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BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V15, #47 (November 22, 2005), page 1 and 20.

Margaret Cho: A terrorist for love

I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight

By Margaret Cho

Riverhead Books, 2005

Hardcover, 240 pages, $24.95

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

Early on in her new book, Margaret Cho ó comedienne, activist, writer, and filmmaker extraordinaire ó says, "I think that words should do the work of bombs." She then proceeds to launch a verbal barrage of her own. Some attacks are precise and laser-guided, burrowing to the heart of her target, while others just make a big noise. On occasion, she takes out innocents standing on the sidelines, but when you engage in Choís verbal guerilla warfare, you risk some collateral damage. And in the end, her aim is true: to educate oppressed minorities about injustice, and to encourage them to fight back.

Cho appropriates the metaphor of terrorism, albeit of a less damaging variety, on the cover of her book. Both the title and her dramatically militant pose, wielding a microphone in front of her like a machine gun, make reference to Patty Hearst and her ill-fated association with the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). The radical Marxist SLA kidnapped the millionaire heiress Hearst in 1974 and somehow convinced her to join them. After being given the option of release, Patty announced to her family that she was joining the SLA, saying "I have chosen to stay and fight."

Cho discussed this association during her recent interview with The Asian Reporter. Though she is neither a wealthy heiress nor a terrorist captive, Cho said, "Whenever you speak out about the country, whenever you criticize whatís going on, youíre viewed as a terrorist." Cho lives up to this reputation, firing off political rants, discussions, and analyses like bullets from an AK-47. She speaks out against everyone from George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld to Ann Coulter and Andy Rooney, and woe betide those in her crosshairs.

But for every bullet she fires, she sends a love letter, too, to such people as Richard Pryor, Matthew Shepard, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, and ó of course ó her mother. Over and over, she emphasizes the word "love" and how it informs all her actions; any of her fans will know this to be true, for Choís emotions are always extreme. For all her vituperative assaults on the demons on the right, it is the feeling of love that prevails, at least to those of us accustomed to her all-out assault on issues sheís passionate about.

Ever since the "Notorious C.H.O." tour, Cho has reveled in her bad-girl image, earning comparisons to Richard Pryor for her profanity-laced assault on intolerance, making all of us laugh at episodes of deeply felt pain. In Stay and Fight, Cho also uses four-letter words liberally, and her grammar favors the streetwise style of urban kids everywhere. Balanced with this, however, is her eloquent, articulate, dramatic prose, proving once and for all that (like Cho) one doesnít need a high school diploma to be able to write well. And whether sheís angry or thoughtful, Cho is unwaveringly funny ó there can be no doubt about that.

Cho may sometimes express herself in extreme, in-your-face language, but what she says is believable, because she speaks from deeply felt honesty. Sometimes this means leveling her explosively intelligent wit against less apparent targets such as Jesse Jackson (for speaking against gay marriage) or those with sleep apnea (which she correlates with stupidity). But being caught in her crossfire may mean youíre culpable, or it may just mean that youíre in the wrong place at the wrong time, like those attending the stuffy corporate party where her appearance was cut short by killing her microphone.

Her right-wing targets might call her a terrorist, and her style certainly encourages that, but Cho is not some crazed zealot bent on creating fear and killing innocent people. Her intention is to awaken the minds and hearts of minorities everywhere, and to warn the oppressors that their time in power is waning. Though she often warns of an impending revolution, I donít believe that Cho is really advocating raising arms against the Bush administration. I doubt that Cho herself has ever wielded anything more powerful than her microphone, but thatís weapon enough to make anyone afraid.

Choís career trajectory has become increasingly political ó her 2004 "State of Emergency Tour" focused on the electionís swing states, and her "Assassin" tour earlier this year responded to Bushís reelection. Stay and Fight fits into this trajectory perfectly, taking on the right wing with characteristically unflinching strength and righteousness. While some of the book relates to her Asian heritage, Cho focuses just as much (if not more) on the repression of women, gays, lesbians, and other minority groups. As with the 1980ís ACT UP AIDS slogan, "Silence = Death," Cho reminds us that, for the oppressed people of America, "Silence = Nonexistence." The only way to overcome the all-encompassing power of the majority is to raise your voice, and Margaret Cho will make you do that, sometimes in anger, but just as often in the unrestrained hilarity of belly laughter.

