KIRO Host Dave Ross Ties Himself in Knots Trying to Defend His Participation in The Mikado


You can say anything bad about Dave Ross you wish, he has long been a faux crat or pseduo-democrat, more rightwing in thought and deed than anything else, so he has always fit in nicely at KIRO.
"It's a master class in what not to do if someone disrupts your pleasant, moderate-liberal fantasy and suggests that you might have made a mistake."

At least he didn't do what your staff photographer did: Lie about it and claim that the photo of her participating in a blackface Halloween costume was fake.

I'm offended that you're offended!!
It is true that the ridiculously white Seattle for some reason loves to talk about race, often devoid of any context for the discussion given the people in the room and the city it's taking place in. Still a conversation worth having, but funny to watch from the outside.
Seattle Opera recently produced Turandot and Madama Butterfly. I don't recall any similar outrage over the non-Asian singers in non-authentic costumes performing faux-Asian stories.
It's sad because some of those Mikado songs are pretty good, and I don't like opera. "Three Little Maids from School Are We" is enjoyable.
Let's ban Othello, shall we?
Any time I see people decribe Seattle as lily white, I wonder if all the Asian and Pacific Islander residents are invisible to them.
As I've said elsewhere and in other contexts, INTENT is irrelevant; EFFECT is everything. The old saw, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions" is very apt in this instance.

What a person intends - or thinks they intend, if they thought about it at all - frequently isn't even given consideration until someone else expresses offense or outrage at the actions resulting from the intent. "But that's NOT what I meant!" is the usual, standard response, frequently expressed in a confused, defensive, and slightly petulant tone, as if the offended person should have automatically understood and accommodated the intent, regardless of the outcome.

We all understand the concept of "unintended consequences", but people who take that into account tend to be rather more cautious in terms of acknowledging at least the possibility of there being effects beyond those considered. But, it seems, in this case at least, nobody really ever gave them much, if any, consideration at all - and that is what is so disappointing about the walls people like Ross are putting up in trying to defend their actions. As if, everyone else should be mind-readers and simply KNOW they didn't mean any harm, while at the same time actively denying the harm that has already been done.
As a matter of fact Comte, I think that you are very wrong:
Intentions do matter a great deal.
They are matter of life and death in the law when it comes to a death caused by a vehicle. It can be the death penalty or nothing (not even paying damages) depending on intent.

As to the whole idea that actors must be of the same race or ethnicity in order to play the role on stage is absurd. It would mean for example that black kids or Italian or Chinese couldn't do a play Little House on the Prairie. Asinine.
Why is it that if a non-Western work of art is not done in its original presentation they decry it, but if a Western work of art is, it's lambasted!

This is a Victorian era play which would have been performed in London. Guess what -- there wouldn't have been a single Asian on stage (or in the audience for that matter).

Same thing with Shakespeare, there were plenty of women roles -- but no female actors. They didn't have those in the times. All the female parts were played by "boy actors".

I'm not against "updating" things to reflect contemporary mores and society, but if you do that, then you're straying from the original performance anyway, so you can't really say one way or another is right or wrong. Put another way, why not have a Mikado with a cast entirely made up of quadcopters?

Seattle does want to talk about race. Ross's comment about ground rules gets to the heart of it. Seattleites want desperately to be polite, but don't know how. As much as we'd like to insinuate the contrary, the 'ground rules' are not always intuitive and are often transient.
Given the widespread entrenched stereotyping of Asian women, it is no surprise to me that women like Chan would want to affirm that they exist apart from that. Having thought about this question when that hoopla came up about Colbert and the Chingchong Chingchong bit, it didn't take me long to come around on this one. I think the Colbert bit was within the bounds of real satire, but I also came to the conclusion that the young Asian woman critiquing him had right to be offended and that her reasons weren't far fetched. It wasn't my place to tell her she shouldn't be offended.

Now, I love me some Mikado from listening to old lps when I was a kid, but I'm going to side with Chan on this one. The traditional production is serious yellowface stuff, unredeemed by any arguments about Edwardian or Victorian norms or whatever. It uses stereotypes that still exist today as a tool, but never addresses the stereotypes themselves. Instead, it affirms them.

