After the Disaster in Japan, When Comments Go Too Far

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

While Japan is dealing with a rising death toll, massive destruction and a nuclear crisis in the wake of a devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, some prominent media personalities, athletes and celebrities in the United States have found themselves apologizing for making insensitive comments about the tragedy. Jeff Yang, pop culture columnist, discusses the cultural implications of such remarks.

Family Guy scriptwriter Alec Sulkin tweeted, "If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google 'Pearl Harbor death toll.'"

WNBA player Cappie Pondexter tweeted, "What if God was tired of the way they treated their own people in there own country! Idk [I don't know] guys he makes no mistakes." She added, "u just never knw! They did pearl harbor so u can't expect anything less."

And others being criticized for insensitive comments include Glenn Beck, rapper 50 cent, comedian Gilbert Gottfried and CNBC host Larry Kudlow.

Is this slew of thoughtless comments the result of a historically contentious relationship between Americans and the Japanese, or do some Americans simply think they have a free pass to make fun of Asians? The Tumblr KarmaJapan has been making a record of some of the invective about Japan that has been published online.


Jeff Yang

Produced by:

Arwa Gunja

Comments [17]

brandon welch


Dec. 07 2011 01:15 PM
Eddy Andrews from Australia

What you have written is correct, but even till date, people are missing with something..! that is safety precaution.. The world has gone through Natural and Man made disaster. This is the right time to talk, what measure you have planed for such unwanted disasters for your family? What is your Family Safety Plan? These are some serious questions that need to be taken very seriously. To avoid such circumstance we have came across with safety plan which will give you complete idea how to tackle such difficult situations. i.e.: and
We have belief that we can save human in first 24hrs after disaster take place. Come and hold the hands in such amazing safety plan where you can make sure that your families are safe from such big disasters.

Apr. 11 2011 05:52 AM

What's wrong with all these celebrities making stupid jokes and comments? Now, you know that these celebrities doesn't have much intelligence. Instead of talking all that crap and waste their money something stupid. They should donate some money to help the Japanese people. I'm very disappointed that I haven't heard any celebrities donating any money.

Mar. 19 2011 07:11 PM
Liz from Ny

I can't even understand why some celebrities think that they can just say or do whatever they want without any reprocutions. I guess that they are just so delusional and bigheaded that they think that people will simply worship whatever they say.

Mar. 19 2011 12:13 AM
rachale from msla mt

it is amazing to me how many people just really SUCK...can't teach humanity and I guess it doesn't come naturally.
it is pathetic to even come across comments like those above.

Mar. 17 2011 08:52 AM
Mike from Colorado

OMG, give me a break. Peg: bringing up the Atomic bomb? Whether you know it not, those bombs saved lives on both sides The Japanese would have NEVER surrendered. They didn't surrender after the first bomb, even when we told them a 2nd was coming! Stupid Americans? Please. Just another JEALOUS, whiney European. If another great war started over there you would crying for us to come save your whimpey butts once AGAIN.
Jealous Ingrate...

Mar. 17 2011 06:09 AM
Rob Catlin

My beef for today is those in the entertainment world who choose to make a joke out of such tragedies such as Japan should be forced to pay a fine of 1 million dollars plus and be treated as a HATE CRIME

Mar. 16 2011 06:17 PM
Clay Hickman from Helena MT

A Montana State Senator, during a hearing quoted a State Representative as saying, "We're faced with a tsunami that's going to make what happened to Japan look mighty small."

Mar. 16 2011 01:29 PM
riq from south east kansas

When I heard about the comments that gilbert godfrey, 50, and glenn beck made on the tragedies in japan. I was so mad I want to make hateful comments about their backgrounds race and ideologies. But they are poor simple idiots and if not for the grace of god I would follow them down the same path with comments. Appearing equally as foolish! I think my energy will be better spent praying and wishing well for the japanese people in there time of tragedy.

Mar. 16 2011 12:39 PM
Suzanne from New York, NY

As a 3rd generation Japanese American, I am completely appalled at the insensitive comments of people about the earthquake.

A public figure (who shall remain unnamed), tweeted something about Godzilla and if you didn't believe he existed, you will now. When he received some backlash from his followers, he posted on his blog about what he meant. He said humor helps people in these situations and he defended his comments.

