The picture of "Alessandro," after redesign.
Alessandro, before redesign. Way to decide to crop him, Global Times.
Many months ago, I came across Ask Alessandro, a humor column in the Global Times, through a friend's gchat status message. This, by way of example, is one of the many posts that made me laugh out loud. Forgive me for excerpting liberally:
Dear Alessandro, Ever since I got to Beijing, it's like my boyfriend doesn't even notice me anymore! He spends all of his time looking at these Chinese girls, and they are looking at him! And then he tries to tell me how beautiful they are! It makes me feel so angry! Why is he like this, and what can I do to make him love me again?
When I first see this letter, forgive me I make an assumption. You are obviously not a very beautiful woman. But I mention this to my friend Beppe, who is analyst. He tell me some things, like one time, a woman came to his o. ce – maybe 40 years old, but still scorchio – and he says you can see the line of her suspenders under her skirt while she was talking! Serious! Amazing he get paid for this.
Anyway, he say some times there is beautiful women come to him and their lover doesn't try to satisfy them. He study this and fi nd some men so lazy in their lovemaking they actually give the woman a "negative orgasm". I don't know what they waste all their energy on, maybe they like jogging very much or something. But serious, it seem all the woman getting negative orgasm have something in common: they married to British and German men. So maybe not so surprising after all. I guess maybe your boyfriend is British, ha ha. Or German. Sorry, is not funny.
Beppe writes a thesis on the condition at the moment, what he call "Deprivation of Any Vaginal Ecstasy", or DAVEgasms for short. Don't bother to read, is mostly boring. My advice to you is become more like Italian woman. If your man can't satisfy you, get drunk, scream, throw things at him and tell him if he don't make you feel like a real woman you will cut yourself and fottere his dad.
"You are obviously not a very beautiful woman"? Scorchio? DAVEgasms? Wow.
Wait, there's more!
Dear Alessandro, I'm a single, white, North American female between 30 and 35 living in Beijing, and I can't find a date. What should I do?
TCAMF (The Cat Ate My Face)
There is old saying in my tongue, which is Italian. We say, "Il mio fronte sta fondendosi," which translates literally as "my face is melting," though often we use as metaphor for when someone has told a ribald joke. For instance, we might say, "I am standing too close to this tanning bed, il mio fronte sta fondendosi." But that a very literal way to use the saying, and standing too close to tanning bed is no joke. Can get skin cancer. But it is important that you realize that the phrase can be taken literally or fi guratively, as I assure you, when I first came to China, il mio fronte sta fondendosi. Literally. I don't know why this be. Maybe pollution.
Instantly, I knew four things about this column:
1. This was among the funniest, most creative recurring pieces in ALL the serial print world, not just Chinese media.
2. The editors of this column -- surely Chinese, if such editors existed -- were NOT in on the joke. (Unless, now that I think about it, I haven't given been giving Chinese editors enough credit.)
3. This was great satire.
But beyond a shadow of a doubt,
4. This wasn't going to last.
Yet somehow, someway, the column persevered, thrived, even. And that made me happy in the same way that small surprises, like blue skies in Beijing, made me happy. It made me perk up the way you might if you walked into a random neighborhood bar in Brooklyn and discovered an absolutely brilliant band playing in front of six people.
No one I've spoken to about this column has expressed dislike -- most, in fact, have given it a ringing endorsement, even if they didn't always find it funny. Surely, I thought, whatever subversive expat penning this and laughing
More to the point, the Ask Alessandro column defined Global Times, made it unique. It might not have been enough for me to actually seek out Global Times and buy a copy, but it gave me a reason to talk about the paper. It added to its identity, which, while still in its formative stages, can be roughly defined as not-China Daily. If there's one place to NOT find humor, it's China Daily.
But now I fear Ask Alessandro has met its match and may soon come to a crashing halt. And for that we have the prudes over at the Wall Street Journal to thank.
At 9 p.m. earlier tonight, WSJ's China blog's top post was one titled, "A Vulgar Turn in China's International Media Relations."
The piece is so clueless, I cannot think of a way to summarize it for anyone with a sense of humor. I will, however, provide a link. (Suffice it to say, it involves an over-sensitive business reporter.)
As I commented at the end of the WSJ post (with less-than-exemplary grammar):
Here's to hoping -- to really, really hoping -- that Ask Alessandro's next column makes due mincemeat of this unjust attack on its Italian machismo.
POSTSCRIPT: This is the offending column that got the WSJ writer (who does good work normally, I must say for the record) so upset. In all honesty, I was expecting to see that Alessandro dropped the C word. UPDATE, 3/11: The editors have since taken down the column, and all his rest.
POSTSCRIPT 2: RIP, Jon Swift.
UPDATE, 3/11: My response to Global Times's response.