This essay is also cross-posted at Counter-Currents here.
The late founder of modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, is famous for observing: “In multiracial societies, you don’t vote in accordance with your economic interests and social interests, you vote in accordance with race and religion.” This axiom led Yew to state, years later, that “multiculturalism will destroy America”. But it is not just through voting that multiculturalist tribalism expresses itself; it manifests itself through culture in a myriad of forms: activist journalism and theatrical plays being just two of many possible avenues.
With the recent, illustrative examples of Sarah Jeong and Young Jean Lee, we can now discern the shape of an emerging ‘asian-women-hating-on-white-men’ trend among the Left’s hepcat sophisticates, one that is rapidly transitioning towards the actual dehumanization of whites. (We could add Inkoo Kang, a staff writer in Slate’s culture department, as another example, but that’s for another day.)
In the way of a preface, it’s important to note that, per the emergent science of race realism, whites do not (and ought not to) dehumanize POCs. Rather, whites see POCs as a difference in kind, and largely incompatible with the underlying tenets of white culture. The empirical realities of HBD allow us to see, with greater and greater clarity, how civilizational differences are very much an offshoot of genetic differences plus time. Our political stance is informed by this knowledge; we come to see and appreciate the uniqueness of our very ‘way of being’. As members of this culture, it is natural to want to protect it, to not sit idly by while the necessarily levels of homogeneity required to maintain this way of being are diluted by endless POC immigration.
The Left, on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge a single iota of genetic group differences as an affront to the inherent equality of man. Theirs is a position layered in arcane and implausible theoretical constructs, of phantom concepts like ‘institutional racism’, the phlogiston of our time. From their stance, a postmodern neo-Marxist mess that is both hazy and unfalsifiable, they see the empirical reality of persistent inegalitarianism between racial groups not as potential evidence of underlying evolutionary causes, but of some deeper, invisible layer of institutionalized power, borne of racism and white supremacy. All is social construction. From their cacophony of emotion and religious-like fervor, they point at whites and screech… and dehumanize.
Why the Asian Anger?
While it has arguably been established that, in terms of political orientation, Asian-Americans have been trending leftward in recent decades, we really haven’t seen too much in the way of overt ‘hate on whitey’ rhetoric from Asian ethnic groups in the way that we have with, say, SPLC, BLM or La Raza types. For the most part, this is because Asian youth have been too busy with their heads in STEM books, over-achieving and accomplishing things to an impressive degree. (With great discipline and efficiency, Tiger Moms like Amy Chua see to this.)
But, as is on display with the Harvard admissions brouhaha, Asians have been bumping their heads up against a ceiling of Jewish Privilege… err, I mean White Privilege, which may be fostering a wider sense of resentment within certain vocal elements of the Asian community. In fact, among the identity politics Left, there is actually a call to arms for Asians to fight against the longstanding ‘oppressive’ stereotype of the conformist and acquiescent Asian; they are urged to become more aggrieved, to become ‘Angry Asians’.
But, what do they have to be angry about?
There is no legacy of American slavery that Asians were a part of. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Japanese internment during WWII did not ‘hold back’ either group economically nor led to anything approximating significant levels of anti-Chinese or anti-Japanese bias in our current day. When it comes to the relative anger-vs-love that Asians direct towards the U.S. (and whites in general), there are varying levels of each, depending upon which Asian ethnicity we are talking about. With respect to South Koreans, which Sarah Jeong and Young Jean Lee both are, in lieu of the fact that over 36,000 predominately white U.S. soldiers gave their lives to protect what is now South Korea from total communist takeover, the crux of any anger and discontent would seem to emanate from the concept of microaggressions.
Culturally, there is a prevailing “Will to Whiteness” among Korean-Americans. For those second-generation Asian-Americans with a strong sense of personal entitlement, and who may have been spoiled as children, this can wreak psychological havoc. If such individuals gobble up the doctrinaire theories behind Political Correctness, they then reframe their childhood and adolescence accordingly. The normal and expected growing pains of being a second-generation immigrant (from virtually any country) — where one had to navigate, sometimes clumsily, a still-dominant white mainstream culture — becomes therapeutically reinterpreted as a series of microaggressions, and for the ‘victim’ the cumulative effect of these microaggressions is tantamount to PTSD.
