Voice = Power = Change = Revolution

(Annotated by Sarah Lawrance)

“For us [writers from oppressed, colonized groups], true speaking is not solely an expression of creative power; it is an act of resistance, a political gesture that challenges politics of domination that would render us nameless and voiceless” (hooks, 1989: 8).

Stand-up comedian and queer activist Margaret Cho’s CHO Revolution tour performance exemplifies bell hooks’s (1989) notion of “coming to voice” as she challenges what hooks refers to as the “right speech” of silence imposed upon and embodied by members of minority communities in North America.

Overall, Cho’s performance style is loudly vocal and physical, in contradiction to the silence and invisibility ascribed to her minority status as a queer woman born into a Korean immigrant family. As a white Canadian woman of European ancestry, I find certain elements of Cho’s comedic routine discomfiting as she assumes and exaggerates common American (and Canadian) stereotypes of Asian people. Watching her performance, I became aware that my own laughter at Cho’s sometimes-racist jokes plays a colluding role in the silencing process. Perhaps Cho uses her comedy to make the stereotypes and silences clear in order to then tear them down with her loud presence.

The content of her liberated speech is equally powerful. Amidst the humourous anecdotes and reflections, Cho delivers a scathing critique of American culture, targeting in particular the racism, sexism, and homophobia embedded in popular culture and media and the effects this has on women’s self-esteem and body image. I was particularly touched by a part near the end of Cho’s performance when she stated the following:

I’m very inappropriate, which makes me a problem dinner guest. Because at some point during the evening someone eventually says: ‘Ok, yeah, yeah, ok [mimics silly laughing] too much information! Don’t go there!’ I live there. I bought a house there. I’m gonna take you there! Because when something hurts me, I have to say something, ‘cause if I don’t it’ll just burn me up, and I feel like living as a minority in America feels like dying of a thousand papercuts, and I ain’t goin’ out like that. So I have to speak my herstory! (Cho, 2004)

A little bit later in the performance Cho describes the slogan of her favourite activist group, the 1960s-era ACT-UP: “Silence = Death. It meant, if we don’t talk about AIDS we will die of AIDS.” She adds, “And I adopt a similar slogan. For me, Silence = Nonexistence. If I don’t give ‘too much information’ and if I ‘don’t go there’ it’s like I was never there in the first place” (Cho, 2004).

References

Cho, Margaret (Writer) & Lorene Machado (Dir). CHO Revolution. (2004). DVD. Los Angeles: Cho Taussig Productions.

hooks, bell. (1989). Talking Back: Thinking feminist, thinking black. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

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~ by artpoped on April 7, 2009.

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