In September Jimmy Kimmel ran a segment on his US talkshow that made fun of the new Beijing headquarters of the People’s Daily. He wasn’t the first to do so – millions of Chinese netizens had been smirking in similar fashion. The reason? The prospective new offices for the newspaper bear a striking resemblance to the male reproductive organ.
A month later Kimmel cracked another joke about China. But this time, no one was laughing.
In a segment aired in October, Kimmel hosted Kids Table, where he asks children for their views on complex issues. The subject was how the US could solve its huge trade imbalance with the Chinese. “Kill everyone in China,” answered one laughing 6 year-old. “Kill everyone in China? OK, that’s an interesting idea,” Kimmel replied.
Plenty of viewers were less impressed. Demonstrators – mostly Asian Americans – waved placards outside Kimmel’s studio and demanded he be fired. Others showed their anger on the White House’s “We the People” initiative, an online petition promising an official response if 100,000 people sign during a 30-day period. As of last Thursday, the number of signatures had exceeded the threshold, which means the White House will have to comment on the Kimmel flap.
ABC, the TV network employing Kimmel, pulled the clip from its website and edited it out of any repeat broadcasts. It then issued its own mea culpa: “We would never purposefully broadcast anything to upset the Chinese community, Asian community, anyone of Chinese descent or any community at large.”
Kimmel has also expressed remorse: “If I upset you, I’m very, very sorry. I come to you with nothing but love in my heart. I’m a comedian, I was trying to make people laugh, I’m sorry that I did it.”
But China’s Foreign Ministry remains upset. On Monday its spokesman Qin Gang demanded that ABC “face its mistakes head on”.
The incident offered some payback for the People’s Daily, as well as the architects of its new tower. Small wonder, then, that the newspaper ran multiple stories on its English-language website, attacking Kimmel. Quoting the view of an American viewer, the newspaper also thought that ABC owed the Chinese people an apology, adding that “free speech does not mean hate speech”.
State-run broadcaster CCTV also jumped on the bandwagon, sending a reporter to interview the talkshow host. But the plan seems to have backfired as the interview, which was conducted in English, was bewildering to watch.
It confused Kimmel too, not least when the interviewer ventured: “You just said if the kid had said ‘kill all the Canada people’ your reaction would be the same. Are there any difference between countries and races? Are you saying that the kid can’t say ‘kill all the Africans’ but he can say ‘kill all the people in China,’?” To which, Kimmel answered: “I honestly don’t understand your question.”
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