Last week I received an email from out of the ether.
Keep in mind that because I self publish on a regular basis and I amuse myself (and hopefully others) with captioned photos of Kim Jung Un, the plump prince of the DPRK, hearing from strangers on the great wide world interwebs is not all that unusual.
99.9% of these surprise emails are of the complimentary nature.
But, this one email caught me off guard. It came from an Asian Filmmaker in NYC who was so offended by my regular ribbing of Kim Jung Un, he felt the need to tell me. AND, more importantly, to publish his indignation quite publicly on Linkedin.com for all the world to see.
Dear Rich Siegel: I understand that a fat Asian despot with a bowl haircut makes an easy target but you've been making jokes about Kim Jong Un on a weekly basis for as long as I've come in contact with your Linkedin posts for about two years now. I find them unoriginal, lazy, not particularly funny, often racially tinged, and offensive. This is one of the reasons why I've removed you as one of my connections. I don't believe such jokes have a place on social media in this day and age. Before removing myself from exposure to any more of your posts, I thought it important to voice my opinion.
I responded in a way that acknowledged his complaint but also attempted to defuse the situation in a humorous way.
Me: Geez, if we can't make fun of self-important, overeating, repressive boy-kings who starve their countrymen and slaughter political opponents, who can we make fun of? I'm sorry you find the work, "unoriginal, lazy, not particularly funny, often racially tinged and offensive." In retrospect, some could have even funnier. But you're wrong. You're dead wrong. I have not been posting these captioned photos for 2 years. It's actually been 3.
But he would have none of that, insisting that I was guilty of being a racist and repeating as well as amplifying stereotypes.
Him: Rich, your jokes are not about criticizing Kim Jong Un and North Korea's horrific treatment of its people. They are about eating raccoon meat and micro-penises. I'm sorry that you can't see that you're simply propagating offensive racial stereotypes.
Knowing I had not done any of that and had made a conscious effort to steer clear of even the remote possibility of coming off as racially insensitive, I replied:
Me: You keep leveling these charges of racially tinged humor, but I defy you to find one among the 300 plus photos. I may be guilty of overplaying the fat jokes, but as an overweight guy I'm calling executive privilege on that. It's light political humor. If you don't like it, ignore it. Or better yet, since you're in the creative field, grow a thicker skin.
Again, he pushed on.
Him: Rich, I've already made references to racially offensive words used above and I'm not going to repeat them. And it's not just the words you use but the juxtaposition of images and words that result in a racial caricaturization of of Kim, not as a tyrant, but as an Asian.
At this point, my long dormant desire to be a lawyer kicked in and I brought out the light tactical passive/aggressive armaments.
Me: Allow me to be specific and repeat the phrases you quoted. Raccoons are not indigenous to the Korean Peninsula, hence the reference could not possibly reinforce any stereotype and was simply used to point out the scarcity of food in North Korea. Micro-penis was in reference to Hitler and his recently revealed deformity. It was not some veiled insult about Asians. If you took offense to this, perhaps you are projecting your own personal matters, in which case you have my greatest sympathy.
He now realizes he has opened up a can of rhetorical whup ass.
Him: I see we have devolved to personal attacks and Trumpisms. If you don't see it, then you don't see it. Good luck to you.
Me: There was no devolving. You started the correspondence by calling me a racist. Lazy. And worse yet, unfunny. I asked for proof, you provided none. Moreover, I never made any personal attacks. I empathetically raised the possibility that you had been shortchanged in the manhood department. I hope that is not the case. If however you wish to cease the banter and witty repartee, I will gladly accept your concession. Otherwise, I'll put on a fresh pot of coffee and we can go keyboard-to-keyboard.
And this is where it ended. Sadly. He stopped the correspondence and blocked me from the thread. In essence, picking up his toys and going home. Just as I was getting warmed up.
I don't take the charge of being a called racist lightly. In the three years that I've been posting the Kim Jung Un photos, I have not heard from one of my many Asians friends (sorry for that tired trope) about stepping over a line.
If you know me at all, and clearly this filmmaker from NYC does not, you've seen me use this platform to regularly champion better treatment for labor, equal rights for gay people and justice for African Americans. You know, when I'm not making fun of Jews. But I get a pass on that as well.
So, this anonymous filmmaker from New York got offended. Big deal.
Know what I find offensive? Political correctness. The tendency to take life too seriously. And the notion that I should refrain from poking fun at a two-bit, fatty-fat, tinpot dictator simply because he is of a different ethnicity.
He's offended. I'm offended.
I guess we're even.