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Details Magazine Sparks Protest

By Risheng Xu, Crimson Staff Writer

Twenty-one Harvard students participated in a rally of over 200 people Friday in New York to protest a column that appeared in the April issue of Details magazine.

The column, entitled “Gay or Asian?,” depicted an Asian man and offered commentary on the elements of his attire and personal appearance.

“One cruises for chicken; the other takes it General Tso-style. Whether you’re into shrimp balls or shaved balls, entering the dragon requires imperial tastes,” the column’s introduction stated.

“Ladyboy Fingers: Soft and long. Perfect for both waxing on and waxing off, plucking the koto, or gripping the Kendo stick,” read the commentary on the depicted man’s hands.

Touting itself as “the men’s magazine that introduces the styles, sets the trends and breaks the stories that keep you ahead of the crowd,” Details has published similar articles in the past, including “Gay or Jesus?” and “Gay or Latino?”

The Details feature angered many students who felt such broad generalizations were blatantly offensive.

“The Details magazine article stereotyped Asian men, stereotyped gay men, and it also stereotyped our concepts of masculinity,” said Jacquelyn Chou ’07, who participated in the rally. “In a nation where we are composed of so many different types of people, we should work on being inclusive rather than exclusive.”

A letter authored by Asian Media Watchdog and signed by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered student groups on several college campuses said the column “suggested Asian men cannot be both gay and Asian. Or that we are both and therefore should be mocked.”

Signers of the letter requested that Details recall the April 2004 issue and publish by June 1 a one-page public apology.

They also requested that Details demand the resignation of the column’s author, Whitney McNally, “to affirm its commitment to culturally sensitive and responsible journalism,” and institute cultural-sensitivity training for its editorial and writing staff.

In its May edition, Details issued the following statement: “The ‘Gay or Asian’ item in our April issue was part of a continuing feature that is intended as a humorous swipe at social stereotypes. Details has a wide readership—male, female, straight, gay—from all cultures, and we value all of them.”

“We appreciate the substantial feedback on this item that we have received, and we will certainly keep those concerns in mind as we move forward,” the statement continued. “We regret that anyone was offended by the article, as that was not our intention.”

A Details spokesperson could not be reached for comment over the weekend.

Many found the magazine’s published statement inadequate.

“It basically seemed to say, ‘Sorry if you didn’t get the joke.’ And, despite letters and almost 30,000 signatures on the petition against Details, another ‘Gay or...’ feature was included in the newest issue of Details, which came out before our protest,” said Sarah L. Paiji ’06, current chair of Boston Asian Students Alliance (BASA).

Paiji and former BASA Chair Joy C. Lin ’05 played key roles in organizing the protest.

Students representing Harvard College, Wellesley College, Bentley College, Tufts University and MIT arrived in Manhattan on Friday and protested from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in front of Fairchild Publishers, which owns Details.

On the day of the protest, Daniel Peres, editor-in-chief of Details, issued another statement on the controversial column.

“It has been made abundantly clear to me that this story, which is part of an ongoing series challenging male cultural stereotypes, was insensitive, hurtful, and in poor taste,” Peres said in a written statement. “There’s a line that should never be crossed in any satirical humor, and Details crossed it. I, on behalf of the magazine, deeply regret this misstep, and apologize to those who were offended.”

Many of those who made the trip down to New York thought they accomplished their goals through the protest.

“I would say that it was a success—we got many people to participate...it brought a lot of attention to Asian Americans gathered together toward a common cause,” said Wei-Hsun Yuan ’07, who was part of the rally.

Other organizations involved with the protest included the Gay Asian Pacific Islander Men of New York and the National Asian American Student Conference.

—Staff writer Risheng Xu can be reached at xu4@fas.harvard.edu.

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