So, how do we keep the great tunes? This is such lightweight fare, that it doesn't merit some effort to rework it with an all Asian cast to teach some lesson, or something, etc. That would just emphasize the wrong things and elevate the status of the stereotypes by treating what wasn't intentional as intentional.

So, I propose the opposite. Try doing the whole thing in modern clothes, or maybe in the clothes of Gilbert and Sullivan's time. IF the faux Japanese context is so unimportant, and the tunes so worth preserving in the current cultural mix, then it should survive the change and maybe even find renewed relevance. Surely someone, somewhere, has tried this before. Anyone know?

Why does one need wooden platform shoes and geisha white, when one can have corsets and high heels, or even bustles? Can we solve this by putting the bustle in our hedgerow?
@9, your attitude taken to its logical conclusion would mean that everyone has to be on tippy-toes, always holding back out of fear that someone somewhere might be offended because their life experience, their values are different from mine. Sorry, but I don't want to live like that.
This guy Ross is so dense. Does he really not get it or is he just churning the waters for ratings?
News to Dave Ross and the rest of you Mr. Yunioshi-loving Mikado apologists: Asian Americans DGAF What You Think:
@7: Not surprisingly, this whole conversation is going over your head.
P.S. Finally, not everything merits saving just for somebody's feel good tradition. I'm sure at some point when Rick Perry and family left the city to spend some relaxing time with friends, family, and community at their ranch called "N****rhead", and arrived at the turn off and saw the name painted on the big flat rock, many of them would get a warm feeling of well being, and perhaps even joy, recalling all the fun times they had there before and the drab day to day life they were leaving behind for the moment. It was a happy family tradition. But, times changed, even for those at "N****rhead".

Warm feeling and enjoyable tunes aside, maybe its time to just let it go and move on.
So, what's the end game here? Self immolation for all involved?
What "widespread entrenched stereotyping of Asian women" (as opposed to "widespread entrenched stereotyping of Italian men" or "widespread entrenched stereotyping of WASP women"?)

I honestly have no idea what you mean about Asian women and I know many, have been involved with several and frankly they all seemed like _women_ with all the negatives and positives that go with all women.

Oh maybe you are talking "About Driving While Asian"? First of all it is true and ONLY applies to recent immigrants who learned to drive as adults. Native-born Amer-Asians drive just fine since they learned at 15 or 16.
@14, No, it would mean that people should be open to criticism when their actions are hurtful, regardless of their intent. This entire exchange (which I admit I did not listen to) would probably have gone a lot better if Ross would have accepted her critique as valid rather than trying to push back. An Asian woman's first-hand experience with racist caricatures will always trump a white dude's second-hand understanding of it. In these situations it's best to just shut the fuck up and listen.
@20 I'm glad to hear you think the Asian women you know are flesh and blood people with negatives and positives. Care to point out the individuals you know that you don't see as individual people because of entrenched stereotypes, given that is your definition of how stereotypes operate?
@19: well the self-righteousness being displayed here is getting close to the book-burning stage.

I get that there are flaws in the production design. I've seen productions of the Mikado that were very modernistic and minimalist, they work quite well. The music and libretto stand on their own, they need no elaborate costumes and certainly need no yellowface.

But the criticism of the Mikado itself smacks of self-righteous censorship. I doubt many of the harshest critics have ever seen the Mikado. They just don't want anyone else to see it either, because it offends them. That's crossing the line.
Sharon Chan is a humorless troll. Like Phil Yu (Angry Asian Man), Suey Park (Angry Asian Woman) and others, her precious cultural sensitivity has been affronted by a show she will likely never see.

It's an American portrayal of thick witted English folk who imagine Asians in a certain way. The joke is on the characters, not Asian faces in the audience. Plays usually require costumes and stage makeup.