While I believe humor in general does help, humor when it is making fun of the disaster does not help and it is not funny. Thousands of people died and lost everything, and there is nothing funny about that.

It's not ok to make jokes about any disaster. If someone made jokes about 9/11 or the Holocaust, I would be just as appalled! Even years after, it's not ok to makes jokes.

Japan needs our help, not jokes! Jokes will not help them recover from these disasters. If this happened here in the United States, I know the Japanese would come to our aid help us...and they wouldn't make jokes about the situation.

So, if you still feel it's ok to make jokes about the situation, know that your insensitivity, ignorance and karma will catch up to you.

Mar. 16 2011 12:26 PM
ricky from NC


I've heard about the Chinese media. Just because media in other countries are insensitive, though, doesn't give a free pass to American media.

Broadviewing is certainly good to do. And it's good to take into account different perspective. But when it gets down to making changes, it really needs to start closer to home. On a personal level, within the family, the community, the state, the region, the nation, etc.

So the context of where we can most effectively introduce inklings of change is where we live, in America. If we were in China or Korea, we can speak out there as Chinese or Korean residents. But within the context of American Media, Asian Americans and Asians are lumped together. Anti-Japanese sentiments are Anti-Asian sentiments.

It's certainly not ONLY all about American callousness, but again, they are speaking in the context of American media, which is where Jeff Yang is coming from.

I mean, there are so many other issues too that play a part in how we digest mass media. "Pop culture" to many means "Western" which is heavily "American" influenced, and "American" to many means "white" and sometimes "Black." And "Asian American" is so broad and such a mixed bag.


As for a joke is a joke, you can tell that to the many victims of bullying who commited suicide. To those victims of hate crimes like Vicent Chin and Matthew Sheperd whose murderers felt justified in their crimes because of "jokes" that perpetuate the notion that it's okay to belittle, it's okay to hate, because somehow the objects of those jokes are less than human.

Harms nobody, that's bull.

Freedom of speech is not an open pass to say whatever you want. First of all, that is a legal issue, and we are talking more about morality here. Second of all, there are legal restrictions to the freedom of speech.

And as for who cares:

"First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me."
-Martin Niemoller

Mar. 16 2011 10:40 AM

From a 5 second google search - here's some info from wikipedia

"Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000–166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki,[1] with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day. The Hiroshima prefectural health department estimates that, of the people who died on the day of the explosion, 60% died from flash or flame burns, 30% from falling debris and 10% from other causes. During the following months, large numbers died from the effect of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness. In a US estimate of the total immediate and short term cause of death, 15–20% died from radiation sickness, 20–30% from flash burns, and 50–60% from other injuries, compounded by illness.[5] In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.[6][7][8]"

Mar. 16 2011 10:00 AM
Move on (dot) who cares

Gilbert Gottfried's entire act is about insensitivity. Aflac had no choice in the matter because a competitor would certainly jump on the situation to try to grab market share in Japan, But don't expect anything resembling remorse from the comedian.

Mar. 16 2011 10:00 AM

I don't understand how a comment goes to far. A joke is a joke. If it isn't funny or is distasteful, then people should just forget about it, instead of act like total babies. "Too far." How stupid. Certainly Gottfried's comments were jokes, and not even that funny, just silly...and that female basketball player's comments sounds like she has the mental capacity and reasoning of a no big deal. Who cares. Freedom of speech folks. This harms nobody.

Mar. 16 2011 09:07 AM

I think it's just another case of "Stupid Americans." The dumber the better! Duh

Mar. 16 2011 08:16 AM
kmarnyc from New York CIty

Hey -- has Jeff Yang been following any of the Chinese or Korean media lately talking about the tragedy in Japan? It's not ONLY all about American callousness. Or "anti-Asian" feelings. Please be more broadviewing when it comes to attacking (deservedly) the heinous remarks of some people.

Mar. 16 2011 07:42 AM
mamang sitlhou from manpur,india

wen grief n suffering, all turn back....
Japan v'll 1nc again turn in2 da land of rising hope,heart of technologies
dont lose hope
v n my people pay condole upon da grief family

Mar. 16 2011 05:17 AM

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