The Common Good

How Deadly Viper Character Assassins Undermines its Message with Co-opted Culture

An open letter to Zondervan and to Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite, authors of Deadly Viper Character Assassin: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership.

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Let me begin by stating that I applaud the intent and subject matter of your book. Integrity and character in leadership needs to be discussed and should be an important part of leadership development. But the "theme" you have chosen and the application of that theme (particularly in your media clips) reveals a serious insensitivity to Asian culture and to the Asian-American community.

My contention has nothing to do with the content of the book itself (i.e. the material that discusses integrity and character). It is with the way in which you choose to co-opt Asian culture in inappropriate ways. Let me cite Edward Said in Orientalism where he states:

Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient -- dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style of dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.

Mike and Jud, you are two white males who are inappropriately co-opting another culture and using it to further the marketing of your book. You are not from our cultural framework, yet you feel that you have the authority to represent our culture before others. In other words, you are using what are important and significant cultural symbols to make a sale or to make your point. It is an affront to those who are a part of that culture. You'll notice that there are a number of individuals that take offense at the ways you misuse Chinese characters. You also confuse aspects of Japanese and Chinese cultures. These are two very distinct and ancient cultures that you did not take the time to understand before using those symbols as a fun way to market your products.

Here are some examples of the more glaring and egregious offenses:

  • This video clip is extremely offensive and portraying Asians in a cartoonish manner in order market your merchandise. Particularly offensive is the voiceover of a white person doing a faux Asian accent. And this image presents Asians as sinister enemies.
  • This quote reveals an insensitivity to the Chinese language and mocks Chinese names: "There is a killer called Zi Qi Qi Ren. No, this is not some communicable disease, but it certainly is deadly. This funky Chinese word..."
  • The use of Chinese characters and kanji in a non-sensical manner.

Other offenses:

  • The confusion and conflation of Chinese and Japanese cultures.
  • The use of Asian symbols, like a Japanese garden, kimonos, samurai swords in non-essential manner that does not honor the heritage or culture of Asians.
  • You are taking a caricature of Asian culture (the martial arts warrior, the ninja, etc.) and furthering the caricature rather than engaging Asian culture in a way that honors it.
  • The bottom line. You are representing a culture that you do not know very well to thousands of people. You are using another culture to make your message more fun. That is offensive to those of us who are of that culture and seek to honor our culture.

What specific things you can do:

  1. Issue a PUBLIC apology on your blog and other venues. To let the Christian community know that you have wounded your brothers and sisters in Christ. Whether that was your intent or not, that was the outcome. Admit your wrongdoings and seek forgiveness in a public manner because your offense was in a public setting.
  2. Immediately remove the offensive material or material that co-opts the Asian theme. They can be reposted, but with significant edits and after significant consultation with the Asian-American community.
  3. Drop the entire martial arts theme. It adds NOTHING to what you are trying to say. And as evidenced by the outpouring of concern, it distracts from your true message.
  4. Consult with leaders in the Asian-American community (there are many to choose from) and discuss ways to increase sensitivity (both for the authors and for Zondervan).

I appeal to your sense of Christian brotherhood/sisterhood. Your actions have deeply wounded many of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Lead with integrity by admitting wrong and be willing to make changes to address these wrongs.

I appeal to your sense of integrity to what is the main message of your work. Christians should be above this kind of childish characterization of another culture, particularly when the topic of your book is on character. Show the character that you are calling others to emulate.

Take ownership of your actions. Admit failure. Don't justify it. Seek ways to understand those that you have hurt and seek ways to redress these wrongs. Isn't that the ultimate expression of character and integrity?

Specifically to Zondervan:

This is your second egregious offense in the last few years. Clearly something is wrong with the structure and system of this publishing company that allows and even promotes cultural insensitivity to this degree. Maybe the answer comes from the pictures in your catalog and your Web site that show your editorial and publishing staff. Every single person is white. Please do not let this learning moment to pass by. Address the structural issues at Zondervan that allow this sort of offense to continue.

UPDATE: I was told that Zondervan is asking that all complaints be directed to: this link. I think it is appropriate to continue to let Zondervan know about our concerns.

portrait-soong-chan-rahSoong-Chan Rah is the author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity and is Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism. Read more from him at www.profrah.com.

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