Ideologies of legitimate mockery: Margaret Cho’s revoicings of mock Asian

Elaine W. Chun

Abstract

This article examines a Korean American comedian’s use of Mock Asian and the ideologies that legitimate this racializing style. These ideologies of legitimacy depend on assumptions about the relationship between communities, the authentication of a speaker’s community membership, and the nature of the interpretive frame that has been “keyed”. Specifically, her Mock Asian depends on and, to some extent, reproduces particular ideological links between race, nation, and language despite the apparent process of ideological subversion. Yet her use of stereotypical Asian speech is not a straightforward instance of racial crossing, given that she is ‘Asian’ according to most racial ideologies in the U.S. Consequently, while her use of Mock Asian may necessarily reproduce mainstream American racializing discourses about Asians, she is able to simultaneously decontextualize and deconstruct these very discourses. This article suggests that it is her successful authentication as an Asian American comedian, particularly one who is critical of Asian marginalization in the U.S., that legitimizes her use of Mock Asian and that yields an interpretation of her practices primarily as a critique of racist mainstream ideologies.

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