Decoding

In October 2016, after Trump mentioned Chinese economic policy in the debate, Fox News reporter Jesse Watters went to New York’s Chinatown to discuss the election. He interviewed residents who could not speak English and made fun of their lack of response to his election questions. In between clips of Watters laughing at elderly people were clips from kung fu films, and clips of Waters himself doing karate, getting a foot massage and bowing at Asian people.

The point of the segment was to present Chinese immigrants in the US as uninterested and uninformed about the upcoming election, and ultimately exclude them from a larger American cultural identity.

Comedian Ronny Chieng, a senior correspondent for The Daily Show, responded to the Fox News coverage in an expletive filled segment that went viral. After identifying every racist cultural frame, word and image in the Fox News segment and decoding them in plain language for audiences.

 

The recording examines how Chieng acknowledged not just stereotypes that were engaged to represent Chinese people and Asian communities at large (pointing out that karate is Japanese) but also how Watters structured the segment. Watters only posed questions about the election to elderly Chinese residents in a language they could not understand, while those who could speak English were asked about karate.

Chieng is quick to show that the segment relied on putting interviewees in a position where they could not respond to or consent to the show’s representations. Here Chieng brings up still photos of Watters and screams assumptions based on Watter’s appearance as a general douchebag (for example, that Watters drugs women’s drinks at bars). Chieng demonstrates how anyone in the right context can be rendered passive, can be defined by cruel stereotypes for laughs. 

But the real strength of Chieng’s critique, besides decoding an onslaught of racist messaging, is in his ability to demonstrate how the segment could more accurately represent Chinese-Americans if encoded differently.