Reply All: #27 The Fever
June 5, 2015 9:10 AM - Subscribe

This week, producer Stephanie Foo talks about her own and other asian women's experience with online dating.

Stephanie Foo is a producer for This American Life, and the Reply All guys mostly give this episode over to her. She shares some interviews she has done with about men who only date asian women, as well as her own experiences. A semi-cross-over with Startup this week, which did an episode about race and online dating this week as well.
posted by skewed (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
This was great. Started out as a story of another grade-a creep, turned into a discussion of "yellow fever" and what it's like to be pursued solely based on your race.

I've heard quite a few other podcasts about online dating...I think both Planet Money and Freakonomics talked about it. Actually, I think PM featured Lisa Chow. It's firmly cemented for me how fortunate I feel that I found my SO in college and never had to deal with online dating. It sounds awful!

I thought it was interesting when PJ chimed in at the end and mentioned that his Chinese girlfriend sorta felt him out when they first met to see what his intentions were.

Also, great tie-in with this week's StartUp.
posted by radioamy at 9:55 AM on June 5, 2015


radioamy: PJ was on the Freakonomics episode.

I felt like this episode revealed something interesting/awful (to me as a non-Asian woman) and then...went nowhere and ended. Which I guess fits with the subject, since there's no tidy resolution, but I felt like it could have ended halfway or gone on twice as long.
posted by carbide at 10:16 AM on June 5, 2015


I'm not sure if I'm supposed to view this as traditional journalism or not.

If I'm not I found this story pretty interesting and enjoyable.

If I am I found this week's story failing on at least one front, especially when viewed in tandem with the "semi-cross-over" on Start Up.

John was described as "John was Scandinavian, muscular, attractive. He seemed unreal. Like a dream boyfriend." Now, they don't say tall and blond, but I think that's what they were trying to get across with "Scandinavian".

On Start Up we had the founders floundering with the fact that a lot of the Asian women didn't want to date Asian men, only White Guys. Now, sure, "white" comes in a lot of flavors, but just as the "perfect stereotype" of an Asian women is petite and submissive and field dwelling, the "perfect stereotype" of the white guy is blond and tall and muscular.

One of the women, Phoebe, was willing to put up a lot to stay with John. "...but after watching him betray her over and over again, she broke up with him. In their time together though, she’d actually seen John accumulate two cycles of women."

I would have liked, if I'm to view this as journalism, for them to inquire into the motivations of the women. The reporter was more than happy to read yellow fever into John, but didn't inquire at all if the women were so taken in because John fit their fetish.

Especially with the segment at the end where the women suggested that you don't date white guys who have dated other Asian women, I would like to know if they have dated Asian or non-white men. Is this a situation where people, as they often do, say "You having superficial preferences and fetishes are wrong, wrong, wrong, but my superficial preferences and fetishes are sacrosanct"?

It seems to me we very easily have a situation here where two sets of fetishes lead to a sad situation.
posted by bswinburn at 11:50 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


They mentioned his looks briefly, but they talked a lot more about his sweet, affectionate and thoughtful behavior. This guy seemed like the complete package.

If one of the women stayed with him even after she knew he betrayed her (and it sounded like most of them took off immediately), maybe his looks were part of the reason she stayed, but I don't think you can call this whole story one fetish meeting another.

Anyway, "John's" habit of collecting multiple Asian women at one time sure sounds like obsessive, fetishizing behavior to me. I bet he actually enjoyed getting caught, seeing if he could still convince any of the women to stay, then starting out all over again with a new collection.

If any of these women preferred white guys, or a certain kind of white guys, there is no evidence they even came close to sharing his fetish, let alone his pathology.
posted by rosebuddy at 2:19 PM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I bet he actually enjoyed getting caught, seeing if he could still convince any of the women to stay, then starting out all over again with a new collection.

