Wednesday, January 09, 2008

But I was born HERE

Maybe I'm being overly sensitive? Maybe I'm taking this too seriously? Maybe I'm not upset enough for some?

I turned to David Letterman just as he introduced Lucy Liu as his guest for the show. She appeared dressed in a bright pink silk dress stylized with an extra flap of cloth that simulated a having a loose wrap cascading from her left shoulder. She wore black pumps that must have had 4+ inch heels. Her hair was tightly wrapped into a pony tail at the back crown of her head. I guessed that she had to have been wearing false eyelashes as what Chinese woman ever grows them that long.

Admittedly, I don't know that much about her. Although I think we all admire that there's Asian representation in the acting world, she's not THAT great. Amongst my Asian males friends, I have rarely met one very into her.

The conversation was light-hearted at first. They talked a little about her new show and Dave commented about her fancy dress. She joked that she dressed up just for him. Then he asked her how she spent her Xmas. Lucy replied that she'd spent the time with her brother in New York. She paused to find the right words to explain what they did for the holidays. The rest of her plain story was one that I very quickly related to. Like my family, we don't celebrate Xmas the way Americans do (though we're "American"). It's simply a time to catch up, eat, and relax or catch up on things we haven't had time to do. There's no extravagant parties, no piles of perfectly wrapped gifts under the tree, no eggnog, no house covered in Xmas decor. She simply said it was time for them to clean the house, clear the closet, and make donations to the Salvation Army. I think she stumped Dave a bit and finally added, "it's a Chinese tradition." Bingo!

Next, she mentioned how she enjoys riding pedicabs around the city. She added that it reminds her of being in a rickshaw. Okay... why did she need to mention that?

I felt kind of bad for the both of them as it didn't provide for very entertaining conversation. In my opinion, things only went downhill from there. He proceeded to ask her a series of questions that I found a annoying and typical of people. He focused on her ethnicity rather than her.

"How many languages do you know?"

"What's the most common language in China?"

"Is the Mandarin alphabet hard?"

"Do you use Mandarin a lot?"

"Are you excited about having the Olympics in Beijing?"

It was a little strange to watch as she answered his questions and even tried to explain bo-po-mo-fo to him and speak a little Mandarin for him where she basically said, "How are you? What is your name?" I felt like I was taking elementary Mandarin class. Of course, in fun, they translated it as, "You looked terrible in that beard."

They ended the slot by showing a clip of "Cashmere Mafia" which turned out to actually be some old 50s movie where a couple of young women with guns threaten a couple. It was cute.

I turned off the tv still bothered by the interview. I was confused. Why did he have to focus on her being Chinese? It's like when someone starts up small talk with me on a plane and ask if I was born here. It's frustrating. I don't see interviews where they ask these types questions of Antonio Banderas or Aishwarya Rai. Maybe I missed that. But they were born elsewhere; they didn't grown up in the states. It would make sense to ask some of those questions. But what if I turned it around on Dave (let's suppose he's Swedish and Irish) and said, "so what are the differences between Swedish and Norwegian?"

She joked about traveling in Europe for a couple months because of the writers' strike and learning more Italian or other languages. Why could he have used that cue to talk about traveling or what else she does in her free time? Lucy probably didn't help much by not having any fun stories to share. The interview was a bit boring to me.

How much do these shows typically prepare ahead of time for celebrity interviews? My co-worker's alternative theory is that perhaps her agent gave the show some guidance about topics to discuss. Perhaps she is trying to position herself as someone to host shows covering the Beijing Olympics? I find it hard to believe they would have scripted so much of the interview. But I could be wrong. Anyone know how these interviews work?

It made me uncomfortable to see this because it reminds me of a truth non-whites must live with - the fact that we will always be perceived (to some extent) like foreigners despite how long, how many generations we've lived here.

I'm still confused about whether to actually be mad. I'd like to believe that he meant well and was probably simply curious. It just seemed like a strange conversation to have on national talk show that's not exactly known for serious dialogue.


Anna May Won't said...

i don't think you're overreacting. i'd probably be annoyed too watching that.

it seems lucy is playing the game. "yes, even though i'm free queens, go ahead and ask my opinion about the olympics being in beijing." probably, unfortunately, helped her become more successful.

teahouse said...

Yeah, I agree with you. I've never been a fan of Lucy Liu, but I do think that it wasn't so appropriate to spend so much time asking her "Asian" questions. It's not like she's an actual foreigner; she's just as American as Dave is.

And yeah, I'm sure she has to do that a bit. It's a double edged sword.