Hung Out to Dry

What we laugh about when we laugh about American Idols most famous reject

"Okay, so I'm not famous for the right reasons," Hung admitted in Rolling Stone. "I'm infamous, a joke." Then why does he continue performing in public, bovinely accepting one invitation after another? Whether he's hoping to score lasting fame, wealth, or to just plain score, he won't succeed. When a squad of halter-topped dancers gyrate around him on national television, the resounding implication of course is that the object of their "lust" is anything but sexy and desirable.

The Hung craze has arrived on the heels of a cinematic season seemingly devoted to emasculating Asian males. Lost in Translation's epicene game-show host assails Bill Murray with his flailing wrists and lisping diction. (Of the meager handful of Japanese actors in Sofia Coppola's film, this fop has the largest speaking role.) In the Australian movie Japanese Story, the same message is acted out in a bizarre sex scene: Toni Collette's geologist pauses mid-seduction to don her Japanese lover's trousers. She then mounts and fucks him, the trousers serving as outback-ready chaps, the better to control and dominate her supine conquest.

Which finally brings us to hipster mag Details and Whitney McNally's column, "Gay or . . . ?" in which a different demographic is visually dissected for its crypto-homo traits. This month's category is "Asian," and the sacrificial specimen is a young urban male, his appearance deconstructed with such double entendres as "Delicate features: Refreshed by a cup of hot tea or a hot night of teabagging?" and "Evisu Jeans . . . A bonsai ass requires delicate tending." It's not clear what the writer is saying (that all Asians dress gay? That all Asians are gay?). What is clear is that her cooler-than-thou attitude masks a pernicious and unexamined xenophobia. (Next month's column: "Racist Bitch or Whitney McNally?") Asian groups can object all they want (and they are), but for most people, it's merely more evidence that Asians are P.C. killjoys unable to withstand a good-natured jab. (Admittedly, most Asian groups are pretty humorless, though it seems to be more out of exasperation than self-righteousness.)

The upshot is that when it comes to virility, Asian men rank somewhere below white women, and for FOBs ("fresh off the boat," not friends of the ex-president) like William Hung, the reality is much, much lower. At the end of the day, Hung makes us all feel better about ourselves: men can feel more manly and women are free to act like sluts. For Asian Americans, Hung represents everything we don't want to be seen as (foreign, nerdish, a joke), and thus his oddball fame reinforces our own happily assimilated identities.

"We're approaching this record with a lot of respect," says Hung's producer Alan Grunblatt. He's right if he means respect for the bottom line. There's something oddly comforting about the way Inspirationwas rushed to stores. In a sense, the producers' unapologetic treatment of Hung as a rapidly devaluing cash cow verges on a kind of brutal honesty. The same can't be said for his fans, whose gushing adoration suggests insincerity and worse, a cluelessness to their exploitative sense of fun. With Mr. Wong recently released on DVD, and Ms. Swan given eternal life via Comedy Central, Hung is riding the crest of an unstoppable wave. Indeed, when faced with such insatiable public demand, what are Asian Americans to do except to keep smiling and take it like a man? After all, we're used to it.

David Ng has sworn never to work at another investment bank.

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