Is Your Ringtone Racist?

What does your ringtone say about you?

As if ringtones weren’t annoying enough. Now they’re annoying and racist. Private bigotry used to be like a private conversation in the pre-mobile phone years – well, private (unless you were around other racists). If you wanted to tell a racist joke, you were better off waiting until you got behind closed doors before letting it fly. But perhaps we’re collectively suffering from “tolerance fatigue,” and we’ve decided that, as long as the bigotry isn’t coming directly out of our mouths, then it’s not really ours. They’re called “smart” phones for a reason; anyone with a new iPhone knows that Siri’s apt enough to differentiate acceptable from objectionable. If the phone’s acting racist, the apparent line of thought goes, then the person holding it isn’t responsible.

For some reason, on the Best Seller chart for ringtones, Asians take the most flack. The silver medalist, second-most-popular ringtone in the comedy genre (after Stewie from Family Guy) is “Asian Ring Ring Ring.”

(Although these are not the actual clips detailed below, you’ll still get the idea by listening to the samples.)

Asian Ring Ring Ring” starts with an obligatory Chinese gong followed by everyone’s favorite 9-note “Oriental Riff.” Then, in a voice that would make Breakfast at Tiffanys’ Mr. Yunioshi (or Sixteen Candles’ Long Duk Dong) cringe, comes the kicker: “Your phone linging. Your phone linging! You pick up phone. How come you not pick up phone yet? You pick up phone! Pick it up! Pick it up!”

Now, I tend not to answer the phone until I get somewhere I can actually have the conversation, so it is possible that the Asian badgering could spur me to answer more calls and thereby become more productive – but I’m not so sure. But, if you don’t want to be ordered to answer the phone by a fake Chinese accent – but you still need your anti-Asian fix – you can opt for the #6 most-popular, “Asian Sister Calling.”

Again, the cliche “Oriental Riff.” Then, in a falsetto male voice, “Your sister calling-gu. Ooooh. You talk to sister. So nice. Your sister love you. You love your sister. Talk to your sister on the phone. Talking to sister, making nice. She love you. You talk to sister.”

It sort of sounds like someone doing a bad Adam Sandler doing a bad Asian man doing a bad Asian girl. Unsettling.

But funny ringtones are equal-opportunity offenders. Take #11, “Mexican Text Alert.” This one features a stoned-sounding Speedy Gonzalez and pistols-at-dawn Mexican-standoff music:

“You have a text message, fucker. Hey fucker! You have a text message.” In the truest SoCal cholo tradition, “fucker” is pronounced “folk-er,” and “mess” part of “message” is drawled out slowly, the “age” tacked on at the end ornamentally. How calling the recipient of a text message a fucker makes anything more Mexican is beyond me, but then, that’s one of the prerequisites of ringtone-writing that I probably won’t understand until I try it myself.

Naturally, there’s more to offensive ringtones than just racism. In #35, we get inappropriate Asian sexuality, which, if you bite your tongue hard enough, is actually quite a treat. The Asian voice on this one is very keyed up about fellatio and peniuses, getting “clazy” about doing things with them and, well, you get the point.

For $1.29, an Asian voice can also tell you about a call from work (#52), or your father (#68); or you can go generic and opt for a hysterical alert about a “terrophone carr” (#91). For calls from your mother, though, the Mexican version (#87) is more popular than the Asian; perhaps it’s because it’s recorded over the main riff from “Tequila.”

Yet despite the ringtones’ high marks on the Best Seller list, I’ve yet to hear one of them in public. Could our smart phones be smarter than we are?

Image: esparta