Linstant Celebrity

If you own or have at least watched TV in the past few weeks, you have  no doubt tuned into the recent success of New York Nick’s point guard Jeremy Lin.  Former Harvard stand-out and all around nice guy Lin has made waves in his short NBA debut season so far, averaging good numbers that would make even the most seasoned veteran or high-profile rookie turn their head.

The fanfare has been pretty outrageous for the up-and-coming point guard due partially to his rags-to-riches story (he was sleeping on his brother’s couch for a while) and to the marketability of an Asian American who is good at basketball.  Oh, and did I mention… his name “LIN” has been used in countless hilarious signs, posters, ads, and otherwise unsophisticated yet classic signage that have featured numerous puns.

While most people chose to highlight his last name, Lin, and use it in funny little play on words type jokes (Linsanity, Linderella, “all we do is Lin,” etc..), one ad has gotten some backlash recently for using the fact that Jeremy is Asian (he is Taiwanese, I think) to poke fun at the superstar.


Get it? Fortune? ‘Cause Asian people eat fortune cookies right?

I have mixed feelings about the image, I’ll be honest.  My first reaction is that it is a fairly clever, albeit tasteless, ad.  But I also know better than to say it doesn’t set off my racism alarm (yea… I have one… all non-white people do. Duh.) Because obviously some Asians will find this offensive; having one’s culture reduced to a stereotypical food “you” are supposed to eat is frustrating to say the least.  Black people and fried chicken is another favorite trope that I can identify with.

At the same time, what if (a pretty big if) the player inside the cookie had been a white or black player that had brought good fortune to the Nicks? The joke would then just be taken as a play on the word fortune and, although less funny to some, perhaps, would still have been a successful ad.  If pressed on the issue, I can imagine the creator of the ad saying that it wasn’t about him being Asian at all, but rather just making light of the ‘fortune’ pun.  This is most likely not the truth, but we don’t have to assume the worst, do we?

I’d also like to point out that Asian American fans around the league and in the stands have used similarly racially charged language in their nicknames for Lin without much rebuke.  The ‘yellow mamba’ and ’emperor Lin’ are two that come to mind but I couldn’t find images fo the original signage to post.  It’s kinda like how its ‘ok’ for black people to say the N-Word but no one else.  We seem to get a free pass in our society to make jokes that self-depricate or to inflict potentially damaging stereotypes on ourselves.  Only when we attack others are we reprimanded.

I wouldn’t necessarily have it any other way, I guess. I just think it is interesting the sometimes arbitrary lines we make for behavior in public.  Theres such a thing as ‘ok’ racism or ‘kind of racist’ and then there is stuff that’s clearly offensive.  I’m always interested in how these things play out, and where we draw the lines on a case-to-case basis.  They are, of course, subject to change.