‘I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight’ by Margaret Cho
An updated trade paperback of the 2005 hardcover available now at local bookstores. Published by The Penguin Group. $14. http://www.penguin.com
Margaret Cho book will thrill some, turn off others
I’ve never been one to worship at the altar of celebrity.
I don’t recall ever buying a single product simply because a movie star extolled its virtues, nor do I have any interest in the peccadilloes of our media-created personalities. But more importantly, I couldn’t care less what their political views are.
So it was with some trepidation that I volunteered to review the newly released update of comedian Margaret Cho’s book, “I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight.” The hilarious, bisexual, San Francisco-born Korean-American was one of my favorite comedians throughout the 1990s, but she lost me when her work took on a more political tone. It’s not that I disagreed with her – in fact, some of her observations were – and are – very insightful. Rather, I don’t appreciate sociopolitical lectures disguised as comedy routines, nor do I like being lectured to, scolded or cajoled by someone who I appreciate solely for their artistic talents – especially when that someone admits she “doesn’t fit in with any of the great political thinkers of the day.”
Politics is great fodder for comedians, of course, and masters of the medium – from Bob Hope to Lenny Bruce, Bill Cosby to George Carlin, Richard Pryor to Roseanne and Redd Foxx to Lily Tomlin – have always slyly mixed the two to make their point. We laughed at their jokes, of course, but we also understood their deeper, more serious meaning.
Cho, however, hits us over the head with a hammer.
Some entertainers seem to believe they are ENTITLED to the widest possible stage to espouse their political views. Cho is one of them. “It sounds odd to talk about the incredibly high stakes of entitling yourself to a voice and an opinion, and to allow yourself to voice that opinion …,” she writes in the book’s opening chapter.
However, celebrities shouldn’t be shocked, hurt, angered or saddened when people react negatively to their views; that’s the tradeoff for taking such risks. “I feel bad because the audience, although chilly, would have eventually enjoyed and loved what I had to say,” she wrote about a corporate appearance during which her microphone was shut off 10 minutes into her act. “I’m sad that they were not allowed the great honor to see me perform in person.”
A little hubris, don’t you think?
Yet despite her righteous indignation, it’s hard to take Cho seriously as a social commentator, especially when she makes outrageous statements such as, “So if you are not a feminist, kill yourself. Normally, I do not advocate suicide, but this time you do not have a choice.”
I doubt many traditionalist men and pro-lifers will take her up on that.
It’s also a little hypocritical when she complains about being known as “the Korean comedian” when what made her famous was the humor surrounding her Korean-American family.
She also complains about being racially stereotyped – and about people assuming all Asians are part of a single monolithic group – yet she does the same thing towards whites. In referring to Jay Leno, she writes, “I assume he’s European, since he’s white…” Not all Caucasians come from Europe, and Leno’s ethnic heritage is Scottish and Italian.
What’s frustrating about Cho’s book is that you have to wade through so much anger, hate, hyperbole and name-calling in order to get to the much better reasoned pieces.
But may be that’s what sells to her audience these days.
However, it surely won’t be remembered years hence when the best social commentators of the day are studied – and it won’t be because she’s an Asian bisexual woman with a strong point of view!