Interesting, I think you must be right on that, if he really wanted to avoid being caught and the ensuing drama he wouldn't give his girlfriends house keys or access to his computer.
posted by skewed at 2:54 PM on June 5, 2015


bswinburn, I definitely don't view Reply All (or many similar podcasts) as traditional journalism. There is a lot of reporting, but the hosts' personalities and opinions are woven into the show - and that's part of why I like it.

It does sound like it was a bit of a game for John.... Maybe he doesn't exactly enjoy being caught, but he wants to see how far he can go before he gets caught. He would have been more careful about giving them his keys, leaving his laptop open, etc., otherwise. Perhaps early on he had two of the women fight over him, and he got off on that.
posted by radioamy at 4:23 PM on June 5, 2015


The "semi crossover" was more coincidence than anything else. We were both working on similar stories independently and most of the interaction between shows was to make sure we weren't at cross purposes or covering similar ground (like when we both almost interviewed Christian Rudder, except I don't think he'll talk to me & PJ after the intvw we did in our TLDR days).

And I think it's weird you wouldn't consider our show traditonal journalism. It's feature writing, personal essays, etc. We're fact checked and careful about presentation. We just don't pretend not to have a perspective. That's most magazine feature writing and basically all journalism before Walter Lippmann.
posted by Alex Goldman at 7:53 PM on June 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


I forgot that y'all were the ones that interviewed Christian Rudder. When listening to StartUp I was thinking "Oh yeah haven't I heard from this guy?", and now I remember. That interview made me *so* uncomfortable. I should go listen again.
posted by radioamy at 10:20 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


bswinburn, the assumption that all of the women had a 'fetish' or preference for white guys is a pretty big one, plus a predjudice for 'white guys' doesn't tend to harm the white guys, whereas 'yellow fever' is clearly a detrimental factor for Asian women in online dating.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 9:35 AM on June 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


I didn't make an assumption. I made a hypothesis which the reporting failed to prove or disprove. Hence my disappointment with the story as journalism.

It's also an assumption John suffered from "Fever" (one I agree with, by the way), as he could have simply liked having lots of women around and found that Asians, as a group, went for him. Again, neither proven or disproven by the reporting.

The biggest reason I bring it up is because a women deciding a guy has a fetish based on two previous girl friends seems like a big, unfair, assumption as well. One the reporter was perfectly happy making.
posted by bswinburn at 6:53 PM on June 6, 2015


I'm pretty content with the reporting on John's multiple collections of Asian women confirmed by at least three on-air interviews with ex-girlfriends as a clear demonstration of his fetish. Without John's own admission, I don't think it's entirely clear if his fetish is only Asian women or if he also fetishizes cheating/being caught cheating. It seems like that part was pretty important to him too since he always quickly moved to serious relationship talk and monogamy.

Hypothesizing that the multiple Asian women who dated John had a fetish for white men is grasping and comes close to "why isn't there a White History month" levels of offensiveness.
posted by gladly at 10:17 AM on June 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


a women deciding a guy has a fetish based on two previous girl friends

A. it was way way more than just those two, it was dozens of women
B. Journalism isn't science, it's OK to make assumptions about your subjects if they are based in evidence and you make it clear that you're speculating. That's what they did.

This was a good episode of this podcast, imo.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 10:48 AM on June 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


"a women deciding a guy has a fetish based on two previous girl friends

A. it was way way more than just those two, it was dozens of women"


I wasn't referring to John with that sentence, but the rule proposed to decide if men they were dating had fetishes at the end of the episode.
posted by bswinburn at 12:44 PM on June 9, 2015


This episode was really good and really skeeved me out. I never realized how predatory online dating can be for women, and Asian women in particular (I guess?).

The tale of John was incredibly messed up, going online to collect asian women like they were collectibles and it was ebay. Then taking them through the same date. I can't even.
posted by selenized at 12:58 PM on June 9, 2015


I wasn't referring to John with that sentence, but the rule proposed to decide if men they were dating had fetishes at the end of the episode.

