KTVU, who have done some excellent reporting of last week’s SFO plane crash, got pranked yesterday. They thought that the names of the pilots had been released to them:
For those of you who missed it, they are:
- Captain Something Wrong
- We Too Low
- Holy Fuck
- Bang, Ding, Ow
What’s most interesting is how the staff at KTVU fell for the prank. The truth is that for Americans, Asian names are a problem. They tend to sound unintentionally funny—often sexual. So I’m sure that the people at the TV station were trying to be respectful. In fact, just listen to how carefully the anchor is pronouncing the names. So the prank only works because the reporters are trying so hard to be respectful about something they know little about. And that’s a good thing; I wish they acted that way about all the other things they don’t understand very well.
I don’t want to go too easy on KTVU, however. San Francisco has a very big Asian population. If that community was better represented in the newsroom, this mightn’t have happened. Regardless, it looks as though KTVU had no one but the pranksters themselves to count on for the pronunciations. That is at least a bit sad.
On the other side—the pranksters—the intent is not so noble. It is very funny, of course. But I can’t help but notice just how ethnocentric if not outright racist the joke is. For example, the names are really more Chinese than Korean. I don’t think “Wong” is a Korean surname, but it is Chinese. The same is true of “Lo.” Much more than this, however, there is a clear aspect of cultural superiority indicted with the pigeon English and the plaintive cry, “We too low!”
Don’t get me wrong. All I’m saying is that most of the humor here is based upon our shocking lack of knowledge about other cultures. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t laugh at it, because I certainly have. In particular, I thought the most offensive “Wi Tu Lo” was very funny. And “Captain Sun Ting Wong” is a brilliant bit of comic detail that KTVU dutifully reported. But after all that, I think it is a good idea to step back and look at why we find all of this so funny. Why are we so focused on our own culture that at first we don’t even notice the fake names and then we find them funny as hell. That completely describes me. And I wish it didn’t.
H/T: William Brown
Update (13 July 2013 3:12 pm)
Will tells me that it actually came from an unpaid intern at NTSB. As you all probably know, I’m not too keen on the whole unpaid intern thing. It is just another way to give the rich an even bigger economic advantage over the poor. He also noted that the San Francisco NBC affiliate, KRON, has a much more diverse staff than KTVU.
Update (13 July 2013 5:56 pm)
Twitter user B. Justice alerted me to misinformation in the last update. The intern did not provide the original information; he only confirmed it. KTVU has not explained where they got the original information.