It is important to note that, when looking at Leftist discussion of microaggressions, we should distinguish between two types of Leftists. First, there are those Leftists who discuss microaggressions as an abstract, theoretical entity, and these are usually white progressives unquestioningly accepting the concept as axiomatic, and virtue-signaling themselves into states of ecstasy. Then there are those who claim to have actually experienced microaggressions themselves, and these are usually POCs. The first category of Leftist is par for the course, especially among self-loathing whites, where the jargon of academia has a funny way of seeping into the wider culture. The second group, however, all-too-often points in the direction of the over-sensitive individual being psychologically unbalanced.
Will Asians Be the New X?
So, in the ever buzzing and competitive Oppression Olympic games, what are we to make of all this? We may ask ourselves: Will Asians be the new Blacks, the new Hispanics, or the new Jews?
We can pretty much rule out the first. The overwhelming consensus in I.Q. studies is that Asians, as a whole, have higher I.Q.s than whites, which in a neoliberal capitalist system like ours tracks pretty well with socioeconomic status, and in the U.S., Asians have reached not insignificant levels of economic accomplishment. Plus, Asians have nothing like the historical legacy of slavery to milk for eternity.
Can Asians leverage black grievance the way Hispanics have? Asians have been far less successful at exploiting the affirmative action gravy train in the way that Hispanics have. This is primarily because they are not underrepresented in colleges or various fields of employment (the Harvard admissions brouhaha being a prime example). And while there is growing Chinese anchor baby exploitation, for the most part Asian immigrants (legal or illegal) have none of the near-sacred and numinous status that Mexican illegal immigrants and other third world POCs currently have.
Finally, what about the third option? Might Asians be elbowing their way to the front of the table of NYT-styled, anti-WASP sentiment, and, if not supplanting the historical role that Jews have played in this regard (which would be quite hard to do, ‘cuz they ain’t gonna give up their seats without a fight), then perhaps sidling up beside them?
To a large degree, the counterculture of the 1960s was a rebellion against high parental expectations, a dynamic quite pronounced in Jewish families. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the vanguard of the New Left was greatly overrepresented by Jewish youth from affluent backgrounds. But since the 1960s Jews have not only successfully entered the highest echelons of cultural and political influence, they now dominate them, despite being only about 2% of the general population. Combined with rising intermarriage rates, this has collectively served to defuse some of the high radicalness we’ve seen in past Jewish generations (which is not to say that Jews aren’t still far to the Left of whites).
However, the same cannot currently be said about Asians, who seem to be in the earliest developmental stages of their own Grievance Narrative. While Jewish youth today appear to have better coping mechanisms for anxiety-inducing, high-demand parents, what must it be like for a second-generation Asian youth growing up with hard-working parents from the Old Country, or with an over-achieving Tiger Mom?
Ashkenazim have proven themselves quite adept at deploying “fellow white people” rhetoric when it suits certain contexts, but then also playing the “oppressed minority” anti-Semitism card when it suits other situations, such as when scrutiny is given to Jewish overrepresentation in various professions and the like. The Angry Asian contingent will likely try to do the same, but without anything like The Holocaust™ to draw upon. In short, Angry Asians will carve out their own unique niche in the proliferating Grievance Industry, but will have to work harder at it. Given high overall Asian I.Q., over time they may start to give Jews a run for their money.
As embodiments of this developing Angry Asian trend, Sarah Jeong and Young Jean Lee serve as instructive case studies.
Way back in 2015, the NYT hired Razib Khan, an HBD stalwart, but fired him the same day (not even the fact that Khan is himself a POC could save him, not that he played that card or would have tried to) after a
Gawker hit piece ‘exposed’ him as a dastardly race realist who wrote for TakiMag, run by the “flamboyantly racist” Taki Theodoracopulos, and for his associating with nefarious characters and entities like VDARE, John Derbyshire, and Steve Sailer.
Then, way back in Feb 2018, the NYT announced that Quinn Norton would be joining them as lead opinion writer on “the power, culture and consequences of technology.” Like Khan, Quinn was promptly dumped the same day “because of her use of slurs on Twitter” and the fact the she is an acquaintance of Andrew Auernheimer. (As evidence, the NYT cited Quinn’s tweet that “weev is a terrible person, & an old friend of mine.”)