I've seen Fiddler on the Roof with non-Jewish actors made to look like Russian Jews. Horrors. I've seen Othello, with the character played both by a dark skinned actor, and by a white actor who's makeup was slightly more "Moorish" than the other actors. Costumes and makeup help set a tone, and don't distract from the play. Grow up and become a mature journalist and a funny (perhaps likable) person, Sharon. Yeesh!
@20: Asian women have pussies that are turned sideways. Duh.

@13: that's essentially what my mixed-race performing arts HS did for all our theatre productions - cast it any which way so that ethnicity became irrelevant. it works fine for amateur shows.
Not to defend Dave, because this does come off pretty badly, but part of his radio personality is consistently playing the devil's advocate and exploring every part of an issue, even if that results in stupid hypotheticals - it's what he's been doing for years and years on every single issue.

That being said, he did not handle this well
@23 But right now, these critics aren't aroused by a minimalist production, are they?

If the piece doesn't require the faux Japanese setting and yellowface, than perhaps after today, to keep them will show either the stereotypes are important to the producers' conception or that they are purposely thumbing their noses at people to whom it is offensive for no other good reason.

While what you state is certainly correct - in legal terms - things tend to work very differently in the everyday world. And I would further point out that, while intent does come into play in legal proceedings, it is still up to a judge or jury to determine whether the actions resulting from such intent achieve the standard required for a particular crime to be considered as a greater or lesser offense. It is very common for punishments to be either increased or decreased, because, when all the facts of a case are taken into consideration, it is determined that such standards are either not met, or have been greatly exceeded. Intent plays some part in that, but invariably, it is how those intentions are carried out - how the resulting action does or does not match the presumed intent - that becomes the deciding factor in adjudicating innocence or level of guilt.


Not in the least. All it takes is giving more conscientious consideration to possible responses BEFORE one acts. The reason people use the "that's wasn't my intention!" defense is simply because they didn't engage in this process. It's not that one must over-analyze every possible ramification, but that one makes the effort to consider a wider scope of responses than just the ones with which they personally identify. "Walking in someone else's shoes" as it were, rather than simply assuming everyone else will feel comfortable walking in their own.

It really just isn't that difficult. For example, how different might this discussion be if the producers of "The Mikado" had asked themselves, "hm, we're going to do a satirical Victorian musical set in an anachronistic stereotyped Asian milieu - I wonder how contemporary Asians might feel about our choices?" Even posing this simple question first could have resulted in more engagement with the community in question. Maybe it would have resulted in making a good-faith attempt to bring Asians into the production; maybe it would have informed directorial decisions that served to acknowledge the racial typing and comment on them in a way that added to the discussion, as opposed to becoming the discussion. At the very least it might have offered the people doing the production a means of entering into the dialogue as active participants: "well, yes. As a matter of fact we DID consider how affected ethnic groups might respond. We even reached out to them to establish a dialogue, we listened to them, and as a result we made choices that we believe address their concerns while at the same time maintaining the artistic integrity of the production." THAT would be a far better, more constructive statement on the part of the creators than a paltry, "we never MEANT to offend anyone! Why is everyone being so MEAN to us?"
I think the question is perhaps, why keep doing The Mikado? It is, as has been stated, from a different time with different attitudes about Asian people. Brendan's summary of the intent of the play is also a great way to point out part of the problem:

"...the history of The Mikado, and the fact that it's set in Japan but its sights were really set on British social institutions, so it's not actually making fun of Japanese people. Or it's making fun of British people by way of making fun of Japanese people. (Which still raises some problems: "Us whites are as backwards, capricious, and savage as The Ethnics!" is not firm ground I'd choose to fight for.)"

Native American people see this sort of thing all of the time in popular culture and hear very similar sorts of arguments from people trying to defend "redface." A recent entertainment example would have been Johnny Depp's portrayal of the character Tonto in the movie last year. It was a remake of TV show that was part of an era of television and movies that was deeply problematic in its depiction of Native people. That era has shaped quite a lot of what non-Natives think they know and understand about Native people. Depp ostensibly made decisions about his portrayal to mock all of that. Instead it didn't come across that way but seemed very much a continuation of the same sort of perpetuation of stereotype.

The same issues came up about why Depp and not a Native actor. And also why would a Native actor want to even be a part of it. (And no, Depp is not all).

