‘Anchorman 2’ and the Normalization of an Ethnic Slur

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You have to be literally living under a rock to have escaped the holiday marketing blitz of “Anchorman 2.” From muscle car ads to real news shows, the fake newsman Ron Burgundy (alter ego of actor Will Ferrell) has reared his ugly hair-sprayed head all over the media.

I’m more concerned about what the movie says about diversity.

Nothing good, really.

Yes, I know this movie’s a silly trifle, especially with more important things to write about like starving kids in the Philippines, the victims of Typhoon Haiyan.

But that’s my point. When Ron Burgundy/Will Ferrell tells a joke about Filipino dog eating, it’s just not funny. It’s a tasteless and unneccessary re-telling of an old ethnic slur.

Am I being oversensitive?

Blacks, I’m sure hear different notes when people talk about African-Americans eating watermelon and fried chicken. That strikes a chord of an ethnic slur from way back.

Filipinos and Filipino Americans have to be tone deaf to not be offended by this joke among “Anchorman 2”’s many throw-away lines.

It comes as Burgundy drives in his van and says:

“Only Olympic sport Filipinos are good at is eating cats and dogs.”

Ha-ha?

I’ve written jokes professionally for late-night TV in the past, so I know the formula. They’ve upped the ante on dog-eating, making it “Olympian.” And then they topped it, making it not just about dogs ― but cats now, too.

No animals were harmed in the making of the movie, I’m sure. Especially if they took away the forks from the Filipinos on the crew. (Which there probably weren’t many, if any at all).

That was the difference with the Black jokes told in the movie.

When Ron Burgundy plays “Guess who’s coming to dinner….” with his Black news executive girlfriend, at least Blacks are in on the joke. Burgundy’s jive talk is greeted with disdain by the Black actors.

But it’s just the movie’s way of having its cake and eating it too.

It would have been helpful to have a built-in rebuttal for the Filipino joke, but maybe Filipinos were considered too insignificant for producers to care or matter.

That shows you where Filipinos, the second largest Asian American group in the country, are on the diversity totem pole. Not very high.

What’s more disappointing is the reaction from young Filipino Americans. Young people are presumably the target audience of the movie, though the movie’s natural audience is likely to be those people who lived the ‘70s and ‘80s and are now north of 40.

On my Emil Guillermo Media Facebook page, one Filipino mother’s note to me said her son saw the movie and said it was “no big deal.” To him, everyone was skewered equally. Filipino dog-eater stereotype? Who cares.

Another young viewer wrote on my page that it’s true Filipinos eat dog in some region. As if truth is really a defense when it comes to stereotypical ethnic jokes.

As I said, we all know Blacks eat fried chicken and watermelon, too.

What we have is a race generation gap, not because things have improved, mind you. It’s because people have become used to the slur and its normalization.

And when the normalization of a stereotype is perpetrated by a media juggernaut that will be quoted in pop culture for a long, long time, what can we expect but mass acceptance of a stereotype?

It wouldn’t be that hard to take if Filipinos weren’t so invisible in society.

That said, we’re left with the slur, normalized, thanks to a throwaway line in “Anchorman 2.”

Emil Guillermo writes on issues of race for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (www.aaldef.org/blog) Like him at www.facebook.com/emilguillermo.media ; twitter@emilamok

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