Which takes us to Sarah Jeong. As is by now quite familiar to readers, the NYT recently announced that Jeong will be joining the NYT editorial board as their lead writer for (irony of ironies) technology. Rather shocking, and certainly vicious, tweets of hers then surfaced, tweets expressing sentiments that can only be described as vile and, by any reasonable definition of racism, undeniably racist. Except the racism is against whites, which makes it no big deal and, as many on the Left affirm, a concept that cannot in principle exist. As the public controversy of her imminent hire first unfolded, the initial round of tweets that circulated are shown below (though a much larger compendium of her tweets has since been assembled, showcasing hundreds of Jeong’s pejorative tweets about ‘white people’).
Public outcry about these tweets ensued, and the heat this must’ve brought towards her NYT job prospects caused Jeong to issue a statement:
I engaged in what I thought of at the time as counter-trolling. While it was intended as satire, I deeply regret that I mimicked the language of my harassers. These comments were not aimed at a general audience, because general audiences do not engage in harassment campaigns. I can understand how hurtful these posts are out of context, and would not do it again.
Notice there is no apology, per se, which allows her to retain her ideological integrity. Her statement is instead simply a formality. Also notice how she engages in a lawyerly trick of Clintonian proportions. She reframes her blanket statements about the awfulness of white people (i.e., the propositional content of her racist tweets) by saying, in effect, that because these statements were directed at specific individuals (in the form of Twitter replies), they should not be interpreted as being generalized beliefs of hers, “because general audiences do not engage in harassment campaigns.” The claim that her tweets are replies is a generous and unwarranted assumption, as many of her anti-white tweets are not replies to anyone at all, but are blanket statements.
Nonetheless, through a feat of Olympian linguistic gymnastics, Jeong has rhetorically pivoted her tweets around the premise that she, being a victim of online harassment, was simply responding to her harassers (who were no doubt white, male, cishet baddies). The accused becomes the accuser, the victimizer the victim. In fact, her tweets were an exercise in ‘counter-trolling’ (a nice new term, which I’ll have to keep handy) and so should not be construed as being directed at, we are to presume, whites as a whole. When she tweeted “white men are bullshit”, it is most certainly not directed at the class of individuals that are white men. Similarly, when she posted a tweet that contained nothing but a “#CancelWhitePeople” hashtag, it is most definitely not aimed at… white people.
Feeling the heat, the NYT issued their own statement, defending Jeong by essentially buying into the slippery, postmodern definition of language she implicitly deploys:
We hired Sarah Jeong because of the exceptional work she has done covering the internet and technology at a range of respected publications.
Her journalism and the fact that she is a young Asian woman have made her a subject of frequent online harassment.
The first question that arises is: How does the empirical fact that she’s a young Asian woman necessarily lead to her being the victim of “frequent online harassment”? Also, that second sentence implies that the online harassment Jeong has received is solely a function of her being ‘a young Asian woman’, and not anything she may have said beforehand. There is also the issue of how one defines ‘online harassment’, which is of a qualitatively different kind than, say, physical IRL harassment on the street. The perception of what constitutes online harassment becomes a factor here, which, with the likes of Jeong and her ilk, takes us, of course, into Microaggression Land again. The NYT statement continues:
For a period of time she responded to that harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers. She sees now that this approach only served to feed the vitriol that we too often see on social media. She regrets it, and the Times does not condone it.
What an epiphany! She ‘sees now’… She’s seen the light, praise Jesus! And yet she hasn’t taken the tweets down.
Also, why does the NYT say they do not condone her tweets, if her tweets are simply the understandable lashing-out response of a victim, and not in-and-of-themselves expressions of racist sentiment? Or is the NYT itself deploying Clintonian semantics here, referencing not Jeong’s tweets that they do not condone, but the preceding harassment tweets she received? It’s all so confusing.
We had candid conversations with Sarah as part of our thorough vetting process, which included a review of her social media history. She understands that this type of rhetoric is not acceptable at The Times and we are confident that she will be an important voice for the editorial board moving forward.
In other words, while Jeong’s rhetoric is not acceptable, it’s definitely not racist, so everything is peachy. Two wrongs make a right… or cancel each other out… or something.