In this instance, Chan seems to simply be narrowing in on a similar issue that re-hashing stuff like the Mikado takes on a different level of responsibility in a time and place that is supposedly more progressive than the time when the play was written.

Yes, it's art.

Song of the South and Birth of a Nation are also art. They still have merit but their time has passed.

People comparing it to Othello are way off the mark. This play is essentially, a joke about British government, and the punchline is "we're the same as those yellow heathens!"

One of the major themes of Othello is love thwarted by societal prejudice. Othello is represented as a complex character, not a stereotype of a black man. In fact, Othello is never explicitly stated to be black. "Moorish" could look like a lot of different things. So a white person playing Othello is not blackface (unless they use makeup to darken their skin).

Intent vs. Impact is one of the major tenets of social justice values. Intent matters, sometimes, but impact is usually more important when we're talking race and institutionalized power dynamics. We needn't walk on eggshells, but people who are given privilege, through no choice of their own, can choose to exercise sensitivity or awareness.
Of all the kinds of current and historical racism that have and continue to poison our politics and society, the complaints about the Mikado seem pretty small potatoes to me. It seems to me there are much bigger examples of racism that should be getting the attention. Like race and income patterns, like race and access to education and health care, etc. Oh yea, that's right, Ms Chan works for the Seattle Times so we shouldn't expect her to comment on the racial implications of Washington state's super-regressive tax system. But let's call out Dave Ross by name because he dresses up for a role in a famous Gilbert and Sullivan play. It was a cheap shot and I expect she did so to generate controversy and cause the kind of 'conversation' we're having now.
The whole point of this musical is that it's tone deaf to race and culture. The music is English with a few faux Chinese elements, it was designed as a vehicle for white people to dress up as Asians. To suddenly get mad at this production based upon recent expectations is to ignore that the joke is on the viewer in the first place. Just go and enjoy. It was supposed to be about making fun of white people's racism.
It's Gilbert & Sullivan! Are you going to be offended now by Monty Python's offensive portrayal of French people? They were skewering 19th century British attitudes about Asian people. With all the things to be outraged about these days, you find this? This merely advertises ignorance.
To all those defending this production, why are you being so white? If you have white feelings about white things you can't whitey white white whitety white. White?

I have to read this comment thread all the way down to @33 to find someone who gets it. The Mikado is a period piece, a snapshot in time. Not only does it skewer British attitudes about Asians, it skewers British attitudes about Asians FROM ONE HUNDRED FUCKING YEARS AGO! Being offended by this in 2014 is about as dumb as getting offended because Huckleberry Finn has the N-word in it.

Sharon Pian Chan is a moron and always has been. Dave Ross is equally a moron, because he appears incapable of explaining to the moron Sharon Pian Chan that this is a play about attitudes from ONE HUNDRED FUCKING YEARS AGO.

Yes, it is OK to remind people what life was like ONE HUNDRED FUCKING YEARS AGO. It doesn't necessarily make anyone racist, or even insensitive.
BORED! Ok, admittedly, not at all bored. I eat this shit up. Read nearly every post, except for the obvious trolls. Still, can't find one argument here that amounts to reflexive, hateful shit flinging. I feel about as fulfilled as I do after watching an episode of Jersey Shore. Highly entertained, empty inside. And for such a highly literate group of people too...
@33: actually Monty Python is an excellent example of the kind of performance art that is not going to date well, and for the same reasons given here. The original Flying Circus featured blatant racial/sexual stereotypes, blackface and yellowface, N-words of various descriptions ("Oh! Mrs. Nigger-Baiter's exploded!"), the Prejudice Show which (among other things) had a segment called "Shoot the Poof", etc etc etc. It's filled with offensive material.

