In the News

Bent or Broken? (or: Details’ “Gay or Asian?” article)

“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it’s not funny.”
— Woody Allen, Crimes and Misdemeanors

Before I get to the actual subject matter, let me begin with an aside.

Last night at Kickass Karaoke, we spiced up our friend Erik’s number. As he went onstage to perform The Vapors’ 80’s hit Turning Japanese, a half-dozen Asians (including me) formed a line behind him and stared him down in mock disapproval as he sang. It was a schtick that we played up for laughs, which we got in healthy amounts, and it was all in good fun.

We got even more laughs at the end of the number when I took the mic and said “Support your local Asian! We help you with your math homework and we keep the cell phone industry afloat!”

That bent. Quite well, I daresay. Keep the “Bent or broke?” question in mind as you read this.

Last week, while sifting through my “suspected to be junk” email folder, I found anonymous email pointing my attention to the now-infamous Details magazine piece from their April 2004 issue: Gay or Asian?, written by one Whitney McNally. Here’s a scan of the page on which it appeared:

I’ve included the full text of the piece below, since the scan isn’t at the highest quality setting, and for the benefit of search engines:


One cruises for chicken; the other takes it General Tso-style. Whether you’re into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial tastes. So choke up on your chopsticks, and make sure your labels are showing. Study hard, Grasshopper: A sharp eye will always take home the plumpest eel.

1. DIOR SUNGLASSES: Subs as headband and amplifies inscrutable affect.

2. RYAN SEACREST HAIR: Shellacked spikes, just like that crazy cool Americaaaaaaaan

3. DELICATE FEATURES: Refreshed by a cup of hot tea or a hot night of teabagging.

4. DOLCE & GABBANA SUEDE JACKET: Keeps the last samurai warm and buttoned tight on the battlefield.

5. WHITE T-SHIRT: V-neck nicely showcases sashimi-smooth chest. What other men visit salons to get, the Asian gene pool provides for free.

6. LADYBOY FINGERS: Soft and long. Perfect for both waxing on and wacing off, plucking the koto, or gripping the Kendo stick.

7. LOUIS VUITTON BAG: Don’t be duped by ghetto knockoffs. Every queen deserves the real deal.

8. EVISU JEANS: $400. A bonsai ass requires delicate tending.

9. METALLIC SNEAKERS: When the Pink Lady takes the stage, nothing should be lost in translation.

My first thought was “Someone got paid to write this? I’ve seen better paper after wiping my ass.”

(Even on a bad day and having drunk more than our fair share of beer, my buddy George and I were capable of far, far better back during our reign at Golden Words, the humour paper at Crazy Go Nuts University.)

Naturally, the piece has generated quite a bit of ire amongst various groups and associations of Asians and gays. In a Village Voice article, writer David Ng has suggested next month’s issue should feature a piece titled Racist Bitch or Whitney McNally?. Others have voiced their displeasure, including:

These groups are taking offense largely because it’s yet another incident of the demasculinization of Asian men in popular culture (there’s been much agonizing over this).

In the movies, the white hero and the black hero get at least one make-out scene with the girl, but never the Asian guy. He fills a certain small set of roles, and that’s about it. Just check any made-in-Hollywood movie where Jackie, Jet or Yun-Fat is the hero. As best as I can recall, the Asian guy didn’t visibly get the girl in an American movie until Dragon.

I’ll admit that Gedde Watanabe’s “Long Duk Dong” from Sixteen Candles — a movie that pre-dates Dragon by nearly a decade —  did end up picking Joan Cusack, but he’s part of that unsexy Asian guy stereotype, a tradition carried on today by that bozo, William Hung, who’s not helping matters.

I am doing my part to change this image, but I’m just one man!

Tak Toyoshima, artist behind the comic Secret Asian Man, has come up with this response:

Others are responding a little more directly. There’s a protest scheduled for Friday, April 16th at 12:00 noon outside the offices of Details (7 West 34th Street — at 5th Avenue); details (hah!) are available here.