As expected, the progressive Left quickly lined up in support of Jeong (HuffPo: “The New York Times Should Have Ignored Sarah Jeong’s Twitter Trolls”; Slate: “In Latest Concession to Conservative Trolls, New York Times Blames Bigotry on Many Sides”; Jezebel: “New York Times Capitulates to Racist Trolls Mad at Sarah Jeong for Defending Herself”; The Mary Sue: “NYT Supports New Hire Sarah Jeong After Alt-Right Trolls Accuse Her of ‘Racist’ Tweets”), which is itself reflective of how mainstream anti-white racism is becoming in progressive circles.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) dutifully tweeted: “I’m with @sarahjeong. Enjoy your weekend.”
How did Sarah Jeong get so angry and hateful of white people?
An immigrant from South Korea, Jeong came to the U.S. at age 3 while her parents were on student visas. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2017, her decision to pursue full citizenship largely being a reaction to Trump’s election, though one gets the sense that the oaths she was required to recite were an ideological inconvenience for her. From a Vox interview:
“I was hypnotized by [Trump’s] travel ban, the way, you know, a chicken gets hypnotized by something it’s afraid of,” Jeong says. But at the same time, she was going through the motions of one of America’s highest civil sacraments: memorizing questions and answers about constitutional rights and the rule of law for the civics test, swearing an oath of allegiance during her naturalization ceremony.
And, after all, why should we doubt her loyalty to her new adopted country, which has generously given her the precious gift of citizenship?
“I do wish I could maintain dual citizenship, which Korea will not let me do. It would be nice to become repatriated one day into Korea if their law ever changes, but no, this is my home, for better or worse. Right now may be worse, but this is where I belong.”
In the same Vox interview, Jeong bemoans the arduous process for gaining U.S. citizenship, which she found emotionally taxing, and pitches amnesty for illegals. “I would never begrudge someone who came to this country undocumented,” she notes. “I would want amnesty for them immediately because this isn’t fair. This process isn’t fair.”
With both of her parents being college-educated Korean immigrants, Jeong likely felt significant pressure to excel in college (where she appears to have gone the SJW route) and beyond.
Hence, law school.
And while her accomplishments in this area check off all the right boxes (graduated Harvard Law School in 2014; edited the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender; etc.) it seems her heart just wasn’t in it. In 2016, Jeong delivered a talk on the subject of Adblockers. Watching this video is quite instructive, not because of the putative subject of her talk, but because of Jeong’s opening statements about herself and her background. She basically admits she was very unhappy and disenchanted during law school. “There aren’t a lot of photos of me smiling during this period in my life.” (0:50 to 1:34)
Was she pushed to go to law school by Tiger Parents? Was her growing Leftism in college and then law school making her feel that life as a lawyer would somehow, given other options, be inadequate for redressing ‘social injustice’? (In the Vox interview, she states: “I still sort of have the sense that if you have no political element to your work right now, what’s the point?”) Or did she just hate law school?
Might as a level of sexual frustration been a proximate cause? To the Left, the well traversed cultural trope of white guys who fetishize Asian chicks (aka ‘Yellow Fever’) is awful and racist, but what about Asian chicks who dig white guys? Sarah Jeong herself seems to fit the bill here, expressing this preference on more than one occasion:
So, what’s wrong with Asian guys? Are they too submissive for Sarah? Not alpha-male enough? Perhaps Jeong’s simultaneous love/hate relationship with white men points to some unresolved past romantic issues or sexual frustrations? Might there, for example, be a backstory to the law-school era photo above?
Whatever the case may be, one gets the sense that Jeong’s college years contributed to a bottled-up anger and hostility, one that ultimately manifested itself in pink hair, cropped in an obligatory feminist style, abrasive language, and a hatred of white society.
On this front, her leftwing bona fides are firmly established. Being the editor of the Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, as well as having studied under the Marxist-feminist Catherine McKinnon, all but ensures Joeng harbors radical feminist and Marxist presuppositions, with the default position on virtually any social issue being that the white male patriarchy is to blame.