That said, I'm a Python fan and know many of the sketches by heart. Even the ones that make me cringe because, as a gay man, I know they're directed at me. I recognize the value of what they accomplished, even if some of it hasn't dated well at all. I just have to bracket that part of it because it's unhelpful (and impractical) taking offense at every slight. I've been harrassed and my friends have been beaten up and fired for being gay; and many of my generation of gay men died an early death from HIV. That's where shit gets real. It's important to keep things in perspective.
@32: as was told in the film Topsy-Turvy, the only reason they set the piece in Japan is because Gilbert had run out of ideas for anything else that was fresh and new, and there happened to be an exhibition of Japanese culture touring Britain at the time - that's where he got the idea.

As for Britain's view of the Japanese - they were just about the only ally Britain had at the time. Russia, Germany, and France were poised to carve up Japan and add it to their Far Eastern empire, and Britain wanted to counter them. Britain formed an alliance with Japan and sold them the weapons they used to good effect against the Russians at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. That's not to say the British weren't racist - they certainly were. But though they may have been racist, they did not have hostile attitudes toward the Japanese during this era; far from it.
So where is the outrage at Looney Tunes cartoons, which show blackface to children on Cartoon Network to this very day? WB and the SSGS have it right. To deny the racism of the past is to white wash racism, full stop. The Mikado is important, mainly to "white people", because it reminds them of the racism of the past to help prevent the racism of the future. This is why nobody complains about Elmer Fudd's puffy lips and "nappy dreads" after a shotgun misfire. It invites the discussion of racism between parent and child.
How is the Mikado any different, honestly?
@22, cracked
Wish I could respond but I have no idea what your question means.

@24, Camlux
Yes she is humorless.
But how a "troll"?

@28, Comte
I am glad we agree that Intent is a factor in law and in real ordinary day-to-day social life.
@27: I'm discussing the work, not the production. I haven't seen this production so I really can't comment much on it except to say that others have staged Mikado without triggering much commotion. I wonder how many commenters here have EVER seen an opera - any opera. There's a large suspension of disbelief that must occur as soon as you enter the house. Are we really supposed to believe that Liu has been selflessly carrying a torch for Calif her whole life just because he smiled at her once? Opera's all about the music and acting, not the story which is usually patently absurd. In G&S, the more absurd the better.

About half this thread has been about the production and half about The Mikado itself. I have tried to limit myself to the latter.
It does seem as though practically no one outside of those who have previously enjoyed the productions of the Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society (and those who love them) gave two f**ks for "The Mikado" until Ms. Chan told them that they should be outraged and offended. Having done so, she may now sit back and watch people run around scream racism and throw excrement at the aforementioned Society whose previous productions of this absurd farce drew nothing but praise (even from the Seattle Times).

If Ms. Chan finds the Mikado offensive, didn't she owe it to us to share that opinion with the world before the non-profit volunteer-based Society spent the money, spent the time, and went to all of the effort to put it on? Or is it more beneficial to her career to suddenly spring her outrage on the Times' readers right after the show (which she hasn;t seen opens and hope they respond in a knee-jerk fashion - which is exactly what they have done, if the blogs, Facebook, and the Society's phone lines and email accounts are any indication.

Gee, I sure wish that people would be so quickly outraged at columns about cuts in homeless shelter funding or food stamps or affordable housing. But that might actually involve some knowledge or action rather than a screaming name calling post to a blog...
Ooh, we went from "this thing isn't racist" to "okay, it's just a little racist" to "okay, this version is a little racist, but this version is a little more racist."

We'll get there, guys!
Japanese people dress as Americans all the time. As cowboys. You know, as a "generic whole class of people".


@44: did you want to make a substantive point, or was this just an ad hominem cheap shot kind of thing?

Oh sorry, make that a "smart take." I'm admittedly not up to date on the latest slang.
Well fuck. My friends in Local15 tell me there's buzz and mild trouble down at the Rep tonight.

