During a press conference yesterday featuring President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, Rush Limbaugh made a point of complaining about the lack of simultaneous translation. At least, that's what Limbaugh would have you believe. In reality, he used Hu's visit to the United States to engage in a mockery of Chinese culture.
Today, Limbaugh used all manner of false comparisons to defend and recast his racially inflammatory mockery.
First, he declared that questions raised about translation issues during the press conference had vindicated him:
LIMBAUGH: This story sort of confirms one of the problems I said I had yesterday trying to watch the press conference during breaks here. "Obama initially thought his responses were being translated simultaneously for the ChiCom leader, Hu, but they weren't. And so the Chinese language translator had to embark on a lengthy translation following Obama's response to the first question he was asked on human rights. After he realized what had happened, Obama said, 'I apologize. I thought we had simultaneous translations here. So I would have broken up the answer into smaller bites.' " Well, thank you. That's the same thing I observed. Normally when you watch these things, the translation is either simultaneous, or else the foreign language spokesman will speak for a while, pause, a translator will translate it, then resume. Then the translator will translate, then resume. And what I noticed was it was the first time ever, they just kept going. Both sides of this. So I'm saying, I have no idea what Hu Jintao's saying. I wanted to report to you what he was saying. But there wasn't any translation, so all I could do was tell you what he said. Which I did a remarkable job of doing, for someone who doesn't know the language.
If Limbaugh had the sincere desire to air Hu's speech for the benefit of his audience, he could have simply played the live feed, as he said at the time: "Eh, never mind. We're not gonna gyp Fox. I wanted to gyp it because the -- well, the -- Hu Jintao, he was speaking, and they weren't translating." He did not. Instead, he filled two segments with a gibberish imitation of Chinese. Further, repeating Hu's speech would not have necessitated mocking the accent of Chinese speakers who have learned English, which Limbaugh did.
Next, Limbaugh said that "back in the old days," comedian Sid Caesar "was called a comic genius for impersonating foreign languages that he couldn't speak." When Limbaugh returned from a commercial break, he introduced a segment of Caesar from Whose Line Is It Anyway? saying, "Now everybody wants me to repeat my Chinese translation of Chairman Hu Jintao at the White House yesterday." At the end of the clip, in which the comedian imitated a speaker of Japanese, Limbaugh said, "I don't know. We played the wrong sound bite. That was Sid Caesar, well-known comedian, on the Drew Carey show Whose Line Is It Anyway? from 2007, and the skit was called 'Foreign Film Dub.' "
Caesar is a comedian who appeared in an improvisational comedy game in which comics imitated French, German, Japanese, and Russian, after which other comedians improvised "overdub" translations. Rush Limbaugh, who is sometimes cited as the leader of the Republican Party and was made an honorary member of the GOP freshman class of '94, took it upon himself to mock the speech of a foreign leader of state.
Later, Limbaugh tried to deflect criticism by noting that Mickey Rooney performed a Japanese caricature in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's:
LIMBAUGH: Somebody needs to call Mickey Rooney and say, "You just -- that movie very popular, you don't know how much of Chinese Japanese culture you destroyed. They had Mickey Rooney playing -- I forget whether it was Japanese or Chinese character -- complete with the buck teeth, and the fake phony accent. It's one of the greatest movies, reputed, of all time. Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard, and any number of people in that movie.
First of all, one wonders why Limbaugh is citing a comedy from 1961 as a guide to contemporary ethnic relations. Second, Rooney's performance has been routinely criticized. Protests over the role prompted the city of Sacramento to cancel a planned public screening of the film. Rooney himself said he wouldn't have performed the role if he had known it would offend:
He said he won a Bronze Star in World War II serving with Japanese-American and Chinese-American soldiers battling the Nazis in Europe. [...] Rooney said that if he'd known people would have been so offended, "I wouldn't have done it." [Sacramento Bee, 8/28/2008]
Breakfast at Tiffany's producer Richard Shepherd also agreed that casting Rooney was innapropriate. From an article reviewing the 45th anniversary edition of Breakfast at Tiffany's:
Thankfully, Shepherd does not remain silent on one of the worst casting blunders of the century -- choosing Mickey Rooney to play Mr. Yunioshi, Holly's buck-toothed, bespectacled, racially stereotyped upstairs neighbour. "I felt it was ethically improper," Shepherd says when the Japanese character first appears. (Actually, he might have said "ethnically improper," but he's right either way.)
He continues to bemoan the error every time Rooney sticks his head over the banister to shout, "Miss Gorightry!" In fact, his last words on the commentary, after saying how much he still enjoys watching the film all these decades later, are: "If we could just change Mickey Rooney I'd be thrilled with the movie." [National Post, 2/11/2006, via Nexis]
All of these inapt comparisons, of course, are nothing more than futile attempts to deflect well-founded charges of cultural cluelessness. Limbaugh noted -- and then promptly dismissed -- California state Sen. Leland Yee has called Limbaugh's mockery a "pointless and ugly offense." Which is exactly what it is: a transparent, pointless, ugly mockery of Chinese language and culture.