What is most interesting, however, is that Jeong (being no dummy) would publish her racist tweets (and make no earlier efforts to scrub them) despite being very finely attuned to the issues surrounding online harassment, ethnic slurs, and the like. It’s rather ironic that Jeong authored a book titled The Internet of Garbage, which focuses on online harassment:
The Internet of Garbage considers why and how to recalibrate this ongoing project of garbage-removal from content platforms and social media networks. It’s not as simple as policing offensive material and hitting the delete button online: Jeong tackles precarious issues like free speech, behavior vs. content, doxing and SPAM. She writes, “Content platforms and social media networks do not have the power to restrain stalkers, end intimate partner violence, eliminate child abuse, or stop street harassment. But they can cultivate better interactions and better discourse, through thoughtful architecture, active moderation and community management.”
A 2015 talk that Jeong gave on this book’s theme features her bright pink hair, and has her mentioning token Leftist bromides about points-of-intersectionality (race, gender identity, sexual orientation), while circumscribing what can be regarded as a pro-censorship position when it comes to ‘online harassment’. She seems to view the issue as a zero sum game where ensuing ‘free speech for women’ necessarily means having to effectively limit speech by evil white guys (i.e., the harassers), but she is rather evasive on how this ought to be accomplished. She frames, rather oddly, online harassment of women as an example of the ‘heckler’s veto’, wherein speech that causes some predefined level of social disruption (e.g., agitated crowd; the threat of violence) leads to the speech being shut down (11:00 to 14:10). But, contra Jeong, there are no authorities shutting such women-speech down (as happens routinely to conservative speakers across numerous college campuses); if this ‘free speech for women’ is being shut down, it would seem it is being voluntarily shut down by the offended women themselves. Again, it not entirely clear what Jeong’s solution is (this interview delves into the same issues but doesn’t add much clarity), other than some oblique game of one-upping the heckler’s veto, but in the opposite direction. She assures her audience, however, that her position is not a “cute rhetorical trick to justify the suppression of speech”, which means you can bet your bottom dollar it is exactly that, much like her aforementioned Twitter ‘regret’ statement.
One cannot help but wonder why, as someone so concerned with online harassment that she’d write a book about it, would herself engage in strangely obsessive Twitter feuds, instead of simply ignoring or blocking the harassers. (In one blog post, she describes how she has, in fact, blocked online harassers, which is a rational way of dealing with the problem.) As for her anti-white Twitter tirade, one would think that online harassment is online harassment, and racism is racism, regardless of which intersectionality point you belong to. For someone who lectures on the need for the internet to have less ‘garbage’ talk, she seems to spout an awful lot of garbage herself. One can’t help but wonder about the underlying psychology of a person who would do this.
You’d think she’d be keenly aware that, with gigs coming her way from the likes of Forbes, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, the NYT, et al, her vile tweets might someday get her in trouble. Or is it the case that the rules of the game have changed so quickly, and perhaps her own internal calculus banked on this, that her overt hostility towards whites is now actually an asset in the marketplace of woke punditry, a “means of ascent”? As a fellow Angry-Woke-Female-Asian writer recently tweeted in support of Jeong, old fuddy-duddy establishment types don’t understand the key role such anti-white rhetoric is in getting the gig:
One of the frustrating things to me about the distaste for Sarah’s old tweets from establishment journalists and editors is the refusal to acknowledge the role they played in encouraging/requiring young writers to build their “personal brands” with voicy and brash tweets.
The NYT standing by Jeong also serves as a trial balloon for normalizing social media non-accountability (for the Left only). Across the political spectrum, the ubiquity of social media comes with the accompanying risk of saying things you regret, particularly via the Id-channeling lures of Twitter. For liberal employers like the NYT, who only hire like-minded liberal employees, this poses a conundrum. For every 10 job applicants at the Grey Lady, one wonders what percentage of the applicants have said outlandish things on social media? I would argue that Sarah Jeong has been given an ‘accountability waiver’, primarily due to her being an ‘angry Asian’ POC.
What is more troublesome is how the position that a POC cannot be racist against whites is increasingly, and with greater creativity, gaining traction on the Left. Which, if true, makes the NYT’s employment of Sarah Jeong a very forward thinking hire. In short, given this whole Tweetstorm scandal, the failure of the NYT to sever their ties with Jeong (as they did with Khan and Quinn), and their actual defense of Jeong, may be one small step for NYT hires, but one giant leap for the normalization of anti-white animus.
