Confused, I expressed my firm conviction that, to the best of my knowledge, Asian people don't have major issues with Elvis Costello, nor with Matt Groening caricatures thereof. "That's not Elvis Costello," he responded, very sure of himself. "That's a crude caricature of an Asian man. You obviously have hate in your heart." I allowed that yes, I do have hate in my heart, but that it's generally reserved for stupid people. And then, even before I finished my sentence, he bolted out of the store as if shot by a cannon. To add to the surreality of the experience, Stephen Colbert and his family were ahead of us on line and seemed to be eavesdropping.
To atone for my grievous transgressions against Asian people -- indeed, against humankind -- I decided to take a look at Asian Woman, a publication that's been teetering between my "read" and "recycle" piles for the last few weeks. The mag is massive, both size-wise and topically. Really, I wish I'd picked a different race, ethnicity or people to inadvertently slur, one with a much smaller flagship publication (Leprechaun Monthly, etc.).
Think of Asian Woman as a combination of OK, Glamour and Redbook, with a shot of O, The Oprah Magazine's woman-heal-thyself gospel thrown in for good measure. It's glossier than a Neiman Marcus catalog and weighs more than several of the models depicted therein. It tries to be everything to every woman reader, offering recipes, parenting tips, celeb gossip, travelogues, CD reviews and pages upon pages of best-buy fashion.
Amazingly, Asian Woman almost pulls it off, especially with the taboo focus of the current issue (billed simply as "number 30"). The mag's finest moments are the ones in which it sets aside the flighty consumerism and addresses concerns particular to Asian women.
One piece helps readers identify and treat depression, while another sits down with starlets who have posed nude or dabbled in porn (more of a taboo in Bangalore than in, say, the San Fernando Valley). The mag passes along sobering information about HIV and teen sex, offers a he said/she said on arranged marriages, and explores the notion of "honour killings," in which one family member goes postal on another to prevent shame in the wake of forbidden romances. Couldn't they just take a cue from our Thanksgiving celebrations and passive-aggressively grind each other down into emotionally impotent nubs?
Unfortunately, Asian Woman runs glam shots alongside most of these stories, which blunts the impact of the words. If you think that American women's mags have a monopoly on homogeneous imagery, think again. Instead of skinny white women with impeccable skin, Asian Woman features skinny darker-skinned women with impeccable skin. It warms me to know that some things transcend cultural differences.
I wonder why a mag rife with advertising, including a solid 50 pages of display and classified ads tucked towards the back, would feel the need to bring on sponsors for numerous items, including the piece on Asian women in the workplace and the horoscope. And I don't think the few bits of celeb bitchiness are a good fit with the hugs-aplenty tone of 90 percent of Asian Woman's content. This, of course, might have something to do with the fact that I have no idea who most of the ranked-on celebrities are. Can Shilpa help The Deols' "sagging" careers? Will Bipasha be judged harshly, in this life or the next, for having "danced with sex workers for charity"? I don't know, man. I don't. But my thoughts and prayers are with the afflicted parties.
So that's that. I am totally and officially okay with Asian Woman and Asian women. For a mere $12.95 -- the cover price of the mag in the U.S. --I have bought back my soul and my love-everybody bona fides. Michael Richards only wishes absolution came so cheaply.