator of this politically correct double-standard.
On the local front, the dozens of understandably upset citizens who have contacted me have inundated me with links to videos of Frank Delima, Augie Tulba, Mel Cabang, Rap Reiplinger and others whom the City Council presumably have no problem with, despite the resolution’s assertion that our land of aloha has somehow been put at risk by a faraway radio program.
Compare for yourself. Here is a link to the audio from Mr. Limbaugh’s program along with links to performances by some of these named comedians.
Rush Limbaugh’s imitation of a Chinese accent
Frank Delima making fun of Filipinos, their language, and their accents (“black dogs roasting on an open fire”) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ICE7cS0qdk
Augie Tulba making fun of the concept of a Samoan becoming president
Rap Reiplinger making fun of Hawaiian women (“Date a Tita”)
While these beloved comedians make Limbaugh seem pretty tame by comparison, even worse teasing of the Chinese president takes place on the current season of Saturday Night Live, which regularly pokes fun at President Hu.
Take a look at one of these sketches in which made up “ching chong” Chinese words are uttered for several minutes by a fake President Hu (who is being “interpreted” by a fake translator with a bad accent and worse translation), who smears lipstick on his own mouth and bends over forward in front of the fake President Obama and instructs Hawaii-born Obama to turn off the lights and “have sex” with him.
Do my fellow council members really want to demand that Rush Limbaugh alone apologize to President Hu and the people of Red China?
C’mon, if the City Council’s resolution is genuinely borne of compassion for the sincerely offended about Rush Limbaugh’s use of a fake foreign accent and fake Chinese words to get a laugh, then these sincerely offended Hawaii residents should really be up in arms about what passes for entertainment in local nightclubs and on local television screens.
How can we bash Limbaugh while NBC broadcasts offensive comedy featuring a nonsense-uttering President Hu repeatedly portrayed in an unflattering manner, assuming compromising positions, and hardly doing the Chinese accent or language any justice.
People have been calling and writing to me, asking why the anti-Limbaugh resolution does not call on NBC to cancel Saturday Night Live nor even demand an apology from the actors, writers, and producers of that show. These same people want to know why local nightclubs are not being asked to stop showcasing performances by the likes of Augie T and Mel Cabang and Frank Delima for their ridiculing of ethnic accents.
As constituents of my council district and those of other districts work to educate me about why I should vote against this dubious Council resolution, it becomes clearer and clearer that selective enforcement of standards of political correctness should not be a priority for the City Council and that arbitrary double-standards are bad policy period.
Taken further, many have inquired how I could allow passage of such a resolution when the object of Rush Limbaugh’s ridicule is someone who doesn’t even deserve to be apologized to.
This is a communist leader of China who forces women to get abortions against their will as part of their offensive “one child policy”; clamps down on freedom of speech and religion; commits atrocities in Tibet and treats the Dalai Lama with serious disrespect, threatens Taiwan while propping up North Korea which offensively threatens Hawaii with missile launches, and imprisoned Liu Xiaobo the 2010 recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. What about the military assistance that China gives to some of the worst regimes in the world, and the immediate jailing of journalists and protestors and free thinkers because they might dare to make fun of their own leaders?
The arguments I’ve been hearing against this resolution in recent days are extremely compelling and downright persuasive. I don’t wish to minimize the possibility that some on Oahu have taken offense to how Mr. Limbaugh made fun of the Chinese accent and language. But to hold this one man as being singularly responsible for trying to mine the potential for ethnic humor in the current age of political correctness and frequent hypersensitivity is to knowingly advance an outrageous double-standard with a whopping dose of selective enforcement built right in.
I must admit that I’m deeply concerned about the central assertion made in this resolution, “that (Limbaugh’s) remarks were damaging to the relationship that the United States enjoys with China”.
Upon reflection, this sounds a lot more like an assumption rather than a fact. Indeed, neither the State Department nor the Chinese consulate has furnished the City Council with any such negative assessment of Chinese-USA relations in the wake of Limbaugh’s teasing.
I daresay that if President Hu were to watch SNL’s portrayal of him and his Chinese interpreter, he might decide to cancel his participation in the APEC conference to be held in Honolulu later this year. But, in all seriousness, could such ridicule really rise to the level of damaging the relationship between two superpowers? I think not.
If the City Council is going to start demanding apologies from American citizens for exercising their rights, however offensively, when are we going to demand apologies from people whose offenses are even MORE egregious and have serious, lasting consequences . . . such as political leaders who run up so much debt to pay for their political promises that our grandchildren will never be able to pay the interest.
People of Honolulu, it is imperative that council members hear from more than just a handful of people when this resolution is taken up by the full Council. Despite the many serious challenges our island faces, this measure presently has enough votes to pass. To those who have been contacting me, the ball is now in your court.
Let your own councilmember know exactly how you feel about this issue. If you want to single out Limbaugh for an approach to comedy which is rampant in our nightclubs and on our television sets, then please let your representative on the City Council know that you want a pound of flesh and an apology to a dictator.
If, on the other hand, you have a problem with the pending resolution, then speak up by contacting your council member and showing up for the full Council hearing later this month.
We serve in office to represent you. But if you remain silent, then you may not like the results you get. None of the fine folks who I’m now hearing from bothered to even show up and testify (or even submit testimony) for Monday’s hearing. Having said all this, I hope that participation in our democracy will increase one hundred fold so you can get the government you deserve. Let me be clear, racism cannot be tolerated. But neither can double standards, selective enforcement or hypocrisy.
Tom Berg is a Honolulu City Councilman from District One (Ewa, Kapolei, Waianae Coast)