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Controversial Asian Web cartoon angers civil rights groups

(CNN) -- An animated Web cartoon called "Mr. Wong" is at the center of an online controversy that has sparked debate over the boundaries of good taste, xenophobia and creative freedom. Critics say it's racist, while the creators say it's just meant as amusement.

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The animated series appears on the site of Icebox Inc., an Internet entertainment company based in Los Angeles, California. The vignettes feature a yellow 85-year-old Chinese servant who is hunched over with bucked teeth and slanted eyes, unable to pronounce his l's and r's.

Civil rights groups say they're outraged at the character's depiction because it promotes negative stereotypes of Asians.

"We received a lot of e-mail complaints from Asian-Americans who saw the Mr. Wong cartoon on Icebox.com and were very offended by the incredible stereotypical features that are used for that character," said Karen Narasaki, a representative from the National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium.

But Icebox defends itself, saying its site gives artists creative freedom on the Net. The company says it welcomes politically incorrect or irreverent work, and that's the tone of Mr. Wong and several other animated shorts on its site. A warning advises people that the cartoon is for mature audiences only, though it is easily accessible by anyone.

"The intent of Mr. Wong is humor and it's not intended to hurt anyone or to depict any group in a light that anyone would take seriously, and so we hope that people can see it from that view," Icebox's Steve Stanford said.

Educators say racial humor will appear on the Internet, and that's problematic. But they say the Internet may also offer a positive side to race relations.

"Cyberspace allows us to change the way that race works," said Jerry Kang, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We can selectively decrease racial information. We could also decrease the significance of geography and increase racial interactions among different people to try to promote cooperative environments where people actually deal with each other, learn from each other and thereby learn that all human beings are more alike than different."

Meanwhile, civil rights organizations have launched two letter-writing campaigns in protest of the cartoon. They say they hope Icebox will pull the animation from the site or at the very least revise the Mr. Wong character.



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RELATED SITES:
National Asian Pacific American Legal Consortium
Icebox.com


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