A couple of white bro former night club owners caused quite the stir on social media this week when it was revealed that their Asian mishmash restaurant in Melville was billed with the classy name: Misohawni. Or phonetically: “me so horny”.
Food blogger Ming-Cheau Lin was one of the first to spot the idiocy in action and tweeted about it. Her tweet soon went viral both locally and globally, as people of Asian descent and supporters expressed their outrage over the absurdly racist restaurant title.
A new ‘Asian’ restaurant opening in Joburg, owned by non Asians. It covers 3 different cultures: 1.ramen (Japanese), 2.poke (Hawaiian) & 3.Korean BBQ. As an Asian woman, I really hate the name. It might seem funny but when men say it while they sexually harass you it’s not. pic.twitter.com/gAVDiSKFah
— Ming Chows 林明巧 (@mingcheau) November 14, 2017
But why the angst, and where did the inspiration for the (incredibly stupid) title come from?
The phrase “me so horny” comes from the 1987 Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket, set in the middle of the American Vietnam War. “Me So Horny” is associated with Vietnamese prostitutes desperate during the Vietnam/American War. In the film, a prostitute uses the phrase, among others, and is counter-offered a lesser fee by a soldier who calls her a derogatory name. Food blogger and journalist Ishay Govender-Ypma said it best when she described why someone could possibly use such a phrase for an Asian restaurant name:
“So, as far as rational, considerate thought processes go, its use is cruel, racist and any association to humor, or wit falls away. After all, context is vital. And there’s nothing funny about misogyny.”
And there was more than enough evidence of the cruelty behind using the phrase “me so horny” as Lin and several others told their stories of sexual harassment, fetishisation, racism and sexual violence they had experienced accompanied by the derogatory phrase.
this is vile.
i clearly remember when the constant racism i was subjected to became sexualised, and the daily chorus of “ching chong” insults that followed me ceaselessly throughout the halls escalated to “me love you long time.”
i was 11. https://t.co/Qxetn1WDrU
— ❧ STILNOVISTA ❧ (@CloisterFuck) November 15, 2017
Yeah all of my life I’ve had dudes say this shit to me. It’s not cute or funny. https://t.co/AdD4yI4F4z
— Liz S. Dean (@lizsdean) November 15, 2017
Misohawni and its owners got the clapback that they deserve, and soon enough a PR-styled fauxpology was issued and the rush to re-brand started. And then, before tempers could even begin to cool, entered “Asian Rock n Roll bar” Saigon Suzy.
Opened and owned by Bruce Beattie (have you seen a whiter name recently?), Saigon Suzy is supposed to be “an authentic Asian BBQ and rock ‘n roll bar that reflects both the beauty and coolness of variegated cooking and cultures”. But really it’s just a mash-up of tropes of various East Asian and South East Asian cultures.
And just like Misohawni, the restaurant channels misogynistic stereotypes of women of Asian descent as some kind of coy marketing ploy. Marketing for the restaurant by its owners frequently personifies “Suzy” as a she, with one write-up describing “her” as “your favourite lady from the Orient”. It is well-established that “the Orient” is a term loaded with tropes about Asian people and culture, and only serves to alienate most people of Asian descent. After then American president Barack Obama banned the word from appearing in any official government documentation, The New York Times explored what the term means for many Asian Americans:
“The world ‘Oriental’ is not inherently negative,” said Frank H. Wu, a law professor at Howard University and the author of “Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White” (Basic Books, 2001). While the term oriental has a geographical meaning — eastern — words, especially in a racialized context, carry connotations beyond their literal definitions.
“It’s associated with a time period when Asians had a subordinate status,” Professor Wu said. He said that the term was associated with exoticism and with old stereotypes of geisha girls and emasculated men. “‘Oriental’ is like the word ‘negro.’ It conjures up an era.”
If hearkening the era of “the Orient” wasn’t bad enough, “Suzy”, the personification of the restaurant, is a trope herself – that of an Oriental sex worker. On the restaurant’s Facebook page, the fictional “Suzy” often writes posts with suggestive sign-offs, like “#Suzycantwaittoseeyou”. Most of these seem innocuous enough.
But then there are the “secret” no-tell motel karaoke pods at the restaurant itself, decorated with “kitch but cool” decor. In fact the entire marketing strategy behind its first night open was spun around the no tell motel, which, surprise, surprise, refers to “a discreet motel for sexual rendezvous”. But it’s when Suzy signs off another marketing write-up with the phrase “Suzy love you long time” that the deal is sealed (as it were).
In its original carnation, that line immediately follows the aforementioned “me so horny” in the dialogue from the film Full Metal Jacket:
Da Nang prostitute: Well, baby, me so horny. Me so horny. Me love you long time. Me sucky sucky.
[later in the same dialog exchange]
Private Joker: What’ll we get for ten dollars?
Da Nang prostitute: Every t’ing you want.
Private Joker: Everything?
Da Nang prostitute: Every t’ing.
(You can see the gross exchange for yourself here.)
And we’re back where we started: white men using racist and misogynistic tropes, long used to sexually harass and fetishise women of Asian descent, for their own purposes and entertainment in – in this case, to open “Asian” restaurants. These phrases and tropes are used to “sex up” both Misohawni and Saigon Suzy. The latter may have been a bit more subtle with its racism and misogyny than the bros at Misohawni, but the cultural appropriation and racism is obvious to anyone who cares to notice.
To put it simply: Saigon Suzy is the guy who openly stares at your tits in a meeting, while Misohawni just waves his dick in your face. They are part of the same problem, and that problem is misogyny, cultural appropriation, and the racism that always accompanies it.