Stop the insensitive Japanese “jokes”
An 8.9 magnitude earthquake. A devastating tsunami. A potential nuclear disaster. Thousands dead or missing.
So what’s supposed to be so “funny” about the growing crisis in Japan?
Gilbert Gottfried, the man known for his obnoxious voice-overs as the Aflac duck, tweeted several derisive jokes about the Japanese tsunami, including: “Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.” and “I just split up with my girlfriend, but like the Japanese say, ‘They’ll be another one floating by any minute now.” His jokes were grotesque at best. After all, what can be funny about bodies being washed up ashore following a tsunami? After news broke that Aflac has severed ties with Gottfried, the comedian tweeted two apologies today: “I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended by my attempt at humor regarding the tragedy in Japan.” and “I meant no disrespect, and my thoughts are with the victims and their families.”
Dan Turner, the press secretary for Mississippi governor and potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate Haley Barbour, wrote in an email obtained by Politico.com that “on that day in 1968: Otis Redding posthumously received a gold record for his single, “(Sittin’ on) The Dock of the Bay”. (Not a big hit in Japan right now.)” Perhaps Turner needed to be reminded of the expeditious generosity shown by the Japanese government and its citizens in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the coastal areas of Mississippi and Louisiana. Given that recovery is still underway in his home state five years later, Turner probably shouldn’t be so quick to laugh at others’ misfortunes. (Turner resigned on Monday as Gov. Barbour’s press secretary. He has yet to issue an apology.)
Alec Sulkin, a TV scriptwriter for Family Guy, tweeted this scornful comment: “If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google ‘Pearl Harbor death toll.” First of all, Pearl Harbor’s death toll had nothing to do with natural disasters like earthquake and tsunami; Pearl Harbor was an attack on a military base. Secondly, Sulkin should be reminded that the U.S. exacted its “revenge” many times over when it dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed between 150,000 to 246,000 Japanese (mostly civilians). He should keep in mind that nearly 37,000 American military personnel are currently stationed in Japan, including 2,000 Army soldiers, 16,000 Marines, 13,000 Air Force military and civilian personnel, and 6,000 Naval personnel. Whether he realizes or not, Sulkin’s mocking attitude and offensive remark could reflect poorly on the Americans living in Japan. (Sulkin tweeted this flippant attempt at an apology on Saturday: “Yesterday death toll = 200. Today = 10 thousand. I am sorry for my insensitive tweet. It’s gone.”)
Larry Kudlow, a CNBC commentator, made this dehumanizing remark on live TV: “The human toll here looks to be much worse than the economic toll and we can be grateful for that.” Does he really think it’s better that thousands of people have been killed by the earthquake and tsunami than the disaster’s impact on the stock markets? Kudlow later tweeted this apology: “I did not mean to say human toll in Japan less important than economic toll.Talking about markets.I flubbed the line. Sincere apology.”
Some may think these attempts at humor or careless remarks are harmless or that critics should “lighten up” and take a joke. In this particular context, the issue isn’t about being blind to humor. It’s about their blindness to humanity. Sensitivities aside, their comments basically dehumanized others who don’t look or speak the way they do; their comments showcased a lack of compassion and empathy towards the suffering of their fellow human beings; and their comments devalued the lives lost in this tragedy. For that, they should be ashamed.
Stop the insensitive Japanese “jokes.” They’re not funny.
Contribute to Japan’s Earthquake & Tsunami Relief!
- InterAction.org: Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami Response
- Google’s Crisis Response for the Japanese Earthquake
- Consulate-General of Japan in Los Angeles – updates & donations to earthquake relief
- NYTimes.com: That Tsunami? Not a joke. Seriously.
- ClarionLedger.com: Barbour accepts press secretary’s resignation
- Politico.com: Japan, Reno humor in Barbour’s shop
- SunHerald.com: Barbour’s press secretary resigns
- Reuters.com: Comic in Aflac duck ads fired over tweets
- Times.com: Now hiring new ducks: Aflac fires Gilbert Gottfried over tsunami tweets
- LATimes.com: CNBC reporter apologizes for insensitive remark on Japan disaster
- BaltimoreSun.com: The most insensitive comment about Japan earthquake on TV?
- USAToday.com: Television writer apologizes for ‘insensitive’ earthquake tweet
- BleedingCool.com: Family Guy Writer Tweets Pearl Harbor Joke In Response To Japanese Earthquake
- Embassy of the United States in Tokyo, Japan – USAID Fact Sheet on Japan Earthquake & Tsunami
- Treasury.gov: Major Foreign Holders of Treasury Securities
- America.gov: “Japan proves truly ‘a friend indeed’ after Hurricane Katrina”
- NOLA.com: Editorial – Returning Japan’s generosity
- NYTimes.com: Sympathy for Japan, and Admiration
- LATimes.com: As Japan seeks to finance reconstruction, U.S. debt costs could rise
- Aflac.com: Aflac severs ties with Gilbert Gottfried