Young Jean Lee
In a New Yorker piece from 2014 (“Real Gone Girl”), Hilton Als expressed high hopes for playwright Young Jean Lee. Like Sarah Jeong, Lee was also born in South Korea and moved to the U.S. when she was two years old. An only child, she was raised in the very white town of Pullman, Washington by two Korean evangelical Christians. Her father earned a doctorate in chemical engineering, and taught at Washington State University, which likely meant a comfortable upbringing. At UC Berkeley, she earned both a baccalaureate in English and a PhD in English, before moving to (where else) NYC, where she received an MFA from Brooklyn College. (Wikipedia notes she was previously married to Yale Law School graduate and Los Angeles-based attorney Nicholas F. Daum.)
But, also like Jeong, Lee felt out-of-place at university, which in her case appears to have been brought on by racial oversensitivity:
Lee, unlike her father, was an indifferent student. Not engaging in school was, perhaps, her way of not dealing with the casual and not so casual racism that was directed her way by the predominantly white students there: if she didn’t excel, she wouldn’t risk standing out, being seen.
Like Jeong’s dissatisfaction with the standard lawyer track, which led to her stumbling into journalism, Lee was dissatisfied with the academic track (which is the normal course for someone who’s earned a PhD in English) and stumbled into her decision to become a playwright:
She was twenty-six and was beginning to feel undernourished in the academy — a strange thing for the daughter of immigrants to admit, even to herself. She felt frustrated, too, in her marriage. One day, her therapist asked her to say, off the top of her head, what she wanted to do with her life, and Lee replied, “I want to be a playwright.”
So, Lee got to it and became a playwright.
Als praises Lee’s “identity plays” for their predictable pablum and for inheriting the grievance tradition of radical black playwrights such as Amiri Baraka:
In her feminist-minded works, in which characters sometimes talk more to the audience than they do to one another, Lee had built drama around racially driven self-hatred, the naked body, and patriarchy, among other things.
There’s a telling passage in Lee’s play Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven that may do much to explain the anti-white hostilities from figures like Jeong and Lee. As Als explains it, the play consists of four women (who are referred to as “Korean 1”, “Korean 2”, “Korean 3”, and “Korean-American”) and a cis-het couple referred to as “White Person 1” and “White Person 2”. At one point in the play, the “Korean-American” character says:
Have you ever noticed how most Asian-Americans are slightly brain-damaged from having grown up with Asian parents? It’s like being raised by monkeys—these retarded monkeys who can barely speak English and who are too evil to understand anything besides conformity and status. Most of us hate these monkeys from an early age and try to learn how to be human from school or television, but the result is always tainted by this subtle or not so subtle retardation. Asian people from Asia are even more brain-damaged, but in a different way, because they are the original monkey.
For the Korean-American (an obvious surrogate for Lee herself), we can imagine the embarrassment from one’s Korean parents, forever stuck with their accents and conservative traditions, the identity crisis and self-loathing that ensues, the search for authenticity. (The same dynamic is true, to a more radical degree, with second-generation Muslims in the West or, as in the case with Barack Obama, mixed race individuals, especially mixed race individuals with at least one parent who is an immigrant from an exotic locale.) Als writes:
How can you be yourself in an adopted environment that considers your foreignness threatening? How can you value yourself as an intellectual without academic-white-male validation? Korean-American identifies herself as “white” in relation to her purely Korean sisters. She is not white enough, however, to identify with White Person 1 and 2 as they endlessly process their “problems.”
Als discusses some of Lee’s other plays: The Shipment, We’re Gonna Die, and Untitled Feminist Show, the last being a “masterly work” where there is no language whatsoever; instead, nude performers “struck attitudes and made pantomimes about how people view gender and their bodies and myth in the world.”
With obvious genius talent like this, Als, in 2014, had high hopes for the piece she was working on at the time, the first iteration of Single White Men.
However, something went awry…
Cut to the other side of town, where Parul Sehgal, writing in the NYT (“Young Jean Lee’s Unsafe Spaces”), has a glowing profile of Lee and her new production of Single White Men, and is well worth reading in its entirety, primarily as an exhibit of myopic, liberal, POC, navel-gazing. There’s the lighthearted asides about Marxism, one of which is:
Class is the subject of her new play and her fixation at the moment. She followed up on one of our meetings with an email at 11:27 p.m.: “Identity politics needs to be more intersectional with class, and if it isn’t, it easily becomes yet another tool of capitalism. I hope I’ve made that clear enough!”