 

* * *

From The Asian Reporter, V15, #47 (November 22, 2005), page 16 and 20.

Margaret Cho speaks out

By Mike Street

Special to The Asian Reporter

The Asian Reporter: Since you came to Portland last fall for the "State of Emergency" tour, youíve done your "Assassin" tour, written another book, released another CD, your feature film Bam-Bam and Celeste is coming out soon, and youíve just announced a TV show deal with FOX. Do you think all this exposure compromises your ability to speak from the position of a minority?

Margaret Cho: No ó I think that Iím still very much a minority, and my voice is very new and different. A lot of people interviewing me now, like the morning DJs, have a big problem with racism and sexism and homophobia. They donít take it very seriously, and Iím bothered most by this casual prejudice against gays and lesbians, against Asian Americans, against a lot of different kinds of minorities. I have to take that on pretty much every day, multiple times a day. I feel like the exposure Iíve had hasnít made a dent in the social problems that we face, so Iím hoping I can stay out there long enough to really fix something.

AR: Do you feel like youíve made any progress at all?

MC: I canít really tell, because I donít know how much things have improved. At least weíre talking about issues like gay marriage much more. Itís become more of a focus, so thatís something, but I canít really tell if itís better for gays. Itís certainly not better for lesbians, because they donít exist in our popular culture, except for "The L-Word," which I love, but thatís all they have. Thereís got to be more.

AR: Your work has become more political through the years ó how do comedy and politics inform one another?

MC: I think itís good to be able to inform people in a way that brings people closer to your point of view. I talked to a guy in Texas this morning, and he was very ambivalent about gay marriage, but after talking to me he felt like he would be for it. He just hadnít thought about it ó it wasnít in his reality, and he would be more apt to vote against it. But when you address it and humanize it, it changed his mind, and thatís a really good thing, to be able to get people to think in a way thatís more positive and more compassionate.

AR: Your new book I Have Chosen to Stay and Fight seems to be a part of this politicizing trend, where youíre really on a mission to change the country for 2008. Do you think thereís enough time?

MC: I think thereís always time to change things. Thereís always hope, and thereís always an opportunity for change, even in the smallest way. Great changes take place very slowly, little by little. I think itís a wonderful thing to be able to contribute a little bit every day.

AR: Youíve called your new movie Bam Bam and Celeste "a great love letter to gay culture." Are you dealing with your Asian identity as well in the film?

MC: Itís really about invisibility, which is what all of my work is about, where you feel invisible, like a smaller person whoís less able to compete with the rest of the world, and you withdraw into your own world. Itís about how we can become visible suddenly, and the road to visibility, which I think is a very important journey for both the gay community and ethnic minorities.

AR: Whatís the story behind the TV show?

MC: Well, in Bam-Bam and Celeste, I play my mother, and it came off so well, it led to looking into doing something with that character. Iíd written a film for that character, about her and her very conservative son whoís been lying to her for years about being an accountant when he was actually involved in the Triads ó he was a gang member. And so heís trying to leave the gang, and she discovers this whole other life and she has to get him out of it. That was bandied about until it became a television show about their relationship, and I think itís going to be good.

AR: I see that youíre interested in going to India ó where does that come from?

MC: It comes from my belly dancing, which I love. I love any kind of ethnic dance, and India has a great culture of music and dance, so it made me interested in going there and looking into the dance world there. Belly dancing is a place where women are safe and can be together. Our culture encourages competition among women, which robs us of the important experience of being together and bonding and finding closeness. I think itís really a beautiful thing to be around all these women, hanging out, learning and growing so much. Itís just an important thing for women to be able to connect, and we donít have those opportunities nowadays.

 

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