Saturday, November 28, 2009

Book Controversy: "Deadly Vipers Character Assassins"

Thanks to a blog reader, I came across this controversy over a book published by Zondervan, a giant Christian book publisher. This book is "Deadly Vipers Character Assassins," written by Jud Wilhite & Mike Foster, two white authors.

In a nutshell, too much stereotyping of any ethnic race limits their overall contributions to society, and unwittingly promotes unhealthy perceptions of any one ethnic group.

What the Book is About
Leadership using the metaphor of kung-fu. You can read Eugene Cho's summary here. From what I know, the book covers 7 mortal enemies of leadership character (Creep, Zi Qi Qi Ren, Amped Emotions, Headless Sprinting Chicken, Boom Chicka Wah Wah, Bling Bling and High and Mighty Assassin). All these assassins are secretly working behind the scenes to kill leadership character. Steve Bobbins made an excellent summary on his blog, reproduced below.
  • The Assassin of Character Creep - Character begins to die by a thousand small cuts that weaken you enough for the assassin to deliver the coup de grace...
  • The Assassin of Zi Qi Qi Ren - Zi Qi Qi Ren is a Chinese word that literally means "self-deception while deceiving others"...
  • The Assassin of Amped Emotions - In the moments of everyday life, he waits for you to blow your top, lose your cool, or go postal. Then he strikes...
  • The Assassin of the Headless Sprinting Chicken - If you are too busy and tired, you have little defense against the attacks...
  • The Assassin of Boom Chicka Wah Wah - Stupid decisions are made when thinking is done without the brain...
  • The Bling Bling Assassin - While you chase for "enough" this assassin can cut you down...
  • The High and Mighty Assassin - Over confidence and arrogance can do this assassin's job for him...

    (Credit: Steve Bobbins)
What the controversy is about? Stereotyping of the Asian image.

What happens next? Aftermath
- series of compromises by the authors and publishers;
- Many Asian Americans felt offended;
- Zondervan eventually pulled the book off the shelves;
- Website ( shut down.

Lest I repeat some of the very good points made by many, let me give a brief snapshot of the different views.

On a positive note, there are useful insights about leadership from the book. Michael Buckingham appreciates the book for its creative blending of visual art and concepts. Michael Melilli points out that the book is useful for leaders to take note of lest they fall out of grace. Jenny Clayville, an Asian American fails to see what the fuss is all about, and makes a perceptive note that many who oppose the book have not really read the book in the first place. She gives a helpful summary of the whole controversy. She describes the predicament well: "Now, everyone feels censored."

On the opposing front, some have written open letters to Zondervan (Professor Rah of North Park Theological Seminary), others have written against it on principles, (DJ Chuang, Todd Thomas). Others have published their dismay on their own blogs, websites etc (daveingland, Scott McLellan). I like McLellan's phrase that 'images aren't necessarily neutral' (of the kung fu metaphor).

My Comments
The fact that Zondervan has taken the step to remove the book totally from the shelves goes to show that they recognize the seriousness and validity of the unhappiness. The important thing is to learn from it, not to simply put this aside and forget all about it. Stereotyping of anybody is plain wrong, regardless of who is making it.  Having said this, I must also say that stereotyping happens both ways. Even in Asia, people stereotype white and black people. That too is deplorable. Stereotyping happens everywhere.

Having said this, let me also say that we learn to accept the authors' intent and apology with grace. There was no malicious intention, but a genuine concern to address important leadership flaws in society. Move on, but learn from this episode, that sensitivity flows both ways.

Looking Forward
A side comment. Personally, I have pessimistic views about Asian authors being able to succeed as serious writers in the West. (The authors of the controversial book are not Asian, which makes the stereotyping accusation more serious) Just look at the numbers, and you can see that not many Asian authors ever get on the New York bestseller book lists, let alone starting a writing career at all. If an Asian gets stereotyped as good Chinese cooks, people accept them readily when they set up restaurants and Chinese take away food stalls. If they get stereotyped as kung fu masters, thanks to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, each time people see a Chinese, they flash off some kung-fu strokes and may even volunteer to join a martial arts course if he was to start one. As more Asians appear on TV as police officers, as doctors, dentists, teachers and various professions, people will start to change their perceptions of Asians. A TV watching generation is more prone to stereotyping based on what they watch and see. For this reason, I feel that the book is flawed, despite the good leadership pointers and the good intentions the authors originally have. By the way, if this book has been written by an ethnic Asian, I doubt it will stir up so much controversy as not many will read it. There is no stereotyped Asian authors anyway. Some has been successful no doubt, but they remain too few.

If things remain this way, I am somewhat pessimistic about any foray into publishing. Yet, I am hopeful that the day will come, when all Christians, regardless of ethnicity and cultural origins will be stereotyped by how much they love one another. Period.


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