Of particular note in Sehgal’s piece are the various passages that not only bespeak POC racial solidarity against Whitey, but continue the alarming pace at which whites are being actively dehumanized in mainstream cultural outlets, enframed and mocked as veritable zoological specimens:
Lee has written plays about identity politics and identity crises in the lives of Asian-Americans, African-Americans, feminists and evangelicals. Here she scrutinizes what she calls the new ethnic group on the scene: straight white men. For so long simply the default humans, they now face all the indignities of life with a label…
I met Lee after rehearsal one damp day in Midtown Manhattan. She had an anthropological mission in mind: lunch at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s flagship restaurant in Trump Tower. She was hoping to observe a certain kind of whiteness — prosperous, unselfconscious — at rest in its natural habitat. Whiteness unmediated by the presence of, well, the two of us, a Korean-American and an Indian-American.
That Sehgal would swoon over Lee’s new play is understandable: there’s probably a lot of common ground they share. What is mysterious, though, is why the aforementioned Hilton Als, writing in his new piece for The New Yorker (“The Soullessness of “Straight White Men”), has a largely negative review of the new version of Straight White Men currently playing on Broadway. Als is elated that Lee is “the first Asian-American woman to have a piece produced on the Great White Way.” (Great WHITE Way… get it?). The play’s premise is laden with more of the same, insufferable, identity politics posturing as Lee’s previous works:
The play is framed by two trans people, known as Person in Charge 1 and Person in Charge 2 (the attractive Ty Defoe and the performance artist and author Kate Bornstein, respectively). After they break down some definitions—what constitutes “trans” and so on—this choral duo ushers us into a family room in the Midwest, complete with fireplace and La-Z-Boy. But how can we find our way into the story proper, now that the People in Charge have spent a fair amount of time winking at us about the asshole culture that Lee’s about to take down?
Now, from the sounds of it, we have here all the necessary ingredients for a successful NYC play:
- Authored by a certified POC;
- Authorial chorus of trannies;
- Play is set in Flyover Country (Land of Deplorables)
- Mocks straight white men;
- Frames the culture of straight white men as ‘asshole culture’;
- And so on, and so forth.
But, even with reliable ingredients like this, Als feels there’s a certain spice missing. Lo and behold, a play called Straight White Men, which sounds to be every bit as excruciatingly pedantic and predictable as you’d imagine it to be, is too much even for a black reviewer at The New Yorker (who, as one would expect of any black male writing for The New Yorker, is also gay):
The actors want to play real people, but what chance do they have when they’re presented like silhouettes in a shooting gallery—easy marks—and with all those accusing fingers pointing at them like guns?
While the production does feature “four fine cis male actors”, the play itself is “flat and boring”.
So, what went wrong?
What one walks away with after this nearly two-hour, intermissionless number is a strong sense that the production is rigged—rigged to make audience members feel hep, because, in the end, they get to give a thumbs-down to some straight white men in a political climate that is increasingly critical of all three of those designations.
One can sense here some of the rare, but noticeable, ‘maybe we’re going too far here’ afterthoughts progressives occasionally display. In any event, Als isn’t quite sure which intersectional-anger-nexus-point the play is hoping to artistically tap into:
Lee’s characterizations of white men don’t seem to draw on anything real. Is her point that straight white men are superficial creatures, bound by codes of behavior that make them stupid and puerile? The dishonesty in the play runs deep… [W]ho among us hasn’t felt a flash of anger at or yearning for straight white men and their ability to be carefree and uncomplicated while claiming what they naturally assume to be theirs? What if Lee had written about the sexual tension and distance one can feel when observing one’s own reaction to white masculinity? Instead, she’s scripted a simplistic morality play whose thrust is Them bad, Us—audience members, Persons in Charge—good. “Straight White Men” is, ultimately, not much more than a repetitive Twitter rant about what’s wrong with other people.
Yikes, I’m betting Als regrets conjuring the image of another leftwing Asian woman going on a Twitter rant.
More importantly, which is it: white men as superficial and uncomplicated, white men as stupid and puerile, or white men as exuders of toxic masculinity? Make up your mind, woman!
In the end, Als describes Straight White Men as ‘soulless’, a play that ‘has no ‘heart’.
But, when it comes to depictions of straight white men in today’s culture, isn’t that the whole point?