Listened to that radio bit. OUch. Highs and lows:
--Dave's playing dumb about what "yellow face" means is hard to listen through. Come ON dave, we know you've had 3 other prior interviews where you were set straight already on what 'Yellowface' means. Playing dumb = ignorance = the foundation of bigotry. You couldn't do a worse job of defending your position short of tacking on a pattersong rendition of "We are Siamese if you please" onto the end.
--at about 9:00 Sharon tries to compare this all with black people sitting at the back of the bus. Wow. Yup, Mikado is JUST LIKE the lynch mobs and separated facilities, and you, Ms Chan, ARE the seattle Rosa Parks. Oh wait. No. No it's not & no you're not. Maybe overreaching isn't the best way to approach this?
---Best & classiest moment was closing line : Sharon "I don't claim to speak for all Asian-americans, just as I'm sure you don't claim to speak for all white people" Dave: "THAT's certainly true".
Seconded. To both of you.
COMTE @28, re your " different might this discussion be if the producers of "The Mikado" had asked themselves, "hm, we're going to do a satirical Victorian musical set in an anachronistic stereotyped Asian milieu - I wonder how contemporary Asians might feel about our choices?""

Maybe the producers at Seattle's 60-year-old Gilbert & Sullivan Society didn't ask that question because they've been producing The Mikado for decades, and until now nobody has expressed offense.

"For everything, there is a first time. Wouldn't you agree Captain?"
@ Dr. Z, I hope your citation of Topsy Turvy wasn't meant to support your assertions. As great a movie that it is, it's still a dramatization.
@24 is quite correct, and Chan is a mindless neocon troll.

Also, please stop using the term "Asian women" to describe the various cultural types thereof --- Chinese women tend to be one-dimensional, like American women, while Japanese and Thai women have far more layers of depth. Other Asian cultures I am too ignorant to address.

And to any nimrod who has never traveled throughout Asia, they are among the world's most notorious racists, with the Chinese vying for the number one position.
COMTE @48, yes indeed, there's a first time for everything. This one brought to us by the enlightened awareness of one of those outstanding editorialists at our beloved Seattle Times...
@ 51, if only Slog allowed is to have quotations in ou comments. Mine would be " 'I am too ignorant' - sgt. doom"
Good God, there you go again with your sexist bullshit, sgt. doom, this time with some racism mixed in. So how is it that you know only about Chinese, Japanese, and Thai women? Surely you went to the brothels when you were serving in Nam. Why don't you tell us about the Vietnamese women, too?
Bunch of cracker-ass crackers who don't know when to shut up and listen instead of talking over somebody explaining what it's like to be on the receiving end of your bullshit.
Some of us are half cracker-ass, here, thank you very much. Just like Obama. ;)

Dayum ,Dave. Educate yourself.
In hindsight, kinda surprised Dave didn't cite The Lego Movie as also being YELLOWFACE.

Although, also in hindsight, kinda surprised Sharon didn't either.

@40 Perhaps "troll" isn't quite accurate to describe Chan in its most current usage: one who posts deliberately offensive or provocative material to be argumentative. But she is a troll in that she posted an editorial about a show that she hadn't seen, and intimated that everyone involved in the Mikado was racist against Asians (cast and audience alike). If her article was at all nuanced and thought out, I would consider the point she is making. She could have interviewed more of the cast. She could have talked to local Asian actors (few of whom seem to audition for G&S musicals) to gauge their opinions. She could have spoken to UW professors about racism and theater and how they intersect. She could have done a lot of things to make her editorial sound even a little legitimate. As it is, she is one lazy "journalist" who flamed the G&S person she spoke to, wrote from her feelings and not facts, and in my opinion doesn't deserve the respect that reputable journalists work hard to achieve and deserve.
Hey Camlux! you're describing some reporters at The Stranger: opinion first, facts if we have time.
Good point. Asians can be racist as hell too, including some Asian Americans.
Why it is that if a white person follows a black guy around their convenience store, it's racism. But if an Asian person follows a black guy around their's just a guy following a customer around?
Why do not white racists always get a pass, even if they're racist against another non-white group? Of course Der SStranger will never talk about that, because that would border on real journalism.
There's no greater bullshit argument than "power dynamics - something that can never be truly proven actually exists. You may as well say "ya, well, uh that's different because I say so."
Also, I'd like to add that maybe we're just so tired of the racial conversations. We get it. You guys like to get pissed off at every single goddamn thing we do that may offend your delicate sensibilities. Do we have to rehash your illogical inconsistencies every time your butt gets hurt? It just gets really old.