Lost in Translation

2008 brought us the Summer Olympics from Beijing, China. Although here in the United States it was swimmer Michael Phelps and his historic eight gold medals which garnished most of the media attention, a disturbing promotional photograph from the Spanish men's basketball team rather quietly showed up in the press. The depiction (seen above) shows the Spanish men's basketball team putting their fingers to the corner's of their eyes. This is symbolic of a racist expression in which the eyes are narrowed by putting the fingertips toward the back corner of the eye and pulling the skin of the face and eyelids gently toward the ears. This gives the look of a narrower eye, a physical characteristic prominent among several cultures on the continent of Asia. Although the team does not appear to pull back toward the ears, it is clear they are referencing the known gesture.

This promotional gaffe is inexcusable. Although the Spanish men's basketball team ended up apologizing to the host country and all was forgiven without national incident, I wonder who it was that deemed this as appropriate or as a "good idea" in the first place? If in the apology (as I believe it was) it was stated that the team was "only joking", I'm curious as to what is funny or what the punchline would be? Culturally it seems as if there has been a certain disconnect between the Spaniards and the Chinese. I guess it is not only unique to Americans to be culturally foolish and insensitive. Perhaps the "joke" was lost in translation.

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