But that was a decision the reporter was sharing about her own dating habits, not a rule that she was proposing or presenting as common to other people. It might be overly inclusive; a white guy in his 30's picking women truly at random in California could easily end up dating more than two asian women. But so what? That's her decision, the point of bringing it up was not to say that this is how asian women should date, but that her experience made her feel that some sort of screening mechanism was necessary for the men she goes out with.
posted by skewed at 1:06 PM on June 9, 2015


The "But so what? That's her decision..." is my point. Her decision to date people as she fits is presented as positive, but a man's decision (and I'm not talking John here) to date asian women is presented as wrong and skeevy.

I much prefer the attitude of the women on "start up" where they realize that dating preferences are so personal and weird that referring to them as racist is, well, problematic on it's own. I don't think it's fair to anyone to tar their preferences by the worst of a group who shares their preferences, and that's what it feels like this episode is trying to do.
posted by bswinburn at 2:28 PM on June 9, 2015


Why don't you say what you mean: You don't think it's skeevy to date women based on their race. This episode is trying to depict why it feels incredibly demeaning to women.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:28 PM on June 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


First off, I don't think you got the takeaway from the episode of Startup right.

Secondly, Her decision to date people as she fits is presented as positive, but a man's decision (and I'm not talking John here) to date asian women is presented as wrong and skeevy. is not a very accurate comparison.

Here's a more accurate comparison: a white guy's decision to exclusively date asians is presented negatively, while an asian woman's decision to refrain from dating white guys who serially date asians is presented slightly favorably, and definitely not negatively. That's a huge difference.

Stephanie (I think that's who had this rule, correct me if I'm wrong) didn't say she was going to date people based on race, but rather based on their behavior. John's decision, apparently, is to date based on race.

By "so what? that's her decision" I meant that she might be eliminating a lot of otherwise good matches from her dating pool, but that's her decision. It's also John's decision to only date asian women. But besides the fact that they are both free to make decisions about whom they date, they are not otherwise very comparable choices.
posted by skewed at 5:58 PM on June 9, 2015


Why don't you say what you mean: You don't think it's skeevy to date women based on their race.

And here I thought metafilter didn't approve of paraphrasing people in ways to misstate their argument.

But that's not what I'm saying. As I've said before on metafilter I think sexual attraction is best thought of something that happens to people. You find out you're only attracted to some characteristic or another, whether that be sex, age, height, race, body composition, religion, hair style, or whatever. Then you're left to make the best of it. For some people these attractions are very strong. For others, not so much. Most people just make the best of it and go on living their lives.

I think some of these attractions are wrong. I'm not about to defend pedophiles' actions, for instance, because they happened to be born with an attraction toward the young. I'll feel sorry for them, because it must suck to be them, but I'll still say their actions are unduly harmful and need to be stopped.

I think some of these attractions are favored by society. As a heterosexual male pretty much every culture is ok with me being attracted to women. But I recognize my attraction to women is luck of the draw. I could have just as easily been born attracted to dogs, which almost no one is in favor of.

Attraction to a particular race isn't as positively favored as my attraction to women, but isn't as blatantly harmful as an attraction to children.

Ginandbroadband feels that "'yellow fever' is clearly a detrimental factor for Asian women in online dating." This is the closest thing to a concrete harm brought up so far.

I don't have any experience with that, and the women in the story seem to feel it is. However it isn't a scientific study and everyone seems to agree this story isn't trying to be scientifically objective.

Luckily, I don't think I need to reach that issue here, because what seemed to be hurting the women in this case wasn't John's attraction to Asians, but the fact that he was a lying, cheating, scumbag. Take away that part and we're back with John being "a dream boyfriend".

So, if John hadn't been a lying, cheating, scumbag, if he had only dated the narrator and didn't philander, and he fetishized Asian women, would she have been hurt by this fetish? I don't think the answer is a clear yes, and rather suspect it's a no.

Given that I don't see racial fetishes as a clear problem. I think for racial fetishes to be a problem it has to be the racial fetish plus some other troubling behavior.
posted by bswinburn at 9:50 PM on June 9, 2015


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