Epik High’s (Bad?) Attempt at Humor

This past weekend, Korean Hip-Hop group Epik High independently released their new book/album Map the Soul via their website.  Similar to Radiohead’s release of In Rainbows which was released on their website and allowed each fan to pay as little or as much as they want, the release of Map the Soul is a celebration of their fans, the freedom of independent music, and the arts.  It’s quickly been heralded as a success for those very reasons; the loyalty these guys show to their fans is ridiculous. They remain true to their art despite their success and it’s very admirable.

Even though I don’t personally understand or speak Korean, Epik High remains one of my favorite groups because their music translates beyond the barriers of language.  You can hear the emotion and dedication they put into the work just by listening to the way they rap or their rhymes.

So to say that I was a bit disappointed when I heard this is sort of an understatement. Warning: There is explicit language in the following clip.

It addresses a similar issue addressing racial satire posted by Yan and begs the question: when does racially motivated humor — or any humor involving race, sexual orientation, gender, and so on — stop being funny and become offensive?  I personally find Carlos Mencia to be offensive, but I find Russell Peters and Dave Chappelle to be funny due to the way they present their material, but if you don’t buy that, Thea Lim at Racialicious posts on why she thinks Russell Peters stopped being funny and became offensive in his newest act, and I buy it. Thea claims that when the “jokes” lack a certain punchline, they become inappropriate and inadequate blows at certain behavior and stereotypes of a certain group of people; the joke isn’t the refusal to help the man with his t-shirt order — that wouldn’t be very funny and would be quite mean — but in the man’s accent and their interpretation and play off that man’s accent. I think this skit is inherently offensive and not funny. It is a “joke” without a punchline.

This reaffirms two beliefs for me: that the line between humor and offensiveness is ridiculously gray and is dependent upon very vague and unspecific guidelines of both race and humor, and that the term “Asian American” is way too broad.  We don’t notice it when Russell Peters does it because we categorize South Asians differently from East Asians. (And let’s be honest, not many people do.) But here, it’s a conflict between Koreans/Korean Americans and Chinese/Chinese Americans, and while we have many cultural similarities, there are also countless cultural and lingual barriers. Tanzila Ahmed, AngryAsianMan’s reader of the week criticizes those “Folks doing APIA work that doesn’t include South Asian or Pacific Islander groups, but still [claim] that they are pan-APIA.”  I don’t make that claim, but I should and am going to start to be more aware (the first step was to visit a community blog she is a part of, Sepia Mutiny).

But does this mean we should start independent struggles and fights for social justice? No, but there should be a greater awareness of the cultural differences between the sub-categories of “Asian American.”  Does that mean I hate Epik High or, like Tommy Brothers — responsible for the Dartmouth mishap — think that they are “hateful” or “racist?” No, Epik High has great music, and the average citizen of the world probably couldn’t care less and would probably scoff at this post, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wrong.

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About Kevin

Kevin is a Taiwanese-American college student in Claremont, CA who immigrated from Taipei to the suburbs of LA when he was six. He enjoys intelligent hip-hop, poetry, watching football (both kinds), playing basketball, sudokus, and delicious fruit.
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