Offense is cultural. Millions of Americans saw Jimmy Kimmel ask a child what they should do about the U.S. debt to China on his ABC show, and when the child suggested "killing everyone in China," they probably chuckled to themselves and forgot about it.
For many Chinese people, however, the joke went too far, and they couldn't forget it. Since the show aired on Oct. 16 more than 100,000 people have signed a petition asking for the White House to investigate the show, with protests comparing Kimmel to Hitler appearing in New York and Los Angeles.
Almost a month later, the scandal just won't go away, with the latest reports suggesting that the Chinese government is getting involved. Many Americans are left scratching their head: Sure, the idea of killing everyone in China is abhorrent, but that's why everyone laughed — it was a ridiculous comment!
To get the other side of the argument, we reached out to one of the people involved in the protests.
Kimmy Got is a middle-aged housewife who lives in New Jersey. She was born in Hong Kong and emigrated to the U.S. in 1991, first to California, before later moving to the East Coast for her husband's work. She says that she first heard about the protest via a friend's email, and she was immediately hurt.
"My first reaction was 'WHAT?' Someone would say something so irresponsible, insensitive, vicious and cruel on a renowned TV station?" she explains. "I was totally stunned that these comments would be aired on TV in America today ... I could not believe it."
Got says she has experienced racism before. "At times in my life, I have felt that I was being discriminated against racially," she says. "And I... I dealt with it, because discrimination is happening all over the world. Someone can discriminate against you and you may discriminate against other people in some way. It is unavoidable."
"But this … this is definitely not the same thing," she says. "The scale … it can't be compared."
Even though Got is clear that she has never been involved in activism before, she was insulted and wanted to do something big about it.
"If you don't have this kind of big movement, nobody will hear you," she says. "It's only a private discussion."
So she went online, where she found others who were insulted. These groups began to organize themselves, first via email lists and then via a Wiki-based website.
The Wiki offers a fascinating glimpse into the movement. One page lists potential slogans for the group, including "Fire Jimmy Kimmel, the new Hitler!" and "ABC, Don't kill me! (Let some cute kids holding this post)." On the poster page, there is a suggestion "if there are any Nazi symbols, I suggest you draw a cross above it." The website includes information about discrimination against Chinese-Americans, including an explanation of the murder of Vincent Chin, a man beaten to death in Michigan in an act of anti-Asian violence.
Got went to the first demonstration in front of ABC's offices in New York City at the end of October, and she admits she was shocked that more than 100 people turned up. "It was just people talking online," she says. The most recent protest in Times Square on Nov. 9 had more than 1,000 people, she said.
The start of this video shows Got talking at Times Square:
So far, ABC has removed the clip from its website and posted a message online offering a "heartfelt, sincere apology." Kimmel himself brought up the segment on his show after the controversy began to snowball on Oct. 29. "I just want to say I am sorry," he said. "I apologize. It was certainly not my intent to upset anyone." Later, an apology letter purportedly written by Kimmel was posted to the Sina Weibo account of Chinese news agency Xinhua.
The apologies change nothing in Got's eyes, however. "Right now they really are playing some dirty games with us," she says. "They are trying to make the public think that they did apologize a few times. We have been following so closely, and we know they have not. All these apologies are false."
Got says that she can't speak for everyone in the group, but she know what she personally wants — Kimmel fired. "Don't forget, Kimmel asked, 'Should we be forced to pay our debts?' What kind of question is that?" she says. "Kimmel doesn't know what DEBT means? How can he be qualified to be a public figure, to be a host on a TV show? His mentality deserves serious scrutiny."
She also believes that the White House (who have committed to responding to the anti-Kimmel petition as it has more than 100,000 signatures) should investigate Kimmel and ABC.
Got's anger is clearly sincere. "America is one of the leading countries of the world. Americans pride themselves as intelligent, loving and kind, but they would make these vicious remarks that are full of racial hatred, injustice, violence?"
When I suggested that perhaps Americans are scared of China's growing power, Got is shocked.
"They're scared?" she says, before laughing. "No! If someone is scared of someone, they wouldn't make remarks like that. And if they did make the remarks stupidly, they would apologize ... They totally disrespect us. They know that us Chinese, we are quiet people and sometimes we are the victims of bullies as we just accept it. Thousands of years of history show that."
It's easy to think of China as a strong country, with a powerful military and a booming economy, but clearly not all Chinese people feel like that — some feel like their country is unfairly maligned and has been dominated for centuries. This seems to be a big factor in why the protests have become so big — a second White House petition (which specifically asks for Kimmel to be fired) makes this point obvious, asking "what would Martin Luther King say if a TV host asks ''Should we allow the African American to live" for joking?"
Got says her hope is that these protests can unify Chinese people, and teach them not to be so obedient. However, it may also may also teach international media organizations to be extra careful when dealing with Chinese sentiment — ABC's parent company, Disney, had been planning a major expansion in the Chinese market. It needs this scandal to go away.
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