Not everyone in the Asian-American media is up in arms. Here’s a snippet from the New York Observer:

“Probably tens of thousands of Asian people bought Details because this came out,” said Erik Nakamura, editor of Giant Robot magazine. The item itself, Mr. Nakamura said, scarcely seems worth the trouble. “The ‘Gay-or-Something’ joke is getting old anyway,” he noted.

Like Shaquille O’Neal spouting ching-chong gibberish at Yao Ming, “they’re just guilty of making a crummy joke.”

13 replies on “Bent or Broken? (or: Details’ “Gay or Asian?” article)”

Man, you had me bent all the way until the cartoon: “Ignorant or White”. Then it broke. I miss the humor there. Why protest the comments of a racist with more racism? Mr. Toyoshima didn’t lampoon Ms. McNally. He didn’t even take on the Details staff. Instead he regurgitated a “fair number of unoriginal cheap shots.” If the point of the comic was that Mr. Toyoshima can be as ignorant as the next person…I got it.

I don’t read Details. Not a fault of the magazine. I just can’t subscribe to any magazines right now. I’ve never met Whitney McNally. I couldn’t tell you what race she belongs too. For me it doesn’t matter. She talks like a racist. I don’t care what skin color she has.

I did a quick search on her though. It seems in August 2003 she had an article that was described like this: “Whitney McNally dissects gays and guidos, claiming that the Italian stallion and Chelsea boy are indistinguishable. (p. 32)”

Where was the outroar then? Did I miss the marches? The blog entries?

Still, I agree she “broke it” with the April caption. When you protest her actions and those of her editors please remember that she doesn’t represent a race, gender or a sexuality. She is one human, racist.

Chuck Welch

I agree, Chuck — I think Tak (artist of Secret Asian man) picked the wrong target when returning fire; he (and the message) would have been better served by picking on Whitney McNally or Details instead.

There are a number of blog entries referring to this; I haven’t got time to point them all out, but here’s Min Jung Kim’s take; more can be found in this Google search on “Gay or Asian?”.

The march hasn’t taken place yet; it’s scheduled for this Friday. Here’s a petition, and someone’s started a Yahoo! group.

It’s offensive and a tired stereotype.

i really think that such behaviour is almost accepted throughout mainstream culture – as evidenced through films, tv, magazines, etc.

How did this even get published? Did editors at Details think it would be funny?


It’s offensive and a tired stereotype.

i really think that such behaviour is almost accepted throughout mainstream culture – as evidenced through films, tv, magazines, etc.

How did this even get published? Did editors at Details think it would be funny?


Joey, I appreciate your posting an overview of the responses. I hope you understand I wasn’t perturbed at your post but at the cartoon included. I think Mr. Toyoshima did more than “pick(ed) the wrong target.” He responded to McNally’s stereotypical racist comments with stereotypical racist comments of his own. This is one area where I never believe it is a good idea to fight fire with fire.

Please pardon my poorly constructed 10:41am comment. When I spoke of blog entries and marches I was speaking about McNally’s August 2003 Details page — [where she (evidently) wrote something like “Gay or Guido?”] I wondered if there were blog protests and marches back in August 2003. I don’t remember any.

Hmmm, I object to the unauthorised use of my likeness, you will be hearing from my lawyers BOY…

Well, its not really a likeness, I don’t wear those shoes or have a muzzy, but the rests just about right. (except its a perlmongers t-shirt!)

I agree that stereotypes are irritating. And the emergence of talent in the blogosphere (like yourself, Joey!) makes you wonder why people like Ms. McNally get paid for such shoddy work. As for William Hung, I have to admit I’ve come to admire the guy. Sure, he’s kind of goofy, but his charm and tenacity have won me over. And what I really dig is that his success is pissing Simon Cowell off bigtime! Mr. I-get-to-decide-who-becomes-famous has gotten his comeuppance. And William’s got to be having the last laugh. Of all the people who auditioned, he’s the only breakout star so far on American Idol. Ed Grimley Clay Aiken, on the other hand, had to wait until the show’s end to get a record deal and go touring.

This branches away from the topic of Asian stereotypes, but it is related: I’m always struck by how little information there is about Asians or Asian-Americans in the mainstream media here in North America. As an example: I know this sounds really stupid (and it is), but I did not realize that Filipinos are generally considered Asians until I was an adult. I grew up in a neighborhood where several of my neighbors were Filipino families who spoke Spanish. In my town, there were also a large number of immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and I thought that my Filipino friends were Hispanics, like my schoolmates from the DR and Puerto Rico were (I did know as a kid that the Phillipines were in the Pacific, but this fact didn’t do much to remove my misapprehension).

The fact that people from India also consider themselves Asians is also relatively recent news to me.

It’s not like I had little exposure to books and newspapers as a kid or an adult; but I think it’s an example of how little information there is in the mainstream media of the US that unless you specifically go looking for it, you won’t find much of it, and thus, like me, you can remain ignorant until embarrassingly late in life.

You may be interested to know that there’s a difference in the connotation of the word “Asian” between North America and the UK. Here in North America, when we say “Asian”, the connotation is “East Asian” — that is, coming from countries like Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam, the Philippines, and surrounding countries. In the UK when they say “Asian”, the connotation is “South Asian” — that is, coming from India, Pakistan and surrounding countries.

I found Joey deVilla’s article enlightening. When I saw the original Details page, I really couldn’t understand why people found it so offensive. It was not particularly funny because it is tired material, but I didn’t grasp what about it HURT people enough to react.

I am a white woman living in the Midwest, and although the article made alot of sense to me, the comic drove it home. It took both his article and the comic for the point to sink in. I have no Asian or Gay neighbors or peers so I do not have a clue where the lines between humor and hurt lie. The article explained that, “there’s been much agonizing over this”. I did not know that. Still, I didn’t understand how such trite satire could make people suffer. That’s where the comic brought the message home. That guy is my neighbors and many of my peers. My modular home has been called a trailer or “double-wide” and I flinch and correct. Like my neighbors and peers, I am overweight, wear “bargain”, comfortable clothes, and my hair-care regime consists of washing, conditioning, and air-drying. Although I found the comic trite and somewhat humorous, it also made me a little self-conscious. THAT WAS THE POINT, to help people like me identify and understand. I’m NOT that guy, like most Asians and Gays are also not that guy, but it managed to sting me, and I’m in the overwhelming majority.

So GOOD JOB, Mr. deVilla. Now I understand. My only suggestion is that the comic be reworded to leave out the profanities so it can be more widely distributed.

Gay or Asian? is about as funny as someone tripping then dying from the brain damage. I really like how Joey deVilla has discussed this and not just got mad and insulted the Ms McNally. As a Gay man and an Asian man here is my reaction. The comparison of sterotypical gay men to sterotypical Asian men, angered me in both ways. All gay men do not behave like the limp wrist sterotype, and all Asian men do not dress like the gay sterotype or are weak like the Asian sterotype. I had to think about their motives. This is a Mens’ fashion magazine, that’s the sterotype of gay already. Their readers are predominatly white, their are hardly any models of color in the ads, and not a single article on Someone of color. Their target audiences are the Metrosexuals(men who like to do sterotype gay things, shopping, waxing, but are not gay). That finally made the whole Details attitude clear. This is a group of people with identity issues, battling not be thought of as gay, and having no cultural heritage to draw identity from. I wasn’t too surprised by Details, in a previous issue they decided that gay men shouldn’t want to get married based on similar insulting opinions. Like any bully they pick on someone they think is weaker. And McNally never even got to how to tell the stereotypes apart.

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