Question of the day: Should Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream apologize for putting fortune cookies in its "Taste the Lin-Sanity" flavor?
The company tweeted, “On behalf of Ben & Jerry’s Boston Scoop Shops, we offer a heartfelt apology if anyone was offended by our handmade Linsanity flavor that we offered at our Harvard Square location....Our intention was to create a flavor to honor Jeremy Lin’s accomplishments and his meteoric rise in the NBA, and recognize that he was a local Harvard graduate. We try to demonstrate our commitment as a Boston-based, valued-led business and if we failed in this instance, we offer our sincere apologies.”
The ice cream featured fortume cookie bits and lychee flavored honey in vanilla yogurt and was only offered in a Harvard Square store. The fortune cookie bits have since been replaced with waffle cone excresences, which seems like a slam at another Bostonian (Mitt Romney).
For more background, there's the Asian American Journalists Association widely discussed guidelines for dealing with Jeremy Lin in the press. Among the "DANGER ZONES" that AAJA warns against:
FOOD: Is there a compelling reason to draw a connection between Lin and fortune cookies, takeout boxes or similar imagery? In the majority of news coverage, the answer will be no....
The AAJA guides have been widely mocked as the quintessence of PC and in many ways they are (the suggestion that anyone was about to write a headline titled "Me Love You Lin Time" is bizarre, as is the group's tutorial on the role of "driving" in basketball lingo). By the same token, who would have guessed that ESPN would publish a "chink in the armor" headline? More to the point, AAJA is correct to suggest that using "lazy pun(s)" should be avoided. All writing tends to be lazier than my Irish relatives, but sports writing lays the cliches on thicker and heavier than my late Grandma Guida's mascarpone-blanketed desserts.
Speaking of writing cliches:
In an article at Psychology Today about the l'affaire Ben & Jerry's - cleverly titled "A Pint of Racism" - psychiatrist Ravi Chandra, asks:
Would they serve up a Martin Luther King or LeBron James watermelon flavored ice cream? I think not.
Chandra undercuts whatever case he may be making by sliding into a sticky wicket of cliches and three-care-pile-up of mangled metaphors from which there is no safe harbor or indeed escape:
If they would have checked out who Jeremy Lin was, they would know he loves In N' Out Burgers, Denny's and Now-and-Laters (he often sports a Now-and-Later stained tongue). If they would have asked Jeremy what his flavor should be, maybe he would have said Mint Chocolate with Now-and-Later chunks. Now that's money. And reality.
Once again, Asian America refuses to be defined by your raciststereotypes. If they had called this "Chinese Restaurant" flavor - well, maybe that would be ok.
But this has bad taste written all over it.
By the same token (er...), I suspect that former ABA/NBA star Darryl Dawkins - dubbed "Chocolate Thunder" by Stevie Wonder, who unlike most of us doesn't see people in terms of color - would be pretty jazzed by a flavor in his memory. Especially if the royalties would spring him from having to show up at bar mitzvahs and communion parties.
It is passing strange that although America is a far more tolerant and appreciative-of-diversity place than it was 30 years ago we still get particularly riled up over clearly accidental uses of language. I'm not sure of the precise connection between advancement in terms of social acceptance and regression in terms of speech coding, but language used on shows such as All in The Family is verboten everywhere in mainstream America. Are things better now because we police seemingly every possible infraction of racial and ethnic insult or in spite of that?
Has "Linsanity" (the sports phenomena, not the ice cream) started a useful conversation about race, ethnicity, and U.S. history that will outlive what will surely be an ultimately disappointing season for the New York Knicks (yes, I'm taking bets)? I don't think so, but it has offered up articles such as this one, which strangely implies that Asian-American jokes are somewhat allowed because Asian Americans haven't pushed back on their white masters in the same way that blacks and LGBT folks have (thereby reinscribing the stereotype that Asians are submissive).
Must-read: Tim Cavanaugh's 2002 classic, "E Pluribus Umbrage: The long, happy life of America's anti-defamation industry."
Update: Veronique de Rugy reminds me that Ben & Jerry's has been a big supporter of the Occupy Movement, which isn't suprising. What should that ice cream flavor consist of? Here's one list that suggests among other ingredients, "99 Percent Vanilla" and "Unemploy-mint."