Author Eric Stone posted this on the DorothyL discussion list this morning:
Did anyone else who attended Men of Mystery in Irvine, California on Saturday find the story Dean Koontz told in his speech about his letter writing campaign to the president of a Japanese company, offensive? I did. And I'm pretty hard to offend. At least one other author I know who was there, who has lived in Japan, also found it offensive. We both were aghast. While most of the people in the audience were laughing, we weren't.
I write thrillers that are set in Asia. I know the region well. I lived and worked in Asia for 11 years and though I never lived in Japan, I visited it for business and on holidays at least twice a year that entire time. If I was ever to create a character that would say or write things similar to what Mr. Koontz claimed to have written in his letters to the Japanese corporate executive, it would be for the purpose of showing him as a culturally-insensitive lout - the Ugly American personified as it were.
Sheesh, I was enjoying the event up until then, and looking forward to hearing Mr. Koontz speak.
I also found his letters to the Japanese CEO offensive. So did quite a few other authors in attendance (I didn't talk to any of the 550 "civilians" in the audience about it).
UPDATE: My brother Tod was also shocked by Koontz's speech.
UPDATE: I got a call today from Dean Koontz, who wasn't pleased about the comments here. I apologized to him for using "Sambo" and "Kike" as comparisons for his use of "Mr. Teriyaki" to refer to the Asian exec. He found the use of those words pejorative and said they mischaracterized the tenor of his speech. I agreed. So I have changed them to "Mr. Fried Chicken" and "Mr. Matzoball." I believe his speech was offensive and in bad taste -- and I reiterated that belief to him in our phone conversation.
Each letter was addressed to "Mr. Teriyaki." (Internment camps were not mentioned in any of the letters, which I assume was a simple omission on Mr. Koontz's part and will be rectified in the future.)
Stunningly, the audience thrilled to the stories! The laughter cascaded about the room! People dabbed tears! Do you have any stories about your hatred of the Jews, Mr. Koontz? Any good ones about the Muslim world? How about a notation on some more racial stereotypes you've used when negotiating your name off other shitty movies?
Happily, author after author came walking to the back of the room in horror (more horror than is typically engendered by one of Koontz's books, no doubt) and wonder about what they were hearing. Did he really just tell a 15 minute story about the Japanese where he referred to the person in question as Mr. Teriyaki? Was the audience really laughing? Or, as Rob Roberge said, "Is he coming out in blackface next?"
Author Joe Konrath, who was also in attendance, weighs in on his blog:
More UPDATES on the jump:
There's a lot of buzz circulating about Dean Koontz's speech, and how he offended many attendees. Personally, I didn't find the remarks offensive---Koontz was purposely trying to be humorously insulting, in order to get a certain Japanese CEO to drop his name from a movie title. His goal was to dishonor the guy. The problem was in the set-up and the execution. Koontz just wasn't very funny. George Carlin is a lot more offensive, but gets away with it because he's funny.
Had Koontz spent more time showing he was the underdog, and established that he wasn't racist and did all of this to right an injustice (rather than because he simply wanted his way, which is how he came off), I think the story would have gone over a little better.
Or perhaps Mr. Koontz should simply retire this particular anecdote.
Novelist Charles Fleming, who also attended the event, sent the following letter to the Men of Mystery organizers as well as several other authors who were there:
Thank you again for allowing me to take part in last Saturday’s Sixth Annual Men of Mystery event in
. I had a terrific time. Until right near the end.
A few minutes into an otherwise amusing talk, our keynote speaker Dean Koontz began an extended story about a disagreement with a Japanese executive. In an attempt to bully or shame the executive into making a business decision unfavorable to his own company’s interests, Mr. Koontz invoked images of Pearl Harbor, the firebombing of Tokyo, the Bataan Death March, the concentration camp depicted in “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” and the 1960s monster movies “Godzilla” and “Mothra.” He referred repeatedly to the recipient of this correspondence as “Mr. Teriyaki.”
This is roughly the equivalent of writing to an African-American executive and invoking images of watermelon, lynchings and Little Black Sambo; of writing to a Jewish executive and making jokes about bar mitzvahs and Bergen-Belsen; of calling a gay executive “Bruce” and saying it with a lisp; or of referring to a Latino executive with words like “wetback” and “greaser.”
Is this funny? The story was met with considerable laughter. I found Mr. Koontz’ remarks extremely offensive, and the audience’s reaction to them extremely depressing.
Our free speech rights as American citizens and our privileged position as writers guarantee us a voice. But our responsibility as artists and as human beings should discourage us from using our voices to denigrate others – even if they are Japanese, and the author is writing from a 2.5-acre, 25,000 square foot home in Orange County.
I hope you will join me in censuring Mr. Koontz, and in encouraging him to consider telling a different story the next time he is asked to speak at